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Risking Their Lives for the Story

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Kyla! Okay, I have a serious question for you -- would you have been one of those journalists that snuck into Homs?"

I was assaulted with this question via a text message at 9 a.m. on a Saturday morning. To say I was confused would be putting it mildly -- I was still half asleep and seeing a word that resembled "home" made me question the safety of my apartment. After responding with "Uh, what?" my friend tacked on the word "Syria" and the light bulb turned on.

I had only heard a few brief headlines about the issues occurring in Syria, and being asked to offer a "journalist's opinion" on the spot seemed unfair without proper knowledge. So as any good journalist (or college student) would do, I turned to Google. An hour later I was dumbfounded by what I found and how naïve I had been on the subject.

For those of you who are similarly out-of-the-loop, Homs has played host to many anti-government demonstrations over the past several months. Thousands of protestors have gone in and out of the city, protesting the regime of president Bashar al-Assad. According to the United Nations, more than 9,000 people have been killed since the Syrian uprising began last year. Among the causalities were a handful of journalists who snuck into the country to report the facts -- a reality that has brought the role of a journalist and their ethics under fire.

Ideally, journalists are cautioned to keep their distance. Objectivity supposedly thrives when they are able to separate themselves from the story in order to best report the news. However, what does one say when thrust into the thicket of war where reporting the truth can only come from sitting in an abandoned building with citizens, all sharing a mutual fright over whether or not they'll live to see the next morning?

Currently, foreign journalists are banned from entering the country, but when has that every stopped us? Unfortunately, because of this ban, several have met an untimely death due to armies finding themselves in positions to place a bullet in these writer's heads. Gilles Jacquier, from France, was killed in January after being hit by a shell or rocket while reporting from Homs (with government permission, mind you). Marie Colvin, an American working out of London who entered the country illegally, was killed while trying to leave a building that was being shelled by the Syrian Army.

Regardless of whether or not they were there with permission, both were killed due to their proximity to the content they were reporting. In my journalism ethics class last year, we were taught to keep a healthy distance from the story, thus allowing for proper objectivity. But does this rule always apply?

It's my belief that a journalist should intervene if given the chance to better their story for the public. Some may disagree, but think about it. The general public is more likely to be effected by a story that involves real danger than a story generated in front of a green screen. The question of whether or not they should get involved is a tricky one as well. But there's a difference between a journalist picking up a sign during a protest (ruining objectivity) and helping out during a battle of life or death. The journalists, whether citizen or professional, are risking their lives in that country because they know that they are doing what's best for their story -- a dedication that is not seen in many.

"Would you have been one of those journalists?"

As a girl who grew up idolizing the efforts of Christiane Amanpour and fascinated over the story of Daniel Pearl, would I be all talk and no action if offered the chance to run into the middle of a country wracked with war and conflict? They were both willing to risk it all and go to third world countries where their return flights were not a guarantee.

At the end of the day, things became clear the more I thought about it. There are certainly risks involved with this type of reporting, but I see these reporters as being the epitome of journalistic integrity. Some may criticize them for being in the thick of it, for going so deep that they not only spoke to those involved, but became the involved. They saw a story that is not only a good tale to tell, but is important to share. Colvin knew the risks the minute she got on the back of that motocross bike and ventured illegally into a country that was in a "kill or be killed" state of mind. They did it for the story, for the greater good of educating a world that cannot experience what these journalists are paid to see. In my mind, they upheld the role of the Fourth Estate to an extent that very few would be willing to follow. Do I want to die young, in a foreign country, from a bullet wound? Definitely not, but it's pivotal to focus on the task at hand, not a possible end result.

With the belief of telling the story, no matter the cost, in mind, I sent my friend a single-word answer.

Yes.