Marie Colvin put everything on the line to report the truth about war— even when there was no way out, says her friend Lyse Doucetby Lyse Doucet / January 25, 2019 / Leave a comment
It’s hard to find the exact word for it but journalists know the feeling. That ache in the gut when a major story breaks and you just have to “be there.” Being there was the trademark of the US war correspondent Marie Colvin. For her it was about bearing witness to war, always for longer than anyone else, preferably before anyone else. Her work earned her respect from colleagues and competitors alike. It also took a tremendous personal toll—and then it took her life.
Seven years after her killing by Syrian military shellfire in besieged Homs, Colvin herself has become the story. There’s a feature film based on her life starring Rosamund Pike (A Private War), a documentary through the eyes of her equally brave colleague the photojournalist Paul Conroy (Under the Wire), and a biography entitled In Extremis by her friend and fellow traveller Lindsey Hilsum.
The Marie moment comes as Syria’s tragedy, which had dominated foreign news headlines over the past seven years, is slipping from the world’s gaze. Meanwhile, journalism continues to confront an existential crisis, and correspondents on the front line are at record risk—53 were killed in the line of duty in 2018.
Colvin died at a time when war reporters were again weighing the balance of risk and reward. The bloody battles that exploded after the peaceful uprisings of the Arab Spring gave many of us pause for thought. The age-old maxim was “no story is worth dying for.” Now we added, “but there are stories worth taking risks for.” I first heard this updated mantra in January 2012 from the brilliant New York Times journalist Anthony Shadid. A month later, he was dead. A sudden asthma attack ended his life as he was travelling out of Syria.
Colvin, a correspondent for the Sunday Times, had sounded her clarion call shortly before the first stirrings of the Arab Spring. In November 2010, giving the address at the first Annual Journalists’ Commemorative Service at St Bride’s in Fleet Street, she spoke of how “we always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story… what is bravery and what…