Editor talks battlefield journalism

Veterans Day was an appropriate time for Northern Kentucky University’s Six@Six lecture series to host an evening with John Daniszewski. Daniszewski, the Associated Press’ senior managing editor for International News and Photos, spent a great deal of time behind enemy lines in his career as a journalist. He thanked veterans on Veterans Day for what they are doing for the country and for what they have done for him and other journalists who are overseas covering the world.

Daniszewski was an international reporter for the Associated Press and for the Los Angeles Times. Many times while overseas, he found himself searching for American soldiers so that they could help provide him some relative safety from the violence and wars surrounding him. He reminded people of the dangers of being an international journalist and shared his experiences to a crowded auditorium at The Carnegie Visual and Performing Arts Center in Covington on Nov. 11.

At a checkpoint in Romania in 1989, Daniszewski and a journalist from Yemen were shot after having just filed a story with the Associated Press. After they were shot, they did not receive immediate medical attention. Instead, they were taken by the Romanian soldiers and questioned about being a spy. It was not until early the next morning that the soldiers finally dropped Daniszewski off at a hospital, where he remembers the doctor working on him saying, “You are lucky. Not many people can survive a wound like that. That means you are going to live a long life.”

“I took away a strong sense of empathy for those I covered,” said Daniszewski when referring to what he learned from being shot. “Journalists, especially international correspondents and photographers, more often than not, share at least some of the danger and many of the hardships of those they are photographing or writing about.”

Generally speaking, journalists have the option of whether to be in a dangerous setting, according to Daniszewski. They do not have to put themselves in situations that jeopardize their safety, but most journalists who choose to be in the middle of danger have a strong desire to help the victims they encounter.

“You can’t help but to identify with the people who are sadly caught in the crossfire and you hope that somehow by your coverage that you are helping them or at least making other people care about them,” said Daniszewski.

After graduating from the University of Pennsylvania, Daniszewski joined the Associated Press. Since 2009, in his position of senior managing editor of International News and Photos, he is in charge of over 600 journalists abroad in about 100 bureaus.

“You need to realize that these are real life flesh and blood people who are putting their lives on the line everyday so that people can know the truth,” said Daniszewski.
After the 9/11 attacks, while in Pakistan, Daniszewski was frustrated by the lies and conspiracy theories he was encountering when talking with local citizens. He remembers a pleasant conversation he had with his colleague, Danny Pearl of the Wall Street Journal, and what a relief it was to talk with someone who was focused on facts and accuracy. Less than three months later Pearl was abducted and executed while reporting in Pakistan. This execution was recorded on film and sent to America as a warning to other American journalists.

“I came away from my times abroad with a keen awareness that survival is not a given,” Daniszewski said. “Not for anyone. Not for a soldier and not for a civilian in war time. We must take steps to protect ourselves. We must take great care for the journalists and other victims of war. We must learn lessons that help protect us and our colleagues in the future.”

He explained while no one is guaranteed safety while being overseas, it is always much more dangerous for the photographers.

“It’s always hardest for the photographers,” said Daniszewski. “Unlike print journalists who can often observe from a relatively safe distance, visual journalists need to be close to the action, which leads to a delicate balance between safety and success.”

Even after the visual journalists have made it home and have landed on the successful side of the situation, they still often have difficulty with the terrible things that they have seen.

“The trauma facing the photographers, is sometimes so intense that many of them have trouble coping emotionally,” he said. “Kevin Carter who won a Pulitzer Prize for a photo that was in the New York Times of a vulture sitting next a starving child, killed himself a few months later.”

Daniszewski showed the audience a collection of photographs that he thought encompassed the many faces of war. He stopped at one showing a group of American soldiers firing upon a group of rebels, but one of the American soldiers was wearing nothing but a white t-shirt and boxers with hearts on them that said “I love New York”. Daniszewski pointed out that the moments that illustrate an event often happen with no warning, so a journalist always has to be prepared not only to catch the story, but to also stay safe enough to deliver it to the public. Good advice for troubled times.

Story by Matthew Brewer