When an Orlando television reporter was killed, and his cameraman wounded while covering a story about a shooting last month, they became the latest victims in what has become an increasingly violent time for journalists.
Despite the First Amendment of the United States Constitution specifically citing a freedom of speech, and of the press, attacks on journalists, both verbal and physical, have been on the rise over the past few years.
To be fair, the recent attack in Orlando may have been an attack of opportunity, and not a targeted attack on journalists. Accounts of the crime state that the vehicle that the journalists were in was not emblazoned with the logos and tell-tale signs of news vans in the past.
Still, regardless of whether the two journalists were targeted because they were journalists, or if it was just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, one cannot argue that in recent years attacks on journalists have become more frequent, and, in many cases, deadlier.
In 2015, a reporter and photojournalist in Roanoke, VA were fatally shot while conducting a live television interview.
In 2018, five employees were killed, and two injured when a gunmen entered the Annapolis, MD offices of The Capitol newspaper.
The above incidents of journalists killed while doing their jobs is just a small fraction of the overall picture of journalism in the cross hairs.
According to the Columbia Journalism Review, in 2021 alone there were 142 assaults on journalists.
On January 6, 2021, many journalists were attacked and thousands of dollars of equipment was damaged at the United States Capitol.
It is too easy to place the blame on the war on journalists on politicians who encourage their followers to call journalists the “enemy of the people.”
It is also too easy to blame the war on journalists on individuals who shout “fake news” whenever they disagree with a story reported on by a journalist.
No, the attacks on journalists cannot be blamed on a single individual or group.
Instead, the increase in attacks on journalists is the result of a combination of factors ranging from a rise in violence against all groups, as well as a failure of local, state, and federal governments to take action to ensure proper mental health and gun reform measures are in place.
For years, journalists from the United States and elsewhere have voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way in order to report from various war zones.
Last year, I wrote a column about the history of war time journalism. In that column, I noted that one of my earliest memories of CNN involved watching the “Boys of Baghdad,” Bernard Shaw, Peter Arnett and John Holliman broadcasting live when the first missiles of Operation Desert Storm were fired. That broadcast represented the first time, Americans were seeing live video in the middle of a war zone.
In the years that have followed that first live from the battlefield report, countless journalists have reported from war zones and other areas of unrest around the globe.
Even now, hundreds of journalists are in Ukraine and other hot spots risking their lives to report on the battles going on there.
War correspondents sent off to cover conflict, know going into the situation that there is a high probability that they will be shot at covering the story.
Some have even been killed while on assignment.
However, based on the rise in attacks on journalists in non-combat zones, it is not hyperbole to say that all journalists can now be considered war correspondents, since there is definitely an active war going on against the press.
Throughout my career in journalism, I have often worn a press pass, or other identification on a lanyard or clipped to a belt loop identifying me as a member of the working media whenever I was covering an event. My identification as a member of the press was not always worn on my person, however.
Back when I worked as the sports editor for a daily newspaper in Texas, I had a sticker on the windshield of my car that was provided by the Texas Daily Newspaper Association as a way to identify me as a member of the working press.
I took great pride in that sticker and what it stood for. The sticker was so important to me that when I was cleaning out my car after someone ran a light straight into the side of my car and totaled it, I removed the sticker from the windshield.
Part of the reason I removed the sticker was because it was a symbol of my commitment as a journalist.
The other reason for saving the sticker was that I did not want someone else taking the sticker and using it to pose as a journalist.
I still have the sticker to this day.
With the rise in violence against members of the press in recent years, I now question whether I would still proudly have that sticker on the windshield of my car, or if I would fear that having a Press sticker would act like a target that could be used by an individual who had it out for the press for one reason or another.
Would a sticker on my car invite someone to scratch the paint, knock out a window, or in an extreme case plant a bomb under it because some had told them that as a member of the press I was their enemy?
This is the reality facing many journalists today.
Despite the rise in attacks, I am convinced that dedicated journalists will continue to go to work each day to tell the stories that need to be told in order to inform their readers and viewers.
After all, based on what the average journalist makes in salary, individuals join the field of journalism out of dedication to the craft versus seeking financial gains.
Unfortunately, thanks to events outside their control, many of those journalists will likely be looking over their shoulder and wondering whether their commitment to reporting the truth will get them killed.
It may also become common practice for journalists to wear Kevlar vests whether they are covering a war zone overseas, or a city council meeting around the block.
In journalism school we are taught to report the story and not to become the story.
Unfortunately, the war on journalism and journalists is making it harder to stay on the side lines of what is quickly becoming a life-or-death battlefield in the name of speaking truth to power and providing an eyewitness account of history in real time.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I am off to go remember a simpler time before journalism was under attack.
Copyright 2023 R. Anderson