16 May 2012

Death in a time of life

Once in a while in death, you learn something about life. So it was this morning at the gracious church of St Martin’s in The Field’s on a rare sunny corner of London’s Trafalgar Square.

We who report, retrieve, investigate, edit, disseminate, and pontificate, came together to remember Marie Colvin. The Church – huge as it is, was packed – perhaps six or seven hundred deep. A black and white pre-eye patch Marie gazed down upon us, replicated both sides of the high altar.

In thinking about her death in Syria as she bent down to retrieve the shoes she  had discarded at the door of a house in Homs – discarded out of respect for those who lived there – we thought about her unique and indefatigable journalism, her laughter, and her constant disregard for her editors’ orders in the pursuit of the stories she wanted to cover. We thought about the serendipity of death in our ranks. She who had survived so much, she who had taken so many risks. But Syria’s persistent bloody civil war proved one dangerous choice too far and claimed her life.

Why her, why not another of us? All of us make snap judgements – to travel down that road – to engage with those troops – to fly on that plane, and we live. But sitting in the church this morning surrounded by some of the very best of British journalism, I felt overwhelmed by a sense of what is good about our trade. So much bad has flowed from the scandal that has gushed across Lord Leveson’s desk, in and out of assorted police stations, back pockets and the rest, that one begins to feel tarred with the same brush.

And we are not and she was not. We are the servants of the people – their eyes and ears, and what we do is of profound value to understanding the world in which we live. Amid the democratisation of information, we are the tribunes. Sometimes we fail to recognise the pivotal role we play and the responsibility that flows from it.

As the choir offered a sumptuous ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and the organist pumped the full organ’s strength to fill every vault of the church with Widor’s Toccata in F, I felt both challenged and uplifted. Uplifted whilst remembering the death of a colleague?  Strange, but somehow it is true. Marie Colvin set us a standard to aspire to. And the challenge is to go out and find greater integrity, greater humanity, greater truths. And in that moment I feel everyone present was at least for a time committed to doing so.

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