The chains of journalism

“I am depressed … I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain … of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners…I have gone to join Ken if I am that lucky.”

Those were the words left in the suicide note of Kevin Carter, the photojournalist who won a Pulitzer Prize for this tragic image.

Carter’s story came back to memory this week as I read Mark MacKinnon’s (Globe and Mail Journalist) moving account of the time he spent in Zimbabwe covering the country’s illegitimate elections. The picture he paints is of a country that has been ravaged by political corruption and the violent unimaginable crimes against humanity. MacKinnon recalls meeting  men who had not eaten for days, and woman and children who had to sleep on the ground in bombed out buildings because of the coutry’s political instability.

And as I read his story, I wondered the same thing I wondered, when I read Carter’s: How do you come face to face with such deep levels of human suffering and not do anything about it?

I do not know if MacKinnon was able to offer any assistance to any of the sufering he met. He does not say in his report. In Carter’s story however, it is said that he shooed the vulture away but did not offer assistance to the girl. It is suggested that his inability to help in this and other similar situations was what led to his subsequent depression and suicide.

This leads to questions like, where does one draw the line between professionalism and humanity? And how hard is it to walk away from suffering knowing that you couldn’t help even if you wanted to? I imagine that these images stay in the mind long after the story is written and the newspaper or magazine has gone into the archives. They are probably experiences that the journalist must carry around forever.

Knowing this has given me a greater respect for the people who bring us these stories of suffering that take place around the world. Undoubtedly, it takes a lot of strength to do the job that they do. Journalism of this type is not for the faint of heart.