IWMF Courage in Journalism Awards Honors CNN's Arwa Damon and AP's Anja Niedringhaus
"[Ben Bradlee] was one of the good guys — he cared about the truth, he cared about getting it right, and he was a great journalist"
Reporters from all over the world left their newsrooms for New York City's Cipriani 42nd Street on a rainy Wednesday for the International Women's Media Foundation's Courage in Journalism Awards, honoring a handful of notably brave journalists who sacrifice their lives for the trade.
"I know you're soggy, but I promise you'll be inspired!" said co-host Cynthia McFadden alongside Norah O'Donnell at the luncheon, which was attended by Connie Chung, Lynn Povich, Judy Woodruff, Kate Spade CCO Deborah Lloyd, Peter Grauer, Cindi Leive, María Elena Salinas, Deborah Roberts, Debra Shriver, Eugene Robinson, Kate Betts, Cathie Black and Paula Zahn, among others. McFadden also noted of Washington Post journalist Ben Bradlee, who had died overnight, "I know many of you were close friends of his. ... He was one of the good guys. He cared about the truth, he cares about getting it right, and he was a great journalist."
After presenting a leadership award to longtime supporter Alexandra Trower, Estee Lauder's executive vp of global communications and IWMF vice-chair of the board of directors, the luncheon paid tribute to 2005 honoree and accomplished AP photographer, Anja Niedringhaus, who died when shot while embedded in Afghanistan.
"It wasn't that she thought that war coverage was the only coverage — god, no. As a matter of fact, she cringed at anyone ever referring to her as a war photographer," said her surviving cohort Kathy Gannon, wearing a sling from her own gunshot sound and welling up toward the end of her speech. "But Anja suffered with those caught in the middle of war, caught through no fault of their own. She needed the world to see that hey were like you and me. She wanted us to feel what they felt, she wanted to put us in their shoes, and sometimes, she just wanted us to see the ordinary among the extraordinary."
IMWF also announced a new, annual $1 million photojournalism scholarship in Niedringhaus' name (to debut next year in Berlin), as well as a $4 million fund to support other female journalists in distress, courtesy of Niedringhaus' colleague, Howard Buffett. "Women reporters are often looked down on, as many of you know — you're the last one to get the best equipment, you're the first one to be told, 'It's a man job, it's too dangerous for you' — and that's why this organization is so critical to the world," he said.
After guests dined on soup, salad and salmon, IMWF distributed its annual courage awards to three journalists, each noted with standing ovations after moving highlight reels.
"Journalism is and will always be my workhorse in promoting democracy and the rights of women in the Democratic Republic of the Congo," said honoree Solange Lusiku Nsimire, editor in chief ofLe Souverain who is targeted by ongoing threats and harassment. "Congolese women are changing the way we live in our country, for the better. We reject the premise that our women are condemned to misery. ... They are truly heroines. ... I am proud to be a free, independent journalist in my thoughts, in my analysis, and in my opinions."
CNN senior international correspondent Arwa Damon — a self-proclaimed "accidental journalist" who started out as "young-ish punk with a nose ring and a big attitude" and now reports on revolutions and attacks in the Middle East — explained in her acceptance speech, "We cannot give up, even though at times we feel like we're reporting into a dark vortex, that no one is listening. ... I cannot stop, having seen what I've seen and knowing what I know. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if I gave up or stopped, and I think all of us out there feel pretty much the same way." She then dedicated her award "to everyone in the industry and all those beyond it who have sacrificed their lives in their respective fights for basic freedom."
Serbia-based television journalist Brankica Stankovic — who reports for B92 and has been forced to live under 24-hour police protection since 2009 for reporting on corruption and crime perpetrated by her country's political and economic elite — said, "This award is for journalist courage, but still I do not consider myself a brave woman. My friends often ask me how it can be possible that I'm afraid of insects, but not afraid of revealing information about powerful people from the world of business, politics and mafia. My life, because of everything that happened to me, has become something like an action-packed thriller, but I alone chose that way and I will not give up." She also added that she looks forward to the day she can return to the US as a free woman and take her daughter, Sara, to Disneyland.
The luncheon closed with a tribute to some of the forty journalists who have already lost their lives this year, announced the launch of their Reporta app for those to note when they're in distress, and called for donations for their recently established emergency fund.