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Commentary: Journalists’ deaths in Syria represent sacrifice, passion

Passion.

In the past week, three journalists have died while on assignment in Syria.

But they weren’t just reporting the news. They were following their passions. They were trying to tell the world about what is really happening in Syria.

Many journalists have been banned from entering Syria, so most of those who somehow manage to get in are there illegally and at great peril. Anthony Shadid, 43, the New York Times reporter who died Feb. 16 in Syria, suffered an asthma attack triggered by the horse he was riding on across the border.

Marie Colvin, 55, a correspondent for The Sunday Times of London, and Rémi Ochlik, a French photographer in his late 20s, were killed Wednesday after shells and rockets struck the house in which they were staying in Homs, Syria, according to reports. They were two of the few Western journalists in the country.

With these tragedies, more than just the reporter dies. Without journalists on the ground, how will these stories be told? The day before she died, Colvin voiced concerns that her stories weren’t reaching the greatest amount of people possible.

She said she was frustrated with readers at home feeling too distant from stories being reported from different areas of the globe. And just days before her death, she had a fellow journalist help her break her news organization’s rules to publish her work outside of pay walls, risking her job, so even people who weren’t subscribed to The Sunday Times of London could know what was going on.

Shadid, with years of experience in the Middle East, was tied to the people there. He had the conviction to tell the stories of those innocently caught in the grips of war. Colvin, a veteran war correspondent, saw a baby die a few days before her death, and didn’t want that baby’s death to be in vain.

Journalism is very much a field of service. Journalists are overworked and underpaid. It certainly isn’t a field you pursue for fame and fortune. It’s satisfying to see your name on a story, but sadly enough, stories are often forgotten the next day, and the bylines of those stories are almost never remembered. But when you have a passion for storytelling, for letting the world know the truth, it doesn’t matter.

As student journalists, we make sacrifices in the pursuit of our passion. We sacrifice our sleep, our social life, our time to tell the more than 60,000 students at Ohio State what’s really going on on-campus, and we love it.

In a story The Lantern published last week about John Glenn, he said he believes that everyone should have something to do that day they are excited about when they wake up.

I wake up excited to go to work, to uncover a story, to deliver the news, to write. I realize when I wake up, sometimes after only a few hours of sleep, that I’m extremely blessed to have that excitement, and I’m willing to make sacrifices to do what I love.

But would I die for my passion?

History is riddled with extreme journalists, whose everyday work makes it obvious they are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for their passion. Shadid was among four journalists held captive by Muammar Gaddafi’s forces in Libya for about a week last March while covering the Arab Spring conflicts. Colvin wore an eye patch after losing an eye while covering fighting in Sri Lanka.

There are obviously many different levels of journalism, and not everyone needs to risk their life for it, but the examples these journalists set in the pursuit of truth and what they believe is right is beyond inspirational.

Everyone makes sacrifices to do what they love. And these journalists who have made the ultimate sacrifice will always be an inspiration to me. Words are powerful, but the examples they set as journalists and human beings are even more powerful. The stories they told and the legacies they left lay the groundwork to change the world.

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