Women correspondents discuss reporting dangers at Honors College panel

By Gretchen Andersen

Firle Davies’ job was a matter of life and death.

She lost friends and colleagues while… Firle Davies’ job was a matter of life and death.

She lost friends and colleagues while reporting in places like Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and Somalia. At times, she risked her life while working in places hostile to journalists.

Davies and other notable journalists shared their experiences last night at the “Foreign Correspondents: Women in Danger,” event that featured four women involved in foreign journalism.

Students and community members attended the event, which was organized by Cynthia Skrzycki, senior lecturer in the English department.

The panel included Nadia Trinidad, ABS-CBN senior political correspondent; Firle Davies, BBC reporter and producer; and Tara Mahtafar, PBS Frontline managing editor. Christine Spolar, a senior editor at The Huffington Post Investigative Fund in Washington D.C., moderated the discussion.

“They are part of a special breed of journalists,” Skrzycki said.

Skrzycki said she hoped the event would inform students about foreign journalism, and highlight how difficult of a job these women share. “They experience danger first-hand.”

The four women told stories about intense situations and encounters — at times inspiring both laughter and gasps from the audience.

“There were some very scary times,” Davies said.

Davies covered numerous topics throughout her career, including the civil war in the south of Sudan, the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and the use of children as soldiers by the Revolutionary United Front rebel army during the war in Sierra Leone.

Trinidad, who is currently in the U.S., has reported on bombings, and government corruption scandals in her home country of the Philippines.

“Last December, 32 of my colleagues were shot dead,” she said.

Mahtafar covered the elections in Iran last summer.

“Tear gas, the violent militia, the police … The main thing people are afraid of is being arrested,” she said. “Once your name is associated in reporting you can’t go back. It’s a bad feeling to be shut out because there is no freedom of the press.”

Often, the danger and sadness of the stories in war zones affected the journalists personally.

“What you are seeing on a day to day basis — it becomes very hard to remove yourself from it, to be objective,” Davies said.

Despite the overwhelming danger, the women agreed there was a drive that motivated them to continue reporting.

“It is a certain adrenaline rush,” Mahtafar said.

Davies said that sometimes she didn’t feel a bodyguard was necessary to protect her.

“I get upset when I walk around with a big, meaty, Neanderthal,” she said with laughter.

Ken and Linda Krynski heard about discussion through Osher Lifelong Learning Institute, through which people older than 50 can audit classes.

“The fact that they are women was really intriguing to me, women are usually protected from danger, and here they are reporting in danger,” Linda Krynski said. “It was very appealing.”

“They are our window into the world and important in our society. Foreign journalism — it is not for the faint of heart,” Skrzycki remarked.