“We photographers deal in things which are continually vanishing, and when they have vanished there is no contrivance on earth can make them come back again. We cannot develop and print a memory.”
- Henri Cartier-Bresson
She died doing the job she loved.
Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photographer Anja Niedringhaus was gunned down April 4 when a uniformed Afghan police commander riddled her car with AK-47 bullets, killing her instantly and wounding veteran AP correspondent Kathy Gannon.
Niedringhaus, 48, described by AP President Gary Pruitt as “spirited, intrepid and fearless, with a raucous laugh that we will all remember,” was covering the run-up to the Afghan elections. She and Gannon were traveling in a convoy of election workers when they were targeted.
The slain photographer had covered war zones from the Balkans in the 1990s to Iraq and Libya, and both journalists had worked together repeatedly in Afghanistan since the beginning of the conflict in 2001.
Her colleagues reacted universally with sorrow. I heard the news in a hotel banquet room on South Padre Island, sitting amid a group of Texas editors fresh from a presentation on the dangers of covering drug cartels and violence just across the Mexican border.
Though only a very few of us knew her personally, a pall fell over the room. In other parts of the world, her colleagues mourned and remembered the impact she had made on their lives and on her chosen profession.
Kathleen Carroll, executive editor of the Associated Press, called her “magical… people just wanted to be around her. She made everything brighter, more fun, more alive.”
But Andrea Bruce, a photographer with the NOOR agency and former Washington Post staffer, said, “For me, her death has brought a sadness that has now hardened to anger. Suffocating. Bringing me much closer to a reaction we’ve photographed so often during war.”
While the AP labeled the assault “the first known case of a security insider attacking journalists in Afghanistan,” attacks on journalists are not uncommon. Recent headlines tell the story.
Two more French journalists held hostage in Syria. – Oct. 9, 2013.
French journalists abducted in Mali found fatally shot in “revolting” murder. - Nov. 3, 2013.
Afghan reporter, tortured, killed, dumped in sack in the southern province of Helmand. – Jan. 24, 2014.
Canadian freelance photographer among seven killed in Syria after bomb detonates in Aleppo. – March 9, 2014.
Baghdad bureau chief for Radio Free Iraq gunned down by officer in Iraqi president’s guard. – March 23, 2014.
“Anja is the 32nd AP staffer to give their life in pursuit of the news since AP was founded in 1846,” Pruitt told his grieving staff. “This is a profession of the brave and the passionate, those committed to the mission of bringing to the world information that is fair, accurate and important. Anja Niedringhaus met that definition in every way.”
The Committee to Protect Journalists, the goal of which is to “defend journalists worldwide,” attempts to track the annual death toll. It’s somewhat surreal that so many are killed an agency was formed just to track the toll.
Worldwide, thus far in 2014, 14 journalists have been killed gathering the news. Ninety-nine were lost in 2013; 104 died in 2012; 86 were slain in 2011; and 79 lost their lives in 2010.
Syria has become the deadliest journalistic challenge. In 2013 alone, the CPJ tally showed 28 international journalists killed in Syria, 10 in Iraq, six in Egypt, five in Pakistan, four in Somalia, three in India, three in Brazil, three in the Philippines, two in Russia, two in Mali, and one each in Turkey, Bangladesh, Colombia and Libya.
Sitting here sipping my vanilla latte, looking out on downtown Tyler, I reflect on the journalists I have put in harm’s way. I don’t send them to war zones, but every time I dispatch someone to report a fire, to cover a shooting or chase a tornado… each time I asked for volunteers for hurricane watch team or sent someone to wait out an armed standoff, I put them at risk and hope for the best.
Two of our staffers were shot a dozen years ago covering a fire. The man inside had wanted to die. Upset that firemen were spoiling his plans, he came out of the garage shooting. One bullet grazed the head of Photographer Herb Nygren, who lives with the memory of the bullet that raised a welt without breaking the skin… much too close. Shauna Wonzer, a reporter who just happened to draw weekend duty, was shot in the leg. I see her smiling face on Facebook , and she can do no wrong in my book. After all, she took a bullet for me.
Tyler is no war zone. Neither is the United States. Journalists in America don’t have to wear flak jackets, worry about ambushes or travel through town in convoys.
We at the Tyler Paper don’t send correspondents to cover the world’s wars. We pay the Associated Press and other news services thousands of dollars to do that for us. And when one of those they send falls in a hail of bullets, our cost seems paltry. The price they paid was immense.
Anja Niedringhaus voluntarily put herself on the battle lines, helping us know a bit of the reality faced by America’s sons and daughters in uniform. They too volunteered for that duty, putting their lives on the line and fighting their nation’s wars. Many paid the ultimate price; many more will bear the scars of battle all their lives.
She used her camera as a window into those distant battlefields – most recently Iraq and Afghanistan. With her death that window has closed, and our vision of the war has narrowed.
At funeral services Saturday in her native Germany, she was remembered for her ability to find humanity amid terrible events. Gannon, recovering from her wounds, sent her tribute in a letter, saying: “You were so happy. Your heart knew no bounds. You wanted to help everyone.”
Anja Niedringhaus joins a too-long list of war correspondents, photojournalists and video journalists who have died on foreign battlefields.
Her name joins the same roll as Ernie Pyle, who reported from the front lines in World War II and was killed by a sniper on a Japanese-held island in 1944; Robert Capa, who covered the Spanish Civil War, Second Sino-Japanese War, the European Theater of World War II and was killed by a landmine in the First Indochina War; and Dickey Chapelle , who covered the Pacific War, the Hungarian Revolution and died in Vietnam (the first female U.S. war correspondent killed in action).
Her devotion to journalism will put her in the same category as Daniel Pearl, who was captured and beheaded in Iraq. Her photos will be ranked alongside those of Larry Burrows, a British photojournalist known for his work during the Vietnam War, where he died in a helicopter crash.
You will find her best photos and read about her life – and her death – on the Internet … for free if you want.
But news has never been free. There is always a cost. Always.
Dave Berry is editor of the Tyler Morning Telegraph. His column appears every Wednesday in the My Generation section. Next week, we’ll visit with Bob Hope, who entertained troops in dozens of war zones over three decades. Thanks for reading.