Reporting about the aftermath of a natural disaster isn’t just about the number of people killed or homes destroyed. Neither are stories about disease outbreaks, famine and conflict just about numbers of people affected, or the lack of medicine to cure them or the number of people displaced from their homes and villages.
They are more than that.
For global beat journalists, a disaster story is also the story of what we can learn about a more sustainable and climate-resilient future and about how people’s lived experience can help us to build it. A story on disease outbreaks, such as the Ebola pandemic, is also a narrative of the need to strengthen health systems — and a call for better and more effective universal health care.
On Thursday Devex, Foreign Affairs and the U.N. Foundation kicked off the weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner events in Washington, D.C., with “The Global Beat,” an event that celebrates international journalism and the reporters who’ve dug beyond the headlines to deliver global stories that matter.
“We want to recognize international journalists that everyday … go to tough places to bring us events that affect not only our lives but also around the world,” Hollywood actress and political activist Alfre Woodard told a capacity crowd at the United Nations Foundation headquarters.
Reporters who’ve covered the Ebola outbreak on the ground — like Devex’s Richard Jones — put themselves at risk to deliver the latest updates and inform the global health community of the most urgent needs in disease-affected areas. Journalists covering conflicts in places like Syria and Yemen meanwhile put their lives in the line of fire to shine light on issues the public otherwise might not know about — or know how to think about.
About 60 international journalists lost their lives while on duty in 2014, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, and 20 already have already been reported to have died in the first four months of 2015.
Woodard’s remarks honored both the journalists telling tough stories and the development professionals working to push those stories towards a better conclusion, to build peace and foster change.
“You’re always reaching for light along the tunnel. You reach the light, we understand that it's a far reach, but at some point we have to help them extend that long arm,” Woodard said.
Gideon Rose, editor at Foreign Affairs magazine, shared that international reporters lend substance to our impressions of what is actually happening in the world, beyond the politics and policies, at the point where global events impact peoples’ lives.
“The point of this event is to remind [us] that there’s a world out there beyond D.C. and that the people who actually cover it are part of the intellectual moral and the ecosystem of all of us here,” he shared.
Raj Kumar, Devex president and editor-in-chief, recalled a moment in his journalistic education when he learned what good journalism is — or isn’t.
Kumar’s journalism professor at the time showed the class a broadcast from Vietnam, with refugees streaming by in a line behind the reporter, who concluded: “one can only imagine what they’re thinking.”
“We know what they’re thinking — if we ask,” Kumar said. “ And that’s what good journalism does everyday,” he added.
“This event is a way to say thank you to those journalists who ask the right questions.”
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