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They Knew The Risks: Remembering Hetherington And Hondros

Christine Detz |
April 21, 2011 | 9:51 p.m. PDT

Associate News Editor

Tim Hetherington in Misrata, Libya
Tim Hetherington in Misrata, Libya
The journalism world was shocked by the news that two of their own were killed in Libya Wednesday.  British photojournalist and documentary filmmaker Tim Hetherington and American photographer Chris Hondros were killed in a mortar attack in the besieged city of Misrata. They are not the first journalists to die, nor will they be the last.

Both Hetherington and Hondros were aware of the risks that came with reporting from a war zone.  Hondros’ assignments included stints in Iraq, Afghanistan, the West Bank and Liberia, to name a few.  Hetherington may be best known as the co-director of Restrepo, a documentary about a U.S. military outpost in the Korengal Valley of Afghanistan that was nominated for an Oscar earlier this year.  They let their cameras tell the story about the ugly reality of war.  They are my heroes.

Why did they choose war reporting out of every other profession?  I don’t know.  I can barely explain what draws me to it.  When I first started my journalism journey I wanted to be an NFL sideline reporter but my curiosity about the world outside sports got the best of me.  I was mesmerized by the Kosovos, Rwandas and the Darfurs, I wanted – no, I needed – to understand how and why these horrible things could happen in the world.

When I saw Restrepo a few months ago I was amazed.  This was the story you weren’t getting on MSNBC, CNN or Fox News.  There isn’t time in regular news programming to give context to a war and the images you see on the television screen.  Restrepo is 93 minutes of firefights, meetings with tribal elders and death.  The film has stayed with me.

My first thought when I heard unconfirmed reports of Hetherington and Hondros’ death was “whoa.”  My second, “do I really want to do this?”  After a brief pause I knew the answer was yes.  I understand the danger, especially being a woman, but if I don’t do it, who will? 

It is difficult to explain to someone who is not in the journalism field or someone who has never traveled outside the United States.  It is something that I just need to do and I don’t expect anyone to understand.

Sebastian Junger, Hetherington’s partner, eulogized his friend in a Vanity Fair article.  He explains the calling to this dangerous profession more eloquently than I ever could. 

“After the war in Liberia you rented a house in the capital, and lived there for years. Years. Who does that? No one I know except you, my dear friend. That’s part of Misrata, too. That’s also part of what you died for: the decision to live a life that was thrown open to all the beauty and misery and ugliness and joy in the world.”

Farewell Tim and Chris.  I mourn your loss, I mourn for your loved ones and I mourn for the people whose stories you will never get the chance to tell.


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