Family, friends and fellow journalists gathered in the Newseum’s Journalists Memorial June 6 to recognize 20 men and women from 11 countries who were killed in 2015 while covering the news and whose names were added to the memorial.
The emotional rededication ceremony included the family and colleagues of WDBJ-TV reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward who were shot to death Aug. 26, 2015, while interviewing a local commerce official near Roanoke, Va. Parker and Ward were the first journalists killed on assignment in the United States since 2007.
“2015 was an especially tragic year for journalists, and that is why we have selected 20 — a much higher number than usual — to represent all of those killed,” Jeff Herbst, president and chief executive officer of the Newseum, said in his welcoming remarks. Herbst noted that “governments, rebel groups and insurgents now all recognize that control of information is important, and thus kill and intimidate journalists and bloggers in order to further their cause.”
In 2014, the Newseum revised its selection process for the Journalists Memorial and now selects a representative group of reporters whose deaths illustrate the dangers journalists face around the world. International organizations that work to protect journalists say more than 100 were killed while reporting the news in 2015. A list of their names can be found in the kiosks in the memorial.
The ceremony was overshadowed by the deaths June 5 of NPR photojournalist David Gilkey and his interpreter Zabihullah Tamanna, who were killed in Afghanistan when the armored Humvee in which they were passengers was hit by rocket propelled grenades.
Gene Policinski, chief operating officer of the Newseum Institute and senior vice president of the Newseum’s First Amendment Center, said Gilkey and Tamanna’s deaths were “daily reminders of the dangers that journalists face worldwide in gathering and reporting the news.”
Gérard Araud, ambassador of France to the United States, was the keynote speaker. On Jan. 7, 2015, two masked gunmen with ties to al-Qaida terrorists stormed into the Paris offices of French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo and killed eight journalists, including the newspaper’s editor and cartoonist Stéphane Charbonnier, two columnists, a copy editor and four other cartoonists.
Araud lamented the deaths at Charlie Hebdo and the lasting impact they had on France and the world.
“France doesn’t just pay lip service to freedom of the press, it works to make it a reality,” he said. “We are facing a major terrorist threat. We are doing our best to protect the values of our citizens.”
Surviving family members of recent and past fallen journalists also spoke. Fran Castan, wife of Look magazine senior editor Sam Castan who was killed covering the war in Vietnam, warned fellow survivors of the lasting effects of the journalists’ deaths.
“If you’re anything like I was 50 years ago, you’re still disbelieving and in shock,” she said.
Andy Parker, father of Alison Parker, called his daughter and Ward’s deaths acts of terrorism.
“Alison and Adam were merely covering a fluff piece, but make no mistake, they were victims of terrorism. The senseless gun violence in this country has got to stop,” he said.
Jay Ward, Adam Ward’s brother, pointed out that Adam proposed to his fiancée, Melissa Ott, two years ago on the Pennsylvania Avenue terrace at the Newseum.
“Adam’s story will live on through memorials such as this,” he said.
For the second year in a row, the Newseum’s popular “Today’s Front Pages” exhibit on display at the museum and online was blacked out to raise awareness of the increasing threats journalists face every day around the world. The #WithoutNews campaign highlights a world bereft of news. The front pages will return June 7.
With this year’s addition of 20 names, the Journalists Memorial will recognize a total of 2,291 newspeople from around the world, dating back to 1837.