Three courageous women described the dangerous circumstances they’ve experienced to capture the essence of a news story as journalists and photographers.
Alexandra Ulmer, Special Correspondent for Reuters, appeared with Lynsey Addario, a photojournalist covering conflicts and human rights issues, and Nima Elbagir, a senior international correspondent for CNN, on the “Journalists on the Front Lines” panel at last week’s Women in the World Summit.
The panel discussion was often intense as Ulmer, who recently won a press club award for her reporting in Venezuela, described the country as chaotic and said it was shocking to watch a country collapse over the course of her assignment there. To continue telling the story of the country’s rapid decline, she had to adapt, diving deep into the community to cover personal accounts that were emblematic of the trends she was measuring.
To understand the numbers of those leaving the country as refugees, for example, she shared how she followed a group of Venezuela refugees to Chile. On the journey, when the group crossed over into the transiting countries, she asked the border guards for the numbers of Venezuelans who had moved across the border.
Risking life imprisonment to get the story
Both Elbagir and Addario had worked in Sudan and shared intense stories of the lengths they went to capture the story. In that region, every time a journalist films any activity, they risk facing life imprisonment if caught.
For Elbagir, her work in Sudan is personal, being Sudanese herself. Indeed, on the day of the panel, long-time Sudanese president Omar Hassan al-Bashir was ousted. She takes inspiration from her country’s pro-democracy movement, Elbagir said. The majority of the population is under 30, have never voted, and there is no freedom of the press; and yet, the people “visualize what they want” in spite of the potential consequences, explained Elbagir.
Addario described Sudan as one of the hardest places she has ever worked, particularly in South Sudan. To get to Sudan, she would cross the border from Chad — where she was residing during her assignment — and had to cross rivers on foot to get there. For one particular story, she was following displaced children in Africa.
One boy she encountered had been on the run for two months at the time. The boy had fled for his life after he had seen his father burned to death in a hut and left behind his mother and eight siblings, and he did not know if they were still alive.
Remarkably, months later, Addario found the boy’s mother. When Addario recorded a video of the mother to show to the boy, his mother stated, “Don’t come home. Stay in school and get educated.”
‘I am a foreigner in my own country’
Addario, who recently returned to the U.S. after being on assignment abroad for 20 years, shared how covering conflicts and human rights around the world had changed her perspective on life in the U.S.
Now, she said, she feels like a foreigner in her own country. “The same issues exist here [in the U.S.]”, Addario said, referring to what she called human rights violations on the southern border of the U.S.
At the end of the session, the moderator asked the Ulmer, Addario, and Elbagir why it is vital to have international reporting staffed by journalists on the front lines. In response, Elbagir noted that having the commitment to cover stories around the world speaks to who we are as Americans.
“What we are prepared to tolerate abroad, we are prepared to tolerate at home,” she said.