broadsideblog

Mourning two journalism greats: Anja Niedringhaus and Heather Robertson

In beauty, business, culture, journalism, news, photography, travel, war, women, work on April 7, 2014 at 3:01 am

By Caitlin Kelly

We recently lost — we being the global community of journalists — two women who made profound differences in the lives of their many grateful editors, colleagues and readers.

Too often, journalism appears to be a business dominated by men: publishers, editors-in-chief, front-page bylines.

Talented, brave women also shape much of what we see, hear and feel.

One, shot dead while sitting in a car in Afghanistan, was Anja Niedringhaus, 48, a news photographer from Germany; in the car with her, also shot (but recovering) is Associated Press veteran correspondent, and Canadian, Kathy Gannon.

Heather Robertson

Heather Robertson

The other, Heather Robertson, is a Canadian journalist who led a life-changing lawsuit against Canadian publishers who, in a land grab, decided to “re-purpose” thousands of articles and earn handsome profits from them — without bothering to share those profits with the writers who had actually created them and their economic value.

Two lawsuits took decades to move through the Canadian courts, but they gave many writers fantastic windfalls; I got two five-figure payouts thanks to her work, which allowed me to breathe more easily in lean times, which every freelancer faces at some point.

Here’s Heather’s obituary from The Globe and Mail,written by my friend, Toronto writer David Hayes:

“Heather was a Canadian nationalist and a feminist,” says her friend and fellow writer, Elaine Dewar. “Her voice was clear, honest and rigorous in a way that was uncommon at the time.”

She embodied her grandfather’s crusading convictions outside of her writing life, too. Aware that writers were underpaid and often treated churlishly by publishers, she co-founded both the Writers’ Union of Canada and the Professional Writers Association of Canada. Her biggest coup, though, came in the 1990s when she became the lead plaintiff in two lawsuits against the country’s largest media corporations, including The Globe and Mail, over the electronic rights of freelance journalists. (Ms. Dewar remembers that Ms. Robertson was smart enough to be afraid of the responsibility and brave enough to ignore her doubts.) The eventual settlement of more than $11-million remunerated many freelancers for lost income and established that publishers could not simply re-purpose a writer’s work on databases or the Internet without credit or payment.

Here’s a long, thoughtful appreciation of Anja — with many of her photos — from The New York Times’ Lens blog:

She was long accustomed to the field, and to the dangers getting to it, and back to it. She wrote an essay, ‘Emotions Speak Through Images,’ for Harvard University’s Nieman Foundation for Journalism, in which she wrote of her compassion for civilians she met in Bosnia, Iraq, Gaza and elsewhere. She said she wanted to ‘understand the situation through their eyes’ during an American raid on a house in Baghdad in 2004. But she was also struck by the youth of the American Marines, ‘just out of school, young boys.’

In a passage, she described how after the 2003 invasion of Iraq she slipped across the border from Kuwait into Basra by hiding inside a Kuwaiti fire brigade truck, then joined up with her A.P. colleagues.

“I remember watching a fierce battle around the city’s university. Shells started to land nearby, and most journalists left the scene,” she wrote. “I had just put on my bulletproof vest when another shell landed so close to me that it injured three of my colleagues. I escaped with bruises and was able to drive them to safety in our Jeep, even though it was also hit, and two of its four tires were flat. One of my colleagues, a Lebanese cameraman, had shrapnel close to his heart and was immediately operated on by a British Army doctor in a makeshift tent. We were flown out to Kuwait for further treatment. Three days later I returned to Iraq in a rented Jeep from Kuwait.”

And, another, from AP colleague David Guttenflelder:

I honestly don’t think that the AP could have covered that war without her influence. Our entire staff was raised in her image. I’m sure that even now, when they go out the door with their cameras they ask themselves “What would Anja do?” I think maybe every AP photographer has asked themselves that at one point…

“She was one of the best people I’ve ever known. I was so lucky to have known and worked with her. I’m just one of countless people all over the world to have loved Anja. We are all totally devastated,” Guttenfelder said.

  1. Reblogged this on naishacamara and commented:
    adoroo jornalismo critico investigativo e com estilo

  2. Such cowardice to have shot two unarmed women. Such stupidity to do so to women who show the world the problem from both sides thus possibly obscuring a fair point of view. Such a loss to your community and to the world in general. I’m glad Kathy is recovering.
    Another great loss is the crusading Heather, who gave to journalists their worth from the grasping press barons and who taught it’s worth fighting for the right thing.
    I’m sure they’ll never be forgotten and will accompany any others on their assignments.

    xxx Huge Hugs xxx

    • It’s been a great shock to some people — but not to others who have worked in war zones. It made the front page of the NYTimes, above the fold. That’s unusual.

  3. Women venturing into these danger zones, just imagine the commitment and the bravery. We all have to mourn the deaths of women who pioneer these courageous endeavours. I think their influence won’t be forgotten by their friends, colleagues and those who have read their work.

  4. i heard about anja this morning on npr. what horrible losses to the world these are. they are strong role models for women, for journos and for people everywhere. they will be missed.

    • It is a really sad moment because the community of people who knew, loved and respected her is huge. We are attending a book launch this week in Brooklyn for the late Chris Hondros, another terrible loss from that tribe.

  5. OH, no. So, so sorry. I knew about Niedringhaus, but not about Robertson. The journalism world has indeed lost two greats.

  6. I don’t know how I missed news of Heather Robertson’s death. I was also in mag journalism around the same time, met her perhaps once but knew of and greatly respected her work & her dogged efforts on behalf of all writers. Thanks for highlighting all this, for including David’s obit for her.

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