I am Charlie, and I am proud to be a journalist.
The Jan. 7 attack on Charlie Hebdo in France was brutal and tragic, highlighting the very real dangers of press freedom. Twelve people – journalists and police officers – lost their lives. In shock over the brutality, journalists and journalism organizations around the world stood in solidarity, literally and figuratively, showing their respect for the lives lost and the attack on press freedom.
I was proud to stand among them. On the day of the attack, as news circulated worldwide, SPJ organized an effort to show support by creating a simple graphic of other journalism organizations joining in solidarity against the backdrop of the recognizable “Je Suis Charlie” slogan.
However, I am not always proud to be a journalist. I am personally proud of my work and the work of my colleagues and journalists I know and respect, but I cringe when a news outlet bungles a story or a journalist’s commits unethical acts like plagiarism. Whether these media organizations and journalists succumb to the need to be first or the intense pressure of producing on demand, each instance of incomplete, poor or unethical reporting reflects on us all. In those moments, it is a little harder to hold my head high.
But in the aftermath of Charlie Hebdo, our focus shifted from ratings and readership for at least a brief stint, allowing us to set our inherent competition aside to band together for the greater good. This horrific attack brought us back to center to highlight that we are all vulnerable, yet we forge ahead because press freedom is necessary to facilitate a civilized, democratic society and to hold our governments accountable. In the U.S., this basic right is guaranteed by our Constitution, but this isn’t the case everywhere and journalists in other countries risk their lives daily to fight that form of oppression.
Despite press freedom laws, rules and rights, the Charlie Hebdo attack reminds us that, while these rights exist, not everyone acknowledges them. Governments and individuals will thwart those who speak against them. Just two days later, on Jan. 9, blogger Raif Badawi was flogged in Saudi Arabia, part of an inhumane sentence given him in May 2014 for insulting Islam on his Liberal Saudi Network website, a crime in his country.
Sadly, these aren’t the only two examples we can cite of attacks against press freedom. In 2014 alone, at least 61 journalists lost their lives in the course of their work. Of those, 27 were murdered, including American journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. While motives and assailants are varied, the end result is the same: Each time a journalist’s life is lost, we lose an important voice for press freedom.
Amidst all the tragedy, it is important that we find some hope to cling to and a way to turn these horrible deaths into a learning opportunity. One way we can do that is by remembering that we are all journalists telling important stories. We must be free to continue to do this important work without fear, and to stand together in solidarity to protect and defend press freedom.
We are Charlie, and we are all journalists.