In a speech at London’s St Bride’s Church, often a hub for journalists, in 2010, Marie said: “We always have to ask ourselves whether the level of risk is worth the story. What is bravery, and what is bravado?”
That is a difficult question. Few mainstream news organisations are willing to let their journalists cross the border from Turkey into Syria these days, because the risk of kidnap is so great. Most editors now understand that they should not buy material from freelancers in places where they would not send their own staff because of the danger.
It’s progress – there was a time when broadcasters and newspapers routinely used freelancers without taking any responsibility for their safety. But it means we are left with the information from prisoners in Hama and citizen journalist reports from Aleppo – better than nothing, filmed by brave people, but frequently incomplete, often confusing, biased, not always easy to interpret.
In February 2012, Marie and photographer Paul Conroy crawled through a sewer to get to Homs, as the Syrian regime’s bombs turned the buildings of rebel-controlled Baba Amr to burnt-out carcasses and rubble. In her dispatches, Marie described the makeshift beds on which children slept underground to avoid the bombs, the operations without anaesthetic, the despair of people who felt they had been abandoned by the world. It was classic, old-fashioned eyewitness reporting.
On 22 February, a government mortar shell killed Marie and the French photographer, Rémi Ochlik. Conroy and the French reporter Edith Bouvier were seriously injured.
Marie felt she had a responsibility to report; she refused to leave it to YouTube. Yet, on this occasion, the risk was too great. Was she brave, or – in her own words – was it bravado? Either way, we are all the poorer because Marie Colvin is no longer reporting from Syria.
Lindsey Hilsum is international editor for Channel 4 News. She is currently writing a biography of Marie Colvin