A few weeks ago, for our April issue, I wrote a story about The Last Column: a project, website and book that brings together the final dispatches and photographs of 24 journalists killed in the line of duty in recent years. It’s an amazing project that includes names that made headlines around the world – and some that didn’t but who we should remember.
When we came to fact-check that story, we had to reconfirm a detail supplied to the authors some months earlier by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ): the number of reporters and news photographers killed doing their jobs since 1992. The statistic, it turned out, was incorrect because more had been killed in those few months. It now stood at 1,337.
On 18 April, as the UK prepared for a long sunny weekend, a 29-year old journalist called Lyra McKee was shot in Derry while covering rioting in the Northern Irish city. Dissident Republicans have now claimed responsibility and say that they made a mistake and are sorry. But for her family, her girlfriend and the city, “sorry” is of little value. And that terrible total has to be updated again.
That’s not to say that journalists’ lives are more valuable – the heartbreak of Sri Lanka brings that home. But there is something extraordinary about people like Lyra McKee, who do everything they can to stay safe but, in the end, have to tell the story (and that’s even in an age when politicians fire at journalists with “fake news” chants).
Some of the frontline reporters who made The Last Column possible are joining us in Madrid for the Monocle Quality of Life Conference – because a robust fourth estate is vital to any progressive nation’s quality of life. Those voices include Ron Haviv, an extraordinary conflict photographer, and Clarissa Ward, chief international correspondent at CNN. We will also be joined by Nicolas Hénin, a celebrated war correspondent who was held hostage by Isis for 10 months. We rely on people like these to shine a light on the places where others try to commit crimes and atrocities out of sight.
Perhaps you can join us in Madrid to be part of this conversation. Maybe you’ll have the chance to visit thelastcolumn.com or send a donation to the CPJ. Or perhaps you can find time to reflect on the life of a 29-year old woman who should be hanging out with her partner today. But one thing we can all do is hope that terrifying number stops ticking ever upwards.