“Have you ever been shot?” The question was asked in all innocence. He meant no harm. He was genuinely interested in the answer. And yet, underneath, there was a sense of scepticism. Perhaps an understandable sense of scepticism.
We were in Marylebone standing outside the Monocle office. In the courtyard, Santa Claus was perching children on his knee while two reindeer were being patted by children and adults alike. Yes, my business card says “foreign editor” but it’s possible that he had just seen me conduct an in-depth interview with Snowflake and Cracker, the aforementioned reindeer, and quite reasonably come to the conclusion that I wasn’t the sort of journalist that could tell the difference between the crack of an AK-47 and the thud of a grenade.
He was asking for a reason. At last weekend’s Monocle Christmas Market we were raising money for the Committee to Protect Journalists. The vast majority of visitors were overwhelmingly kind-hearted, helping us to raise a generous four-figure sum for an organisation that provides vital assistance for journalists reporting from some of the world’s most dangerous places.
One or two visitors were a little sceptical, though. “Why do journalists need protecting?” sneered one. (I realise “sneered” is just the sort of pejorative term one expects journalists to use. Still, she really did sneer.) In the week that the Leveson report into journalistic ethics was published here in the UK it was perhaps inevitable that some people would not believe that journalists need protecting.
Inevitable but inaccurate. Across the world a journalist is killed every eight days. The majority are deliberately targeted and an increasing number of those murders are ordered by governments. The civil war in Syria has claimed the lives of 30 journalists; in Somalia 13 have been killed over the last 12 months. Reporters investigating gangs in Guatemala, drug trafficking in Mexico, Taliban activity in Pakistan – all have been killed.
The rising death toll coincides with a noticeable decline in the number of foreign correspondents. Too many newspapers, radio stations and television networks are cutting back. Bureaux are closing down; correspondents are leaving without being replaced. At a time when global communication has never been easier we are in danger of knowing less about the world we live in. A few, including Monocle, are bucking the trend, opening new bureaux and adding more correspondents, but the overall drift towards a reliance on wire copy and freelancers is impossible to ignore.
Those that are willing to travel to volatile parts of the world, to investigate dangerous people, to cover wars and conflicts that urgently need to be reported, require our backing.
My friend at the Christmas Market thought so too – happy to throw in a fiver once I’d answered his question. And you should think about it too.