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Editorial: Fallen Heroes

Technology has made it so easy to get footage of unrest around the globe into the nation’s living rooms—and trains, planes, cars, cabs and coffee shops—that it allows us to forget sometimes how difficult and dangerous it actually is for those whose content rides that magic carpet.

Satellites, the Web and digitization have made the speed and reach of newsgathering a modern marvel of, generally speaking, great efficiency. We can see the tanks roll, but without the people who risk their lives to use that technology to educate, inform and move us, it is only, to paraphrase Ed Murrow, bits and bites in a box.

We were reminded of that last week, in a reflective period between the celebration of World Press Freedom Day (May 3) and the May 14 ceremony honoring the journalists killed in the line of duty over the past year. In a sense, there’s no way that ceremony could ever get enough press, not only for viewers and video-accessors who have come to take the 24/7 news cycle and instant access to unrest, violence and strife abroad—or at home—as a given, but with every bean counter poring over an expense report of a reporter who this week may be covering Cannes and next week might be asked to put themselves in the line of fire somewhere else around the globe.

As if we needed another reminder of this, and we don’t, it came this past February with the death of Marie Colvin, the famed Sunday Times reporter who was killed covering the Syrian conflict. Ironically, Colvin had only hours before appeared on CNN to talk about the civilian victims—particularly the children—of the shelling there.

Her death brought total recall to the cost of that “easy” access to stories that can change hearts and minds.

And there are more, far too many more, casualties, from dozens of other countries. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 18 journalists have died in the line of duty so far this year, including a half-dozen in Syria.

CPJ lists another 14 journalists who were killed, circumstances unclear, and there are many more who have been injured or intimidated.

On May 14, the Newseum in Washington will rededicate its journalist memorial with the addition of new names to its wall of honor—a wall that already includes David Kaplan of ABC, killed by a sniper while covering wars in Yugoslavia in 1992; George Polk of CBS, who died in Greece in 1948 while covering a civil war there; Larry Greene of WCBS-TV New York, who was killed in a helicopter crash in the Middle East in 2002 while covering United Nations sanctions on Iraq; NBC cameraman Robert Brown, killed in an ambush during the Jonestown massacre in 1978; and The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Pearl, executed by Pakistani terrorists in 2002.

It would be comforting to think there will be a time when no names are added to the wall, but that would be unrealistic. As long as there are conflicts or breaking stories that need to be told, there will be casualties. And as long as journalists are willing to put themselves in harm’s way in order to tell those stories, they too run the risk of being counted among the fallen heroes.