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Editorial: More ThanNumbers

Sadly, it is time again to remind everyone how tough and dangerous and necessary the news business is.

Last week, Washington, D.C.’s Newseum set May 14 as the date for rededicating its memorial to fallen journalists. The memorial is a room whose walls are filled with too many names, a total that keeps increasing every year.

The rededication will be for those journalists killed in 2011, but by May 14, it will already be chillingly out of date.

Just watch the video of Sunday Times reporter Marie Colvin, her familiar eye patch the result of a 2001 Sri Lankan ambush, reporting on CNN about a dead child, collateral damage in the Syrian uprising.

The next day, Colvin was gone in an attack on a makeshift pressroom.

Also killed in the Syrian attack two weeks ago was Rémi Ochlik, a 28-yearold, award-winning French photojournalist. There were several injuries as well in the wake of the attack in the city of Homs; by some accounts, the journalists were targeted because they were trying to tell the story of the mass killings there.

Following that violence, there were calls for an immediate cease-fire in Syria, if only so that the bodies of the dead could be removed and the injured journalists given medical attention. Instead, a Syrian vidoegrapher, Anas al-Tarsh, was killed in more shelling, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists—and that followed the killing a week before of Syrian videographer Rami al-Sayed. Last week, the bloodshed intensified; one of the injured journalists, British photographer Paul Conroy, had to be smuggled out of the country, according to the BBC.

The CPJ reports that 11 journalists have already died in the line of duty in 2012. That number was nine when this editorial was begun last week, and does not include six more suspicious deaths the CPJ has not been able to confirm. In 2011, there were 46 journalist deaths confirmed to be related to their work, with another 35 deaths of journalists for which motives could not be confirmed.

The dead are broadcast, online and print reporters, commentators, columnists, videographers, photographers, producers, technicians and, yes, editors and publishers.

Journalists help bring a face and a story to War, with a capital W, by bringing it down to the lower-case scale of the many individual lives it destroys. Unrest in Syria can be too easily dismissed as international white noise. The words and pictures of a beautiful, innocent child dying in front of our eyes cannot be.

It is the ability and willingness of journalists to risk their lives to humanize such tragedy that can change hearts and minds. Bob Woodruff, Kimberly Dozier, Lara Logan and the late David Bloom, James Brolan and Paul Douglas are just some of the broadcast and cable journalists who have looked at war and refused to turn away from it.

It would be nice if May 14 were the last time the Newseum added new names to its memorial. But that won’t happen as long as war continues to be such a popular means of conflict resolution.

Until that changes, the mainstream media will keep putting themselves in harm’s way so that we can be moved, and perhaps moved to action, by the death of a single child.