Last year, the United States and the rest of the world was shocked by the videos of the barbaric beheadings of American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff by ISIS.
On Friday, August 28th, the American Society of Journalists will be honoring Foley, Sotloff and Austin Tice, a journalist who has been missing since 2012, with its Conscience in Media Award at its writers conference, A Capital Event, at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.
The rarely given ASJA award honors those who have "demonstrated singular commitment to the highest principles of journalism at notable cost or sacrifice."
Foley, Sotloff and Tice exemplify the bravery and courage of journalists who personally risk their lives by covering wars and conflict in dangerous areas of the world.
James Foley was a freelance photojournalist who reported from Afghanistan, Libya and Syria for GlobalPost, Agence France-Presse and other news outlets. The 41-year-old Foley graduated from Marquette University and earned a master's degree from Northwestern's Medill School of Journalism. It was reported that Foley showed bravery by giving up an escape attempt so as to not abandon a friend and fellow hostage. His family established the James W. Foley Legacy Foundation, which advocates for support of hostages, conflict reporting, and youth education.
Steven Sotloff disappeared in August 2013 while reporting from Syria. He grew up in South Florida and majored in Journalism at the University of Central Florida. The 31-year-old freelance journalist covered the Middle East extensively and wrote for many publications, including Time, Foreign Policy, World Affairs, and the Christian Science Monitor. Central Florida and Sotloff's parents established the Steven Sotloff Memorial Endowed Fund, which will provide scholarships to UCF journalism majors and funding for Journalism symposia, lectures, and other Journalism programs.
In addition, Sotloff's family established the 2Lives Foundation, which creates endowed scholarships for students seeking a career in journalism. During his captivity, he managed to smuggle out two letters to his parents, Arthur and Shirley, one of which said in part: "Everyone has two lives. The second one begins when you realize that you only have one."
President Obama said last year, "Like Jim Foley before him, Steve's life stood in sharp contrast to those who murdered him so brutally. They make the absurd claim that they kill in the name of religion, but it was Steven, his friends say, who deeply loved the Islamic world. His killers try to claim that they defend the oppressed, but it was Steven who traveled across the Middle East risking his life to tell the story of Muslim men and women demanding justice and dignity."
Sotloff's death brought the number of journalists killed by ISIS to over 70 at the time, with over 80 being kidnapped in Syria as well.
The crisis continues today, as 34-year-old freelance journalist and former U.S. Marine Austin Tice, who was reporting in Syria, has been missing since August 2012 and his whereabouts are currently unknown. Tice interrupted his studies at Georgetown University Law Center to write about the rebels opposed to the Syrian government, publishing articles for the Washington Post, McClatchy News Service and other publications.
The American Society of Journalists and Authors strongly condemns and is outraged at the disturbing practice of kidnapping and killing foreign journalists. It also strives to honor journalists like Foley, Sotloff and Tice, who risk their lives to cover important stories in war-torn areas. Founded in 1948, ASJA is the nation's professional organization of independent nonfiction writers. Its membership consists of more than 1,200 outstanding freelance writers. Like journalists affiliated with a sole media organization, freelance writers face threats of violence both abroad and at home, but they often lack the institutional support that staff journalists have.
The ASJA Conscience in Media award was first presented in 1975, but has only been awarded 11 times due to its high criteria. According to ASJA, the writer must knowingly have taken a risk that goes beyond the normal call of duty. Past recipients include I.F. Stone, Don Bolles, Donald Woods, Jacobo Timmerman, Erwin Knell, Paulette Cooper, Richard Behar, Jerald F. terHorst, Anna Rosmus, and Jonathan Kozol.
ASJA believes that recognizing Foley, Sotloff, and Tice honors the courage of these writers and their commitment to reporting excellence in the face of personal risk.
"Killing of journalists is the ultimate form of censorship... If there is no immediate and serious response by the government, journalists feel threatened and self-censor," Sherif Mansour, the Committee To Protect Journalists Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator, wrote in a recent report on the state of Iraqi journalists in Kurdistan. "For every journalist killed or imprisoned, dozens more are silenced."
NOTE: Larry Atkins teaches Journalism at Temple University and Arcadia University. He writes this on behalf of the First Amendment Committee of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. www.asja.org