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Former McClatchy newsman Roy Gutman, back briefly from freelancing in Istanbul since McClatchy shuttered its foreign bureaus last year, sardonically told City Paper at Thursday night’s National Press Club Awards, “Aleppo is a barrel of laughs. The less you know about it the happier you’ll be.”
He said there isn’t enough coverage of the Syrian city under brutal siege, the first of a major city since Sarajevo, where Gutman cut his teeth reporting on war crimes and earned a Pulitzer.
The mild-mannered assembly of the Capital area’s leading journalists was meant to honor the reporters for their work, but it also highlighted a litany of atrocities around the world: slaughter, war, sickness, toxic food, mass shootings, animal cruelty, and the killing of Freddie Gray in Baltimore last year.
As we downed wine and dumplings, it was a bit eerie to drift from the recently liberated Jason Rezaian, the Washington Post correspondent who had been jailed in Iran, to the parents of Alison Parker, the Virginia TV reporter murdered on air in Roanoke a year ago.
These people paid the ultimate price.
“This is not a night when you have comedians,” said former Press Club President Myron Belkind. He pointed out the obvious differences between Thursday’s serious remembrances and the glitzy White House Correspondents Association annual bash, replete with coast-to-coast television coverage, presidential speeches, and offensive comics.
Press Club members and their guests clapped quietly and sincerely for the following award winners, among others:
• The Baltimore Sun coverage of Freddie Gray’s killing and the subsequent civil riots that threatened the lives of Sun reporters, among others.
• A Mother Jones study about the link between media coverage of violence and mass shootings.
• A McClatchy report on how immigrants are treated in detention.
• A Wall Street Journal report on a man who held a small child hostage and was shot and killed by police.
But there was still more recognition of how journalists cover the world’s grim realities. The award-winning photo was of a young Ugandan woman who had been brutalized by an acid attack to her face.
Another award went to the Associated Press team that produced “Seafood from slaves,” which documented how thousands of Burmese and other poor southeast Asians were rescued from slavery on fishing boats. Thousands gained freedom because of the AP reporting.
So amid some well-deserved self-congratulation by journalism’s high priests, there was a genuine reunion of souls who tread far from home to shine a light of truth on humanity’s darkest secrets.