On October 8, 2016, Diane Foley, the mother of murdered American journalist James Foley, who was abducted in Syria in 2012 and killed by ISIS in 2014, anchored the Pulitzer Center’s Freelancer Safety Panel as a part of the Pulitzer Center’s 10-year anniversary events.
Speaking to the room made up of both journalists and other media stakeholders, Foley said, “the work journalists do is vitally important to our democracy, and you should do it. But please think of your family and have that difficult conversation. I wish I would have had that conversation with Jim.”
As questions continued, two themes of the evening emerged: focusing on the experience of the families of those held hostage and the coordination with government agencies working to bring hostages home.
Foley; Michael Scott Moore, a freelance journalist and Pulitzer Center grantee held hostage in Somalia for 977 days; Marlis Saunders, Moore’s mother; and Rachel Briggs, executive director of Hostage U.S., participated in the Freelancer Safety Panel at the National Press Club. David Rohde, a Pulitzer Center board member who was held hostage on two separate occasions in Bosnia and Afghanistan, moderated the panel.
Saunders, who led the efforts to free her son, spoke of her experience working with both the government agencies. She said,“It started with the FBI informing me of Michael’s kidnapping. They did a tremendous job throughout the two years and eight months supporting me and providing me with advice, information, and support.”
Foley contrasted Saunders experience by saying, “most likely it was because Jim was held in Syria where we we didn’t have people, CIA or anything, but it was very bad. We did not get any support [from the government] and they were always wanting information from us but were not forthcoming.”
Following the families sharing, Briggs spoke about her work with Hostage U.K. and most recently with the newly established Hostage U.S.—two charities she founded to support the rights of hostages.
Briggs said there has been a remarkable shift in the last 12 months—the White House is now paying greater attention to the needs of hostages and their family members. She estimates that 200-300 U.S. citizens are taken hostage each year.
“Because of the work of members on this panel the governments now know they need to engage with families,” Briggs said.
Monika Bauerlein, CEO of Mother Jones, asked the panel to address how editors should work with reporters working in areas of security concern.
Moore and Rohde both responded that editors must have difficult and educated conversations about the risks their journalists are taking and they should discuss the need for insurance, cybersecurity, and access to local experience. Additionally, they should make sure their journalists have the same conversations with their families.
Many young journalists, part of the Pulitzer Center’s 2016 student fellows program, were also in attendance.
Addressing one of the final questions asking advice on how young journalists should break in to the field, Moore said, “the way I did it was to find a more experienced journalist to learn under, set red lines for yourself and do not cross them. Of course, I crossed my own lines...Most stories are not worth your life. In fact, I can’t think of any one that is.”