When I was in journalism school, I had a professor who told us that whatever we did as journalists, we always had to be honest and play by our profession’s ethics. But more importantly, he told us, we had to play by our own personal ethics. The media has the power to make or break someone’s career. Words written in the media, much like words written on the Internet, last forever. Whatever we did, we needed to act with integrity.
My heart is broken as a journalist for the twelve people, journalists and police officers, brutally murdered in today’s attack at the French weekly magazine, Charlie Hebdo. My thoughts and prayers are with the families of the victims. And I will use my words to memorialize them.
Religion can be an insidious thing. It’s important to remember that the gunmen who murdered the cartoonists at Charlie Hebdo were Islamic extremists, and not at all representative of the religion’s doctrine and values. But more than that, they were terrorists – people bent on shutting down the freedom that our profession represents. And as a friend on my Facebook said, you can choose to agree or disagree with someone’s actions, especially when the actions are carried out in a public sphere. But these disagreements should never be had at the point of a gun. Regardless of your disagreement, killing is never okay.
When I think about these cartoonists and journalists, I think about people like me. I write a lot of inflammatory things on the Internet that I realize can never be erased. But when I write, I remember my professor’s words. Write with honesty and integrity. Write with the perceptions from the unique lens that you have on the world. Stand behind your words. And they did – all twelve of them. They stood behind their cartoons and they stood behind their values. This is journalistic integrity. This is what was upheld even as they died.
The thing about terrorism is that it tries to stamp out our undeniable human spirit. But it never will. No matter if you are a journalist, a cartoonist, or simply someone giving your opinion on the world, terrorism will never win. People matter. Freedom of speech matters. We won’t stop writing, drawing, editorializing, because of today. We will speak while the twelve were silenced. We will uphold the right to express ideas and the power to reach the masses.
Today, we are Charlie Hebdo. Today, we as journalists stand and remember our ethics: be honest. Present the facts. Act with integrity. Stand behind your words. And don’t let them win. We have every right to present our stories and the stories of our communities and people without fear of terror. We will continue to do so.
Long live the freedom of the press.
Je suis Charlie.