Michelle Lang Killed In Afghanistan – Is News Worth Such Loss?

As a technology blogger and pundit, I (thankfully) have no need to risk my life to “churn out a story”.  If I need a first hand account of breaking news, a trip to Las Vegas for the CES show is about as risky as it gets.  

Today's news from Kandahar impacted me in a way that I did not expect.  I did not know 34 year old Michelle Lang, and honestly had not heard her name until the news broke that she, along with four Canadian soldiers had been killed in Afghanistan on Wednesday, by yet another roadside explosive. 

So this techno pundit just doesn't understand why, as we close out 2009 and usher in 2010, that the need to physically place non-essential personnel in harms way in wartime situations still exists.  I can understand the need to “be there” – for the “first hand account” to be able to tell the story that otherwise cannot be told. But in this age of ubiquitous connectivity and technology that enables “presence” through unified videoconferencing – is it not time to question our existing deployment model of journalists on the front lines?

Calgary Herald reporter Michelle Lang scrums Alberta Premier Ed Stelmach during a tour of  

the new Alberta Children's Hospital in this 2008 file photo. Courtesy Canwest News Service

Photograph by: Ted Jacob, Calgary Herald

I am not “a journalist”, so I spent some time this evening reading perspectives from those closer to the reality Michelle found herself in.  I can respect Don Martin's position, as he rightfully heralds Michelle as his Afghanistan hero.  One who ventured “…outside the wire-barbed walls of the base…to discover and write the real stories of troubled life in Afghanistan…”  My question still stands however.  When one refers to the struggle of Afghanistan – this is a war, and in fact a long-time geopolitical whirlwind that has been well documented.   I will leave my thoughts and perspectives on the war in Afghanistan overall out of this post – anyone who wishes to engage me on that topic can do so offline or online (elsewhere) anytime!  I will contest, however.  Don's position from the perspective that any loss of journalist life in this war is one loss too many.

Let it be clear, that I have tremendous respect and admiration for the sacrifice and commitment Michelle Lang gave to her job, career and readership.  She deserves to be honoured and recognized for the impact she has had on her colleagues, profession and broader community and readership.

But do we not owe Michelle Lang and journalism the opportunity to revisit the historical assumptions in place that result in the risk/benefit belief that going “outside the wire” is a badge of honour and necessary? 

I am one of the “readership” and I would rather journalists not place themselves in harms way without a validated value proposition.  Perhaps I am in the minority, but if so, I'll still shout it from the roof tops.  

Is such loss worth the reward? Would love to hear your thoughts.

You can sign Michelle Lang's Guestbook and share your condolences.  Her 7 Blog Posts Since Arriving In Afghanistan On Dec 11. Can Be Found Here.

My deepest condolences and prayers to the 5 departed souls, their families, friends, loved ones and fellow soldiers and media professionals.  A truly tragic and sad day.  My prayers will be with you all as we usher in the New Year.  God Bless.

– Pedro

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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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