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Medill Honors Syria Reporters

C.J. Chivers, Ben Hubbard receive 2012 Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism

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September 18, 2013 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications has awarded C.J. Chivers and Ben Hubbard the 2012 Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism. 

The 2012 award calls attention to both reporters’ work in Syria, where Hubbard and Chivers put their lives on the line to report on the situation there. Placing the need for accurate, in-depth reporting above their personal safety, they worked for two separate news organizations, reporting on a similar subject and under similar threat. Hubbard wrote for the Associated Press and Chivers for The New York Times. Both journalists currently work for The New York Times.

Chivers and Hubbard went in and out of Syria multiple times in 2012, often traveling by foot and at night in order to avoid detection. They managed to gain the trust of rebel groups and report amid bombs, bullets and the constant threat of capture. Their articles offer a glimpse into a region most readers are unfamiliar with and were reported with the utmost accuracy possible in a war-torn country.

“Syria is probably as dangerous or more dangerous than any other country that a winner has reported from,” said Medill alumnus Richard Stolley, a former managing editor of Time magazine who is one of three judges for the award and a member of Medill’s Board of Advisers. “What was most remarkable was, under these awful conditions, how good their writing and reporting was.”

Medill Professor Donna Leff and Medill alumna and Board of Advisers member Ellen Soeteber also judged the 2012 submissions.

Stolley added that because the two reporters could astutely identify and direct their coverage to two different audience groups, the judges were convinced that both should be chosen as winners. Usually, just one personor one team writing for the same publication is awarded the medal. 

Chivers and Hubbard told their stories with feedback from Syrian civilians and rebel groups, offering a first-hand perspective into the brutality of Bashar Assad’s presidency. They wrote about survivors, fighters, massacres and refugees.

Hubbard sees his coverage of Syria as helping fill an information void about what is going on in the country.

“I have always considered it my job as an Arabic-speaking journalist to try to act like a bridge between the often baffling events taking place in the Arab world and the American or English-language reader,” Hubbard said.

“It was terrifying to go in, since we didn't have that clear of an idea of what we'd find and were of course worried about getting caught by the government or hit in an attack that was aimed at the rebels. At the same time, it felt like untilled territory for journalism because there were huge changes going on that very few people had had any access to,” he said.

While honored by the award, Chivers hopes it won’t detract from the issues that truly need attention.

“[The medal] gives me something tangible to show my children, a marker that validates that all the loneliness and dread they have endured during my absences over the years were part of something that served a purpose beyond a mere wage,” Chivers said. “But on other levels, it makes me uncomfortable, because focusing on a journalist and not the subject of the coverage can be a distraction, and because I know that my work is made possible through the help of so many Syrians and Turks whose courage goes unrecognized, and certainly exceeds mine.”

The Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism was established in 2003 to honor journalists who display great courage with their reporting. The award goes beyond physical courage and honors those who display moral, ethical and economic bravery as well. Past winners include journalists who were imprisoned in the Middle East, reported from natural disasters or recounted stories of personal trauma.

In 2011, reporters David Jackson and Gary Marx from the Chicago Tribune won for their in-depth series “Across the Border, Beyond the Law: Flaws in the justice system help fugitives cross America’s borders and avoid capture.”

Medill Dean Brad Hamm said Chivers and Hubbard truly embody the kind of courage the medal exemplifies.

“When you see the kind of difficulty that the journalists have in telling these stories you just are amazed by what they go through,” Hamm said. “The kind of work that they do, it’s hard for many journalists, much less average citizens, to imagine what it takes to have that kind of courage.”

Chivers and Hubbard will discuss their reporting in Syria and be presented their medals at a public Medill event at 4 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 14, in the McCormick Tribune Center Forum, 1870 Campus Drive, on Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

Topics: People