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Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism Winners to Speak

Journalists will talk about reporting from Syria and officially receive their awards

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November 6, 2013 | by Wendy Leopold

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Journalists C.J. Chivers and Ben Hubbard will discuss their reporting from Syria and be awarded the 2012 Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism on Thursday, Nov. 14, at Northwestern University.

The Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications event will take place at 4 p.m. in the McCormick Tribune Center Forum, 1870 Campus Drive, on the Evanston campus. It is free and open to the public.

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 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 amidst 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. “What was most remarkable was, under these awful conditions, how good their writing and reporting was.”

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

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,” he 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,” he added. “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.”

While honored, Chivers said he hopes the award “won't detract from the issues that truly need attention. It “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.”

“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,” he added.

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 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.

Topics: People