More Than Words

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My 12-year-old daughter was on her way to the pantry for an afterschool snack when I called her over to my computer. "There's something I want you to read," I said. Pulled up on the screen was a news article about James Foley, the American journalist executed by Islamic State forces.

A news station from Mr. Foley's hometown of Rochester, New Hampshire posted an article that focused not on his brutal murder, but on Mr. Foley's short but extraordinary career as a journalist. He had given up a job as a teacher to pursue a graduate degree in journalism with a specific focus on conflict coverage. As a freelance correspondent, Mr. Foley filed reports from Afghanistan, Libya and Syria. He wrote reports not only about rebels and rockets but civilians who paid their price, too. His aim, according to family and friends, was selfless. He wanted to tell stories of conflict from the most human level he could.

In the same way James Foley humanized conflict in his work, I hoped his death would humanize news coverage for my daughter. And it did. After reading the article, she said, "It's so easy to look at news pictures and see the words and not think about the person responsible for all that."

My daughter is right. There is a sort of magical, out-of-thin air quality to the way global news is delivered -- via radio, computer, smartphone and paper boy. Had I not been a journalist for 25 years I might give myself over to the spell of such easily accessible, all-too- conveniently reported news. But I can't.

In James Foley's death, I see a poignant reminder about how very un-magical the gathering of news can be, particularly in a war zone. I know it's not the San Francisco Chronicle or NPR or BuzzFeed that connects me to the farthest and most heartbreaking parts of the world but living, breathing human beings.


With a Perspective, I'm Holly Hubbard Preston.

Holly Hubbard Preston is an author and freelance journalist. She lives in St. Helena.