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THE NETTE EFFECT: Hooked on adrenaline?

Antoinette Connell

THE NETTE EFFECT: Hooked on adrenaline?

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THE PLANE had hardly touched down at Piarco Airport in Trinidad before we were in a taxi making friends with the driver.

Admittedly, we three journalists were on something of an adrenaline rush. It was the day after the explosive story (in THE NATION, of course) that the slippery Winston Hall was more than likely in a Trinidad jail.

We left the newsroom abuzz with excitement; this was a good day for news. But we’ll get back to that story later.

Last week’s killing of journalists reporting in the volatile Syria ignited discussion on whether some journalists are adrenaline junkies and sometimes push a bit beyond the boundary of what is safe.

Yes, journalists do get a rush from their work but it is like any other job in which a worker sets out to do a good job and does.

One could just as easily ask why would anyone want to become a police officer knowing that a split second could make the difference between life and death. It comes from a sense of wanting to help do what is right.

Marie Colvin was the American reporter with the Sunday Times killed along with French photographer Remi Ochlik when a shell hit a makeshift media centre in the city of Homs.

Two other foreign journalists were wounded.

No guardian angels

Her friend of 25 years, the BBC’s Jim Muir in Beirut, in paying tribute to her, also captured the essence of what it is to be a journalist.

He wrote: “If there is a scale of courage, Marie was at the top of it. Because she knew the reality of war and that there are no guardian angels.

“She learned that her life was not charmed in 2001 when she lost an eye covering the war in Sri Lanka . . . . But her injury was not something she shrugged off lightly. She later suffered post traumatic stress disorder so badly she had to be hospitalised.

“So her courage was not the bravado of the foolhardy who imagine themselves invulnerable. It was the quiet determination of someone who had to do what she believed she was for, knowing the risks and possible consequences. To tell the story and give a voice to the voiceless.”

Facing mortal danger

The latter is the driving force for many journalists. Journalism calls for a fair amount of courage whether you are confronting a powerful figure with the ability to affect your livelihood or facing mortal danger in a real-life situation.

In order to give voice to a cause and do justice to it the journalist sometimes inserts himself/herself in the situation. It has nothing to do with believing that you are invincible because you are always aware of the dangers.

Now back to that trip to Trinidad.

The more we dug into Hall’s life on the lam in Trinidad, the more uncomfortable we became when we entered certain districts. A drug dealer whose confidence we had gained gave us a name and a warning against attempting to make contact.

Our investigations led us to a drug area with a winding track lined on both sides with heavy vegetation. Away in the distance were a few houses, one of them elevated.

The taximan had long abandoned us at a point with a warning.

Chris Gollop and I continued on as photographer Charles Grant waved us on with an “I’ll catch up”. We all knew what that meant.

As we were advancing, there came a shout asking us our business. We shouted back who we were looking for and there was silence. We shouted twice more in that distinct Bajan accent, still no answer.

Chris and I were by now contemplating our next move. We still had a few hundred yards to go within that thick vegetation before we reached the houses and anything could happen.

We turned back. Neither of us felt the need to be a hero that day. We had to be contented with the information up to that point and look for other sources.

As was the case then, not every story is worth pursuing to the bitter end.

Here we were chasing after a criminal. But there are situations where an entire society is exposed, as is the case in Syria.

It is then that journalists will go all the way to change faceless death statistics into human beings with whom we can sympathize. This is one of the best ways to assist in the fight for change.  

Antoinette Connell is Daily Nation Editor.