The Marie Colvin Distinguished Lecture Series: Christiane Amanpour

Amanpour inspires young reporters, remembers Marie Colvin

By Gavin Stern

Photo: Wasim Ahmad

Christiane Amanpour screamed when she first heard the news. Marie Colvin, renowned international journalist, friend and colleague, was dead.

“That is the ultimate price that people who are dedicated to tell you the truth sometimes pay,” Amanpour said to a capacity audience at the Student Activities Center Auditorium of Stony Brook University.

Nearly a year after Colvin was killed by a rocket attack in Syria, Amanpour served as the inaugural speaker for the Marie Colvin Distinguished Lecture Series on Feb. 5. Amanpour is the chief international correspondent for CNN and global affairs anchor for ABC News, with three decades of experience reporting on international events in war zones from Bosnia to the Middle East.

“It’s a risky business, telling the truth,” Amanpour said.

The inaugural lecture was as much a memorial to Colvin, as it was the official opening of Stony Brook University’s Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting. Colvin’s family was in attendance, including her sister Cathleen, who joined Amanpour on stage. Marie Colvin grew up in nearby Oyster Bay and worked for the Sunday Times in London for much of her career,

“[Colvin] sent herself into the hardest and farthest corners of the world to tell the stories of people who were caught in the tide of history,” said Ilana Ozernoy, Colvin Program Coordinator at the School of Journalism. “She gave so much of herself to her colleagues and especially to her younger colleagues, because she believed in mentoring. It is in that spirit that we established the center at Stony Brook.”

The center’s mission is to train a new generation of international reporters at the State University of New York’s only journalism school. The Center will send students and faculty on overseas reporting trips, establish a journalist-in-residence fellowship to bring foreign correspondents to Stony Brook, and host a distinguished lecture series.

“We’re just absolutely thrilled. It couldn’t imagine a more perfect tribute to Marie,” Cathleen Colvin said.

Photo: Wasim Ahmad

To a standing ovation, Howard Schneider, dean of the School of Journalism, announced that Amanpour had pledged a $50,000 donation to the Marie Colvin Center. The Jim and Marilyn Simons Foundation will match Amanpour’s donation for a total contribution of $100,000.

Amanpour had previously donated $10,000 to fund a reporting trip to Kenya for 16 students enrolled in the school’s Journalism Without Walls course.

“This center will be a beacon that will continuously shed light and spotlight the need for vigorous, courageous, independent and accountable reporting about what’s happening in the world,” Schneider said.

“It means a lot to me that someone has an interest in the future of journalism. We speak so much about how journalism is failing, and that it doesn’t have a future, and no one really does anything about that,” said Jessica Stallone, 22, a journalism student from East Meadow, N.Y. who attended the lecture as well as the trip to Kenya. “You have to invest in the future of journalism, and that’s exactly what Amanpour did.”

Alexa Gorman, 21, a journalism student from Prospect, Conn., said she aspires to become a foreign correspondent. She asked Amanpour about the challenges of being a female and working overseas.

“Many places feel that it’s less threatening to let a woman in, and that’s why I’ve generally found it to be an advantage and not a disadvantage for me. On the other hand I will not play down the risks that women face,” Amanpour said. “Go for it!”

Gorman said after the lecture that Amanpour’s encouragement inspired her.

“The most difficult part about wanting to be an international reporter as a female is – being a female. You go into these countries where women aren’t taken seriously, they don’t have equal rights,” Gorman said. “So for her to walk in and be a force, it’s amazing.”

Amanpour encouraged student journalists of all genders to get out into the field and ask the tough questions of those in power. She cautioned that journalism was not a field for those who want to be “popular.”

“It’s dangerous, it’s difficult, it’s getting more and more dangerous and more and more difficult, but there really is no substitute for being there. And the truth of the matter is, it really does make a difference,” Amanpour said.

Photo: Wasim Ahmad

Amanpour demonstrated that point by contrasting the NATO military intervention in Kosovo in 1998 – an act that prevented ethnic cleansing – with the unimpeded Rwanda genocide that occurred in 1994. The difference, she said, was that journalists on the ground in Bosnia and Kosovo had provoked public outrage through their reporting.

“The power of being there and the power of not being there are equally enormous, Amanpour said. “It can really make the difference between good and evil.”

At one point, Amanpour’s eyes glazed over with tears as she recalled the sacrifice that Colvin made, and the hole her absence leaves in the profession, as well as those who benefitted from her work.

“If you look now, Marie’s not there anymore.” Amanpour said. “Who’s telling that story, every single day from Syria? No one’s holding our leaders’ feet to the fire.”

Audience members also seemed moved.

“She spoke with such conviction and such a great respect for Marie Colvin that I think everybody in the room was affected by it,” said James Klurfeld, visiting professor of journalism at Stony Brook University and a former vice president at Newsday. “She gave a very impassioned talk, and she gave our students who want to be journalists a look at someone who does it at the highest level, and the passion it takes to do it right.”

Photos by Wasim Ahmad.