NYC Auction Held to Raise Funds for Stony Brook’s New Marie Colvin Center

By Caitlin Dickson, The Daily Beast
June 22, 2012

Photography agent Frank Meo walked into Muleh’s high fashion clothing and furniture showroom in New York City’s meatpacking district Thursday evening and was, frankly, a little stunned. “What are we doing here?” he wondered aloud, as he looked at his clients’ war photographs displayed across from designer clothes and one-of-a-kind furniture. “We’re usually at a bad bar with bad beer,” he said. Meo was surprised to see that some of his big-time photographers had donated their work to be auctioned off—some of it, he pointed out, worth thousands of dollars—at this trendy downtown showroom. But after all, it was for a good cause.

Four months ago, legendary war correspondent Marie Colvin was killed in a shelling while reporting on Syrian violence in Homs, and Stony Brook University, the only one in the SUNY system with a journalism program, plans to memorialize her with an international reporting center. After Colvin’s death, her Long Island-based family received enough donations from supporters worldwide to start a fund. That fund, Howard Schneider, the dean of Stony Brook’s journalism school, announced proudly Thursday night, became the seed money for what will someday become the Stony Brook University Marie Colvin Center for International Reporting. Proceeds from the auction Thursday night also were designated for the planned center.

Ilana Ozemoy was a “very green” 23-year-old correspondent in Afghanistan when she first met Colvin. “Oh my God, who is this woman?” she recalled thinking of the hardcore reporter who became more mentor than intimidator. After attending Colvin’s funeral, Ozemoy, now an assistant professor at Stony Brook, knew she had to do something to memorialize the “larger than life” figure who had played such a significant role in her and other young journalists’ careers, but a scholarship wasn’t enough. So she and Schneider decided to think big.

The goal of the Marie Colvin International Reporting Center is to train budding foreign correspondents how to report safely from war zones and to send more fearless women out into the field. Ozemoy has already started teaching a class called “Reporters Without Walls” that has taken students on weeks-long reporting trips to places like Cuba and China. Next year, she plans to take a group to Kenya.

Sara Sonnack, a Stony Brook journalism major who will be a senior next year, says she hopes she can make the trip. “I’d love to go because when else will I have the opportunity to go to Africa?” says Sonnack, who’s living at home in Queens for the summer while interning at CBS. Though going to Kenya would be ideal, the program doesn’t have enough funds yet to pay for the students to travel. “I’m weighing whether it would be worth it for me to get a loan,” she says.

On Thursday night, Muleh was filled with Stony Brook students and recent graduates excited about their school’s latest endeavor, even if they won’t be there to take advantage of it. “It might be too late for me to participate, but it will lead to better preparation [for correspondents], save lives, and better journalism,” says Nick Batson, who also just finished his junior year. Eventually, Ozemoy and Schneider hope to be able to afford to bring on a “reporter in residence,” a correspondent they can relieve from dangerous work abroad for a few months to teach eager students about gathering information in a war zone.