Louisville, KY: Five Bellarmine students flew to New York City last Thursday to attend the International Women’s Media Foundation Courage in Journalism Awards ceremony. They were awarded this trip after winning an essay competition to write about a woman who inspires them.
I was one of those fortunate five to be hosted by the Louisville-based health insurance company, Humana, and flown to New York in the company’s corporate jet, accompanied by CEO Mike McCallister and executive director Virginia Judd.
Also accompanying us to this prestigious event was Ed Manassah, executive director of the Institute for Media, Culture and Ethics at Bellarmine, and Dr. Lara Needham, dean of the BU School of Communications.
Dressed to impress, we gathered in the early hours of the morning to begin our trip in true VIP style. We watched the sun rise over Kentucky from the windows of the Humana jet, and tried to calm one another’s nerves at the prospect of meeting so many formidable media personalities.
Manhattan was miserably rainy and cold, but we were soon ushered into the luxurious lobby of the Waldorf-Astoria hotel. We were introduced to all the IWMF award winners and treated to a sumptuous lunch in the Grand Ballroom, seated at the VIP table right in the center of the action.
Without a doubt, the highlight of the trip was meeting the legendary Kate Adie. In a powder-blue satin dress she was hardly the disheveled, bullet-dodging journalist of her war correspondent days, but every bit as intimidating. And in that delicate pair of heels on the carpeted floor of the Grand Ballroom, I could see it – the lump of shrapnel that is still embedded in her foot, a souvenir from the war in Sarajevo.
With a career that spans 40 years as the BBC’s first female chief news correspondent, Adie is unsurprisingly full of stories and opinions. She has reported live from war zones across the world, including the first Gulf War, the Tiananmen Square protests, the Rwandan Genocide and the war in Sierra Leone.
Her wit is as piercing as her bright blue eyes, and delivered in the most polished of British accents. She tells us about reporting from an aircraft carrier during wartime, where in the midst of planes landing and taking off, she has to climb over a stack of missiles… “And boy, the fins don’t half catch yer jeans!” she says with a wry smile.
Adie was the recipient of the IWMF’s Lifetime Achievement Award, while the three other honorees received the Courage in Journalism Award. Adela Navarro Bello is the editor of Mexican newsmagazine Zeta, and continues to report on the raging drug wars despite death threats, and the murder of her former editor. Parisa Hafezi is bureau chief for Reuters in Iran, and has become a target of the Iranian government since her reports on the disputed 2009 elections, surviving multiple abductions and interrogations. Chiranuch Premchaiporn runs a news website in Thailand which contravenes censorship and press freedom laws, and she now faces 20 years in prison for refusing to delete critical comments about the Thai monarchy on her site.
It was overwhelming to meet these astounding women. Their courage and dedication to journalism has endangered their lives many times, and yet they continue in the pursuit of delivering the truth to the public. While they may be used to dodging bullets and death threats, they were visibly uncomfortable in the spotlight and nervous for their acceptance speeches. It was profoundly humbling to witness their gratitude in receiving the IWMF Courage in Journalism Award, and their simple refusals to give in to fear or intimidation. Each one of them shook our hands, graciously smiled for a photograph and wished us all the best for the future.
After the luncheon, we piled back into the car and inched through traffic across the sparkling wet streets of Manhattan, to NBC Studios. Our tour of the studios was short and sweet – we saw the set of Saturday Night Live, Dr. Oz and the news and sports reporting desks. We were even invited to watch Jimmy Fallon rehearse his show – but alas, our time in the Empire City had run out.
Back on the Humana jet, we slid aching feet out of heels and curled up on the leather seats. There was just time to reflect on the day and to thank our hosts before the sun set below the clouds and we dozed off, exhausted from an unforgettable adventure.