Why attacks on journalists are inevitable

The attack on the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo that killed at least 12 people today is probably the largest deliberate killing of Western journalists since the bombing of the Los Angeles Times a century ago.  It draws attention to the fact that journalism is becoming an increasingly dangerous profession and reminds us that at least 61 journalists were killed worldwide in 2014 alone.

It may sound indifferent, but such attacks actually signify an important reality: journalism matters.

In an age where so much “journalism” involves coverage of entertainment, celebrities, fashion, food, and lifestyle topics, journalists that question social values and pursue accountability in ways that anger or offend should to be celebrated. Nobody attacks those who write or say insignificant things. Asking questions that some people don’t want asked is journalism at its best and that kind of journalism needs to be revered.

Charlie Hebdo has a history of lampooning politicians and providing irreverent commentary on politics, religion, and popular culture meant to spark public discussion and debate. It has faced backlashes before.  Whether it can survive to do so again is uncertain.  Even if it doesn’t, other voices will continue to raise important questions about society and the world in which we live.

It is regrettable that carrying out journalism can lead to death and injury and we need to denounce such attacks and do all we can to prevent them. But we also need to take pride in journalists whose information and ideas are so consequential it results in their deaths.

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