Up Close and Personal

Martha Gellhorn lived a life of contrasts. She was a pacifist but also considered one of the greatest war correspondents of our time. Martha attended college but never graduated. She wanted to be a journalist and didn’t see that having a college degree was necessary.

She spent several years working in Europe as a foreign correspondent. She returned to the U.S. and through her friendship with Eleanor Roosevelt, she was employed by the Federal Emergency Relief Administration. She travelled around the country documenting the stories of the homeless. This was when she developed her journalistic style of telling the stories of real people as they go through the challenges they face.

Martha’s first experience as a war correspondent was covering the Spanish Civil War. During her reporting, she met her future husband: Ernest Hemmingway. Shortly after her coverage of the Spanish Civil War, she started reporting on the rise of Adolf Hitler. Since she wasn’t a credentialed war correspondent, she didn’t have the access that other reporters had. She hid herself in the bathroom of the hospital ship during the Normandy invasion. She was the only woman to land on the Normandy beach. Later during the war, she was one of the first journalists to report on the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp.

Her stories throughout her war reporting told about the impact of wars on individual lives. She told about the realities of war on soldiers and civilians that other journalists were not covering. What she accomplished was to make wars personal to her readers.

Martha reported on virtually every major war over her 60 year career. She was forced to give up her reporting at age 80 when she was nearly blind.

Think about the reporting we experience today. We might be appalled by the sight of refugee camps or immigrant children trying to get into the U.S. But what do we know about them as actual persons? Do we know about their actual lives?

If we are to understand the unfolding events of our time, we need to have a sense of the personal lives of those who are at the center of these events. We need to have up close and personal dimensions of events. What we get instead is “comfortable” reporting on the political nature of the events.

Just imagine how we might change our views on situations if we were told the stories of those most impacted by the situations? Just imagine the impact of journalism if it were to return to storytelling rather than reporting from the front of the White House? Just imagine how we might become a nation of empathetic values by getting to know realities people are experiencing, rather than the posturing of politicians?

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“Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” – Charlie Chaplin

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