Student Journalists React to ISIS Beheadings

Courtesy of Will White, Wikimedia Commons

In the wake of the recent killings of two American journalists by the Islamic terrorist group, ISIS, many student journalists at Ramapo feel undeterred from their prospective careers in news.

President Barack Obama, in a televised speech on Sept. 10, assured Americans that the United States, along with its allies, would “degrade and ultimately destroy the terrorist group.”

“I know many Americans are concerned about these threats. Tonight, I want you to know that the United States of America is meeting them with strength and resolve,” President Obama said.

The group, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, released two similar videos of hostages James Foley and Steven Sotloff being beheaded by members of ISIS, making the threat of violence a more prominent concern for American journalists overseas.

Since 1992, 164 journalists have been killed while working in Iraq, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. About 66 percent of journalism students, like the ones here at Ramapo College, will join the profession six to eight months after graduation, according to CNN, potentially encountering dangerous circumstances such as these.

Despite the communal sense of tragedy among journalists and those anticipating going into the field, many student journalists were unwavering in their pursuit of a career in journalism.

“I think it’s something that was a risk even when I first started getting into journalism because I always wanted to be a wartime journalist,” said Andres Castillo, a senior journalism major at Ramapo College. “It doesn’t deter me, but it puts it into perspective that you’re putting your life at risk.”

The first victim, Foley, was an American journalist who was captured in Syria almost two years ago. The second victim, Sotloff, was also an American journalist who was kidnapped in Syria about a year ago, according to The New York Times.

The videos were similar in nature, showing the journalists kneeling in front of a masked figure holding a knife, who explains, in English, that the killings are in response to the recent American airstrikes, according to CNN.

Student journalists from Sotloff’s alma mater, the University of Central Florida, responded with the professionalism of seasoned reporters on UCF’s newspaper website. Students alongside the Society of Professional Journalists organized a vigil for Sotloff the Wednesday following his murder.

Laura French, a junior studying journalism at Ramapo College, was also saddened by the deaths and concerned with the dangers of journalism.

“First, I was like, I’ll never be a journalist in a war-torn area. I thought it was really sad that people that had nothing to do with that conflict got swept up and had to pay for it in a really terrible way,” French said. “It’s like a real life horror movie.”

However, French agreed that the tragedy does not sway her decision to enter the field.

“The kind of journalism I want to do will possibly put me in dangerous situation because I want to go into crime journalism,” French said. “It’s dangerous, but not that dangerous. It’s safer to work in your home country than in a place like Syria that’s so unstable.”