National Columnists’ Day – April 18

Ernie PyleBy Sheila Moss
Web Editor

Tom Curley, president and CEO of the Associated Press, recently said that journalists need reasonable access to battlefields to provide the public a realistic view of what is happening in Afghanistan and other war zones. 

Curley’s speech kicked off a conference on war and journalism at the University of Kentucky.

Journalism in war zones brings to mind the courage of Ernie Pyle, a beloved journalist and military correspondent during World War II.  Pyle is known for his coverage of war from the point of view of the fighting man.  

Prior to Pyle, correspondents mostly interviewed officers and reported only the official versions of battle.  Pyle became the most popular of all correspondents, writing simple first-hand accounts about the experiences of the common enlisted men.  He was he who is responsible for the term GI Joe. 

“But the fact is that war coverage by a free and independent media with reasonable access to the battlefield forces policy makers to deal with the reality of what is happening on the ground instead of what they want the public — or even Washington — to think,” Curley said. 

Having reporters on the scene prevents official misinformation.  The reporters are there to look for graves when hundreds are reported killed and to take pictures of those mortally wounded. It makes war real and personal. It reveals the strategy of sending a few vulnerable soldiers into harms way to flush out the enemy, often at the price of life itself.  

 Pyle understood that his risk was the same as that of a solider.  Pyle said, “You begin to feel that you can’t go on forever without being hit. I feel that I’ve used up all my chances, and I hate it. I don’t want to be killed.” 

“Journalists covering conflicts like the one in Afghanistan understand the risks they take to cover the story,” Curley said.   

Pyle was killed by Japanese sniper fire a year after winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1944. 

“This relentless risk of harm separates war coverage from all other journalism we pursue everyday.” Curley said. “I am convinced … that it is more important than anything else we do.” 

The current war has created a new interest in the work of Pyle and his realistic accounts of war.  Pyle’s outstanding journalism is the inspiration for the NSNC Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award, given yearly to honor a columnist who exemplifies outstanding achievement in the tradition of Ernie Pyle. 

We invite you to celebrate National Columnist’s Day on April 18th, in remembrance of Ernie Pyle, other journalists who carry on the difficult task of covering war, and all columnists who use their writing as a means of revealing truth, demanding accountability, and offering critique, commentary or comfort in so many aspects of life.

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