One of the most indelible memories of my trip to London last summer was the visit to St. Bride’s Church, also known as The Journalists’ Church.
The church is situated just off historic Fleet Street, where the British printing press was established in the early 1500s. My Media Literacy students and I were there on a field trip to learn more about that history when our tour guide led us into a quiet courtyard and pointed out the elegant structure designed by the famed architect, Sir Christopher Wren.
According to historians, St. Bride’s roots go back to shortly after the Roman invasion of 43 A.D., making it one of the oldest sites of worship in Britain. This is the eighth church on the site, succeeding others lost over the years to fire, World War II bombs and other causes.
Little did I know of what awaited us inside — a pristine interior with lit candles and an altar dedicated to the memories of journalists who have died in the course of their duties around the world.
Seldom have I been moved as much as I was by this tribute to the men and women who work so selflessly and courageously to cover wars and other events around the globe, as well as happenings in local communities.
On the day we visited, there was a newspaper story that recently had been added to the display — an account of the four journalists and a sales associate who were killed at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, by a gunman upset by coverage of his failed defamation lawsuit against the newspaper.
I was reminded of their deaths — and of my visit to this hallowed space — when the Pulitzer Prizes were announced earlier this month. Along with honors bestowed on leading organizations like The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal, the Pulitzer judges awarded a special citation to the Capital Gazette for its “courageous response” in covering the deadly shooting at its own offices, coupled with a $100,000 bequest to further its journalistic mission.
I was reminded, too, by the death of a young journalist just days ago in the United Kingdom. Lyra McKee was killed April 19 while reporting on a night of violent unrest in Londonderry, Northern Ireland. She was 29 years old.
Around the world, 54 journalists were killed in reprisal for their work in 2018 — three times as many as the year before — according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. The tally includes Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, whose murder allegedly was ordered by the crown prince of Saudi Arabia. As we all know, President Trump refused to cast blame despite a CIA assessment that the prince had ordered the killing.
My students were touched just as I was during the half-hour we spent inside McBride’s. Though it was sad for all of us, I was heartened to see them move slowly through the pews, taking in the names of reporters, photographers and others who made the ultimate sacrifice in service to their profession and the public.
In a class discussion afterward, one student said through tears that the visit had forever changed his perception of the news media and his appreciation for the First Amendment freedoms we enjoy in the United States.
It was a profound experience for me as well, and one I look forward to repeating with another group of students when I return to the U.K. in July.