In the last seven years, CBS foreign correspondent Clarissa Ward, 33, has covered stories in China, Russia, Afghanistan, Iraq and most recently Syria.
On Sept. 23, 2013, though, she was at Stony Brook University to speak in the Marie Colvin Distinguished Lecture Series, a program of the Center for International Reporting. The center was established last year in honor of Marie Colvin, a foreign correspondent who was killed while covering the conflict in Syria in 2012 and a Long Island native.
Ward spoke highly of Colvin, whose mother and brother were in the audience, both personally and professionally and recalled being intimidated, intrigued and inspired by her the first time they met in Gaza during 2006.
“The silence of the void she has left behind is deafening,” Ward said. “In the wake of her death, so many friends and so many people I meet have asked me ‘why do you do this kind of work? Why do you risk your life to share stories that aren’t even your own?'”
Ward, who studied comparative literature at Yale University, was a senior in college when the September 11, 2001 attacks on the U.S. occurred and said she was profoundly affected by them. The attacks helped her realize that it is important to understand what is happening in the world and that journalists can serve as translators for the public to facilitate that.
Upon graduating, she took a job working at the assignment desk at Fox News on an overnight shift. She began taking Arabic lessons with a woman from Yemen when she got off of work in the morning.
“She would also talk to me about Islam, about life in Yemen, about her 7 children, about her understanding of 9/11,” Ward said. “And it was so mind-blowing to me and so inspiring and really the first taste I had been given of the Middle East.”
Shortly after she moved to Beirut to do freelance reporting and to gain her own understanding of the region. Since then, she has witnessed war and brutality across the world and been honored with distinctions like a Peabody Award for her work.
During life threatening moments out in the field, Ward said she feels “sick with fear” and that over time her threshold for fear gets lower in conflict zones. She noted that in Syria alone there are at least 14 journalists being held in captivity and stressed that she does not do her because it makes her feel glamorous or brave.
“I do it because in the U.S. right now and with the rapidly changing culture of news I sometimes worry that we’re not listening enough,” Ward said. “That we’re more interested in hearing what we want to hear than in trying to process and understand difficult realities.”