Supporters of the press turned out in the wake of the fatal shootings of journalists who worked for the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.
Supporters of the press turned out in the wake of the fatal shootings of journalists who worked for the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Head of UA Journalism School Reacts to Paris Attack

David Cuillier says freedom of the press always involves risk, adding that journalists won't stop doing their jobs out of fear.
Jan. 9, 2015

It shouldn’t take a tragedy such as the recent shootings at a magazine’s offices in Paris for Americans to fully appreciate the value of a free press.

But perhaps it does.

"The outpouring of support has surprised me," said David Cuillier, director of the University of Arizona’s School of Journalism and an expert on issues pertaining to freedom of the press. He served as national president of the Society of Professional Journalists in 2013-14.

"I generally don’t expect that kind of sympathy for journalists," Cuillier said. "But the nature of the attack was so horrific, I don’t think you can just stand by."

On Jan. 7, four prominent political cartoonists were among a dozen killed in an attack at the offices of the French satirical weekly publication Charlie Hebdo, known for its caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad. Two days later, the two suspects in the attack and a gunman linked to them were killed by French police in a dramatic end to separate standoffs.

The initial attack left Cuillier "floored and flabbergasted," he said, and he found it ironic that it had taken place in France.

"We have such a close affinity to France in the birth of a free press," Cuillier said. "Their thinkers were the genesis of our liberties. (The attackers) hit us all."

In the attack’s aftermath, T-shirts and signs with the words "Je Suis Charlie" ("I Am Charlie") materialized in a show of solidarity with those who had been killed.

Cuillier was reminded of incidents closer to home in which journalists were threatened while doing their work. About a year ago, he said, a UA student blogger received death threats after writing about a peace initiative between Muslims and Jews, and the FBI became involved.

"That was a teachable moment," Cuillier said.

Several of Cuillier’s students produce in-depth news stories in English and Spanish for the Arizona Sonora News, a resource for community newspapers, news websites and Spanish-language publications on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Given the passionate positions on the issue of immigration, that’s not the safest work, either.

"We take a lot of precautions in northern Mexico in doing reporting," Cuillier said. "But I also worry about (students) driving to Tombstone or being hit head-on by a drunk or being stalked by a source.

"We try to minimize risk, but you learn (journalism) by doing."

Cuillier said Americans always have had a love-hate relationship with the press, but he insists they wouldn’t want any part of a society without a free press.

"The press will always be a punching bag," he said. "People like to get mad when the press isn’t on their particular side of an issue, but they also rely on the press."

Journalists needn’t be working in war zones or high-crime areas to feel threatened, he said, noting that a certain amount of heat comes with the job and is even part of the profession’s allure.

"Every journalist has been worried about their safety," Cuillier said. "More than 30 or 40 years ago, news organizations began beefing up their security. There are guards at places like the (Arizona Daily) Star, the (Arizona) Republic and TV stations. But journalists won’t stop doing their jobs."

Mort Rosenblum, a UA journalism professor who has covered stories all over the world and was editor of the International Herald Tribune, took to Facebook after the Charlie Hebdo attack to salute reporters for their courage.

"In Paris, we have seen how high a price many pay, whether they venture into the heart of darkness or work at a desk in the City of Light," Rosenblum wrote.

"Reporters, our eyes and ears, enable us to fathom the complexities that shape every aspect of our lives…. The rest of us must realize their worth and protect them with everything we’ve got."