On Tuesday, April 16, Columbia Global Paris Center, Le Monde in English, and  Columbia Maison Française collaborated to bring together journalists who delved into the complexities of ethical decision-making, cross-border collaboration, and the importance of trust and transparency in journalism. Content warning: Death and violence

Journalism is at the core of the spread of information. Through the dangerous work of journalists, individuals around the globe are able to access information. This event, “Journalism and Crisis,” aimed to foster conversations between moderators and panelists about their experiences with journalism in crisis. This event was part of a larger event series, also named “Journalism and Crisis,” where journalists discussed varying aspects of journalism, including war and visual journalism.

In an open letter on April 8 inviting readers to the event, Elvire Camus, editor-in-chief of Le Monde in English, wrote, “It is no news that journalism is going through difficult times… Across the world, journalists are also having a hard time simply doing their job of holding the powerful accountable and reporting on the news. The fact that the war in Gaza has been going on for six months behind almost-closed doors, with no foreign media allowed to enter the territory, not to mention the deaths of many Palestinian journalists, is one of many damning examples… Although some publications are more impacted than others, none are unaffected. All need to take these risks into account in order to survive.” 

Brunhilde Biebuyck, director of Columbia Global Paris Center, and Wafaa El-Sadr, executive vice president of Columbia Global and director of Columbia World Projects, opened the event by addressing the importance of journalism for democracy, transparency, and, as it connects to the United States, freedom of the press.

Marie Dozema, special projects manager of Columbia Global Paris Center, continued the conversation. The panels “on the vast and increasingly complex topic of journalism in crisis [were] intended to recognize the courageous and vital work of these journalists,” Dozema introduced.

Dozema then addressed the importance and censorship of journalism, with 99 journalists and media workers being killed in 2023 and over three-quarters of those deaths occurring in the Israel-Gaza war. Death is not the only danger journalists face, said Dozema. Many journalists are also threatened, censored, or forced to flee, creating “zones of silence.” 

“There is a grave and dangerous impact to access to information, both for local communities and the globe,” said Dozema. “[Journalism] is essential to a well-functioning democracy,” and Columbia Global Paris Center holds journalism as a “primary pillar of all [their] efforts of civil engagement.”

With partnerships with LeMonde in English, the Dart Center in Europe, and Forbidden Stories, Columbia Global Paris Center has been able to hold a series of public programs on some of the most critical issues in journalism today. These events aim to showcase the important work of journalists, build trust and transparency between local and global audiences, but also to address a series of questions:

  • How are these stories made? 
  • What risks and ethical responsibilities do journalists have?
  • Why are these stories so difficult in the first place?

With these questions in mind, each of the panels addressed a specific topic regarding journalism: ethical responsibilities and personal risk, collaborating across borders, and trust and transparency.

Ethical Responsibilities and Personal Risk

Lydia Polgreen, New York Times opinion columnist and vice chair of the board of the Committee to Protect Journalists, moderated the panel of Sylvie Kauffman, foreign affairs columnist at Le Monde, Habiba Nosheen, Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter and filmmaker, and Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr., award-winning podcast creator and producer. 

Lydia Polgreen initiated the panel by directing a question to Sylvie Kauffman: “How has journalism evolved?” Kauffman, a seasoned journalist, responded by addressing the myriad of issues faced by journalists, including protecting sources. Journalism not only includes sharing information, but knowing when not to publish. As an editor, she addressed the priority of safety within her staff and the changes that technology addressed in journalism.

The conversation then lead to the ethical obligations to objectivity and resistance. Saidu Tejan-Thomas Jr. described his approach to work as heavily influenced by his background as a creative. He said “objectivity is a lie” and “everybody brings [their] own perspective.” When he first started his work in journalism, he approached each story by seeing a character and how the story transforms them. He admitted that he did grow apathetic to the power of protest and movement until the 2020 Black Lives Matter protest reinvigorated him. With his personal experience of a close friend being killed by police, he held a “trauma-informed” outlook on his work while being careful to “limit how much of [himself]” he “can lend to the world.”

Kauffman reinforced Tejan-Thomas Jr.’s perspective stating “Objectivity is a myth.” While you give a voice to both sides, each perspective has a view. Kauffman particularly highlighted the united Israeli media who are presenting with the same voice and compared that unity to the aftermath of 9/11.

Tejan-Thomas Jr. stated that while journalists are pretending they don’t have a perspective, it is better to “engage with truth.”

Collaborating Across Borders

Bruce Shapiro, Executive Director of the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma, moderated the panel of Asia Balluffier, journalist at Le Monde, Laurent Richard, award-winning documentary filmmaker and founder of Forbidden Stories, and Hoda Osman, executive editor for Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ).

Bruce Shapiro opened the panel by addressing that “collaborative journalism is tradition” when it pertains to cross-border issues including human trafficking and offshore wealth investigations. With the change in technology and threats and the increase of global authoritarianism and warfare, there is a change in the landscape of journalists.

Asia Ballufier, an open-source investigator, has experience with this change in landscape. She stated that there has always been collaboration across and within newsrooms, but open-source journalism is accessible to everyone. Open-source, she continued, involves media such as flight patterns, social media, and satellite imagery. The matter of having all of this data to utilize is “collective work by nature.” 

One story Ballufier remembered was when 10 days after October 7, a hospital exploded, killing and injuring many civilians in Gaza. At the time, Israel shared a video of the explosion, claiming it was a malfunctioning rocket from Hamas or Palestinian Islamic Jihad. While Ballufier could identify the hospital that was impacted through open-source investigation, she continued her investigation to find a variety of videos besides the initial shared video and was able to see different perspectives of the launch. Open-source journalists were then able to identify it as an Israeli rocket. She told this story to highlight the importance of perspectives, especially with videos, and the ability to utilize this information. 

Hoda Osman works in a collaborative organization, and when asked how the work has been changed from the Israel-Gaza war, she stated she “doesn’t think there is a bigger crisis” than with the journalists in Gaza right now. No foreign journalists are allowed to enter, despite doctors and aid workers being able to, so, due to this lack of access, foreign news stations necessitate the use of freelance or local journalists within Gaza. Journalists are faced with a key issue: they must balance journalists in Gaza’s experiences as they relate to the war with the foreign news that is separated from the story. Osman is also working on a campaign to provide journalists with equipment to document the events in Gaza. Shapiro noted sometimes collaboration can just be “helping the journalists get the job done.”

Laurent Richard has seen an increase in the number of journalists killed each year and noticed the change in threats, including physical violence and legal action, in the past six years. Richard and Forbidden Stories aim to utilize “journalism to protect journalism.” He stated that when people are killed for their work, it is important to continue it. This sends the signal that “killing the journalists will not kill the story.” He expanded on the perspective of collaboration by stating that “collaboration brings protection” and there is an “existence of collaboration in every newsroom.”

Trust and Transparency

Jelani Cobb, Dean of Columbia Journalism School, moderated the panel of Elvire Camus, Le Monde in English’s founder and editor-in-chief, Gilles Paris, Le Monde editorialist, and Robe Imbriano, Emmy Award-winning showrunner.

Jelani Cobb has seen the “decline in traditional news” and the global dynamic of the “decline of trust” within newsrooms. Gilles Paris responded to this observation by noticing the increase of the populist movement and how more individuals think “media is a part of the system and not working for the people.”

Paris highlighted the role and responsibility of media in the press and stressed that many of the debates surrounding journalism are relevant. Camus continued that with an increase in social media, there is “new competition with journalists.”

“Trust has been challenged,” Camus stated and this “forces journalists to be more transparent about information.”

One instance of building trust is through live coverage that interacts with readers who can ask questions and confirm information, a tactic Camus involves in her work. This live feedback allows journalists to “explain what [they] do and how [they] do it.”

Robe Imbriano addressed the effect of OJ Simpson’s trial on the news. He noted that journalists must balance “news that people need versus the news that people want.” 

Cobb then asked a key question, “Why trust journalists?”

Imbriano responded that journalism is a “constitutionally protected vocation” because it is expected of journalists to “do unpopular things.” But the basis of trust is earned “through ties to the community.” Camus added that it is journalists’ job to “take time to know what’s going on.” 

Panelists stressed the importance of trust within journalists through transparency, though Imbriano mentioned that there is an “emotional component to trust” that won’t be fixed with transparency alone. Panelists agreed that accessibility of information is important. Cobb brought up the idea of attributing how a story is reported, including the timeline and outlets of information, so that even a reader can replicate the story. 

As student journalists grapple with the events on campus for the past few days and journalists worldwide continue their commitment to the spread of information, conversations surrounding ethics, risks, collaboration, trust, and transparency are vital. Each panel stressed the critical need for journalism in contributing to the access of information across the world. 

This article was edited on Tuesday, April 30 to omit identifying details of an individual.

Photographs via Eileen Barroso/Columbia Global Paris Center