The Life of a War Correspondent

They are the grunts of the journalism world: wire-service reporters and cameramen who risk their lives covering dangerous wars in obscure places for the world's media.

Newspaper and television correspondents get their name in print or their face on air, but journalists at international news agencies like The Associated Press and Reuters mostly work anonymously, feeding print stories and raw television footage to news outlets.

They endure discomfort and danger, driven by the conviction that "the story must be told" — even if the rest of the world is not paying attention.

"I felt very passionately that everyone in the world deserves at least a voice," says Ian Stewart, an AP reporter from Canada who was shot in the head while covering the civil war in Sierra Leone in 1999.

The injury paralyzed Stewart's left arm and hand, and impaired his left leg — but at least he got out alive. Myles Tierney, the AP Television News producer-cameraman he was traveling with, was not so lucky.

Foreign Correspondent: The Romance and the Reality

Like other journalists who travel to far-off lands, Stewart was attracted by the idea of being a foreign correspondent: "Romance, exotic locations, dashing off to exciting places.... When everyone else is coming out, I'm going in. That's really romantic. It's sort of Lawrence of Arabia kind of stuff."

At 27, Stewart became a correspondent for The AP, a job that took him to India, Pakistan, Vietnam, Cambodia and Afghanistan. Five years later, at 32, he headed for Africa as The AP's West Africa bureau chief.

He learned that when the romance fades, reality sets in. Recalling a winter he spent covering the Taliban in Afghanistan, with temperatures below freezing and no electricity or running water, Stewart says: "It's not glamorous at all. It's miserable. It's a really, really unpleasant existence."

Amputation as a Means of War

By the time Stewart and Tierney arrived in Sierra Leone in January 1999, the war had been raging for eight years. It was a particularly brutal war, with tens of thousands of civilians killed or mutilated. A favorite technique, used by rebels and government soldiers alike, was chopping off civilians' arms or hands.

Both journalists had been in Sierra Leone before, and had asked to go back. But when they got there, Stewart had a bad feeling. "The whole assignment I'm wondering, 'Maybe this one's wrong,'" he remembers. But, reluctant to look like he was getting cold feet, he suppressed his misgivings.

Rebel troops were closing in on the capital, Freetown, and the pair were keen to get to the front lines. At first, government soldiers refused to let them get close to the front, saying it was too dangerous. But on their third day they were allowed to join a government convoy to the front.

They had a scare when the convoy was caught in a brief firefight. Their driver wanted to turn around, but Tierney, an intrepid New Yorker who had covered conflicts in Africa for years, persuaded him to keep going. As they drove on, the two journalists squeezed into the car's back seat, Stewart's sense of impending doom deepened. Tierney tried to reassure him, saying, "Shut up, Stewart. If anything happens, you've got my fat body to protect you."

Five minutes later, the car was ambushed by rebels hiding on a deserted street. The attack was over in seconds.

Stewart was shot in the head, but does not remember it. The bullet entered his forehead, traveled through his head and lodged at the back of his skull. The AP flew him to a hospital in London, where he was given a 20 percent chance of living. Doctors intentionally put him into a coma, to help his body recover.

All for Nothing?

It was not until later that he learned what had happened to Tierney. "My mom was at the foot of the bed. I couldn't look at her. I just asked, 'What happened to Myles?' And she answered — she just said, 'He's dead.'"

Tierney had died instantly, at the scene of the ambush.

Stewart was devastated — and did not even have the comfort of knowing that his and Tierney's work had made a difference. When he came out of his coma, he had asked his editors for clippings from the Sierra Leone trip, but none of his reports had been printed in any American newspaper.

"I waited and I waited and I waited. No clippings ever showed up. And then I realized, Good Lord, this was all for nothing. Nobody cared."

A year later, in his first AP article since the ambush, Stewart wrote that he would not consider risking his life again for a story — "Not even if the world cares next time."

Making a Difference

In May 2000, another APTN cameraman, Miguel Gil Moreno, was killed in an ambush in Sierra Leone, along with Reuters correspondent Kurt Schork.

Moreno, a Spaniard, had known the risks: he had worked with Tierney in Africa, and had even read a prayer at his funeral in New York. Tierney and Moreno were the 24th and 25th AP journalists killed in the line of duty since the agency was founded in 1848.

Moreno had not told Stewart he was planning to go back to Sierra Leone, and when Stewart heard of his death he was initially angry, thinking, "Damn him.Why would he do that?"

But Stewart came to realize that Moreno could not have done otherwise. "I think I know Miguel," Stewart says now. "He did it for the same reasons I did it.... He really felt he could make a difference. And he felt those people needed to have a voice."