There always has to be a first

Michelle Lang

The other day, I edited a story for Page A2 about civilians who are working in Afghanistan. It was a short but interesting story about people who work in one of the most dangerous places on Earth, and the people back home who worry about their safety. I paid little attention to the byline, one of dozens I go through during every shift.

The story was written by Michelle Lang, a reporter for the Calgary Herald who has been reporting from Afghanistan.

She’s dead now. The first Canadian journalist killed while reporting on the Afghanistan war, along with four Canadian soldiers. She was two weeks into a six-week stay stay there. She was engaged, planning to get married in June. The Herald has (lots) more.

I wish there was something more poignant and insightful I could say but “that fucking sucks.”

She was 34.

UPDATE (Dec. 31): The front page of today’s Herald:

Calgary Herald, Dec. 31, 2009

The main story is accompanied by pieces by columnists Robert Remington and Don Martin about Lang, and others about Afghanistan.

Today, city hall in Calgary lowered its flag in honour of Lang, and the names of the four soldiers who died with her have been released.

Meanwhile, I’ve seen some debate online about coverage of this journalist’s death. Some questioned a headline used at the Globe and Mail that focused on the fact she was a “bride to be”, as if we should be offended that a death is considered more tragic when the person is engaged. Others questioned the level of coverage given to this journalist, as if her death is more important than the deaths of soldiers, diplomats, aid workers or anyone else because she was a journalist.

Both are legitimate criticisms, but both are facts of life. It is more tragic because she was engaged. It is more tragic because she was a reporter. We wish it wasn’t so, but it is. It’s not fair, and it’s not balanced, but it’s true.

In any case, the Herald gets an exemption from this criticism. This was their reporter. She was part of their family.

From today’s editorial:

But forgive us if we grieve more publicly today. When it is one of your own, it makes it almost difficult to breathe. There is a huge hole in our hearts as we remember a bright face, a true friend and a fearless talent …

4 thoughts on “There always has to be a first

  1. John M

    No you are right, it does fucking suck.

    However unlike others I believe Canada and other countries need to remain there. Imagine what will befall the civilians as soon as we leave. The Taliban will rise up again and repress the people a hell of a lot more than they ever did. Amazes me how on the one hand we say that countries need to respect human rights and then we turn around and say we need to leave a country where the previous rulers would repress their people to that degree. Shame on us…..

  2. emdx

    Sorry to hear that.

    My cousin was in Afghanistan until about mid-November. Back in October, he was in one of the armoured vehicles that blew-up.

    But that’s the price we have to pay to help a country to get rid of a subversive invasion that is extremely threatening for the stability of the region if not the world. And no, I am not a coward that safely posts from his house; I *DID* apply for a civilian job in Kandahar for NATO, fully ready to go there.

    Back in the 1950’s, we would have been very glad to have an army come and liberate us from the talibans who were running our lives, and keeping us backwards. It is definitely the same for Afghanistan.

    And the yankees are better not to lose that was; they are the ones who created the talibans in the first place. So they have to clean their own mess.

    Regarding the mortality rate, if only the media was doing the same coverage it gives every dead soldier (and presumably, journalist) for every road fatality, people would see the proper perspective.

    I view it as no different from the risk of death by impact with tons of steel hurled at great speed.

    Back in the early 1950’s, the US military discovered that the leading cause of death amongst soldiers wasn’t the war in Korea, but automobile accidents. So they did a study about the safety of automobiles, which eventually turned into “unsafe at any speed”. Nuff said.

  3. corinthian rick

    Canadian media expects media consumers to be incredibly upset when a journalist dies but so many other Canadians have died and it’s no less tragic. They should maintain balance.


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