Would You Risk Your Life to Do Your Job?

Mass layoffs in the news media continue. Buzzfeed, Gannett, HuffPost, and VICE are just a few of the latest outlets in 2019 to lay off reporters.

Despite this, every day journalists around the world put their lives on the line doing their jobs — telling the stories that need to be told. One of those reporters is Jason Rezaian, the former Washington Post bureau chief in Tehran who was arrested in Iran in 2014, accused of spying for the U.S.

I recently heard Rezaian and his wife, Yeganeh, also a journalist, speak at the National Press Club about life in an Iranian high-security prison. Yeganeh, also known as Yeggi, spent 2½ months in prison; Jason spent 18 months, including time in solitary confinement.

I’m a big fan of the late Anthony Bourdain and all things travel. I remember watching an episode of Parts Unknown where Bourdain interviewed the Rezaians about what it was like as journalists living in the Islamic Republic. Little did I or anyone know that several weeks later, they would be arrested.

“We played by the rules. We did not see this coming,” Rezaian told the audience, who packed the ballroom at the Press Club. Rezaian’s talk was in conjunction with the release of his book, Prisoner, where he details his 544 days in captivity.

As PR practitioners, we work with the news media on a regular basis. In many ways, we’re opposite sides of the same coin. Many of us received our degrees in journalism and spent time as working journalists before transitioning to PR. Even with sharp declines in readership and viewership, earned media is still an important part of what we do. Clients still want that coveted placement in a top-tier media outlet.

But I can honestly say that not once in my career has my life ever been at risk simply as a result of doing my job. Aside from what are traditionally thought of as “high-risk professions” (first responders, police officers, CIA agents, and the like), how many of us have risked our lives to do our jobs? How many of us would be willing to take such a risk?

As the saying goes, “Freedom is not free.” Yet many Americans take a free press granted. When the average citizen consumes the news, they don’t think about the countless number of reporters who’ve risked their lives to tell a story, whether it involves a corrupt regime, mismanagement of public funds, a dishonest CEO, or some other wrong.

However, as the number of layoffs in the media continue, one has to wonder will we get to the point one day where there won’t be enough journalists to tell the important stories that need to be told?