The lost journalists of 2016

Adrian Gill and Michael Nicholson Image copyright Getty/ITN
Image caption Adrian Gill and Michael Nicholson are two well-known names from the world of journalism lost this year, but what about those whose deaths don't make the front pages?

In the past week, two of the most celebrated British journalists of their generation have died.

Adrian Gill, a reformed alcoholic who defied his dyslexia to become the greatest assembler of similes writing in English in his day, passed away last weekend.

And just this week Michael Nicholson, a giant of television journalism, also died.

Both men received glowing and deserved tributes from colleagues in their former abodes (The Sunday Times and ITN respectively), and indeed beyond.

But very many journalists - too many - around the world die without receiving the attention and coverage they deserve.

According to Reporters sans frontieres (RSF), an organisation that promotes a free press around the world, 74 journalists died doing their job around the world in 2016. The numbers were released this morning.

Seventy-four? In a profession that probably employs millions around the world? That's a tiny number, I hear you say.

Moreover, it's down from the previous year, when 101 died. So not so bad really.

Well, I don't agree. Journalists got a kicking in 2016, blamed for many if not most of the things people don't like.

A noble endeavour

"Mainstream media" became an implied insult. The new American president, Donald Trump, castigates titles from the New York Times to Vanity Fair, and uses Twitter to bypass traditional media altogether.

The reputation of journalism may be low around the world today, but at its best it is a noble endeavour which not only chronicles history, but accelerates it.

That is why powerful people have, throughout history, killed journalists they see as dangerous.

This year, according to RSF, three quarters of those killed were deliberately murdered. And the only reason the number of deaths is down is because many fewer journalists are reporting from some of the most ghastly war zones in the world today, from Syria to Burundi.

This leaves information black holes where tyranny and horror can go undocumented and unchallenged.

Over the weekend I read the RSF report. I also read Jeremy Clarkson's beautiful and touching tribute to his "closest friend", Gill.

It made me think that each of those 74 who died this year deserved the same amount of coverage at least.

After all, they died for their cause.

Many of them are pictured in the RSF report. They deserve our respect and solidarity, and we should remember them this Christmas, too.

I would encourage you to read the report so that next time you hear caterwauling about what awful people journalists are, you have 74 examples to hand for why they're not.

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