James Foley’s death inspires other journalists

IMG_438214519By Beth Lawrence

James Foley often talked with aspiring journalists at Northwestern University about his experience covering conflict zones, and even after his death he is still inspiring students.


The Northwestern community held a memorial service for Foley Thursday at the Alice Millar Chapel. After Foley graduated from Medill’s master’s program in 2008, he made repeated trips to Chicago to talk with students about what it was like to cover the Middle East and about his capture in Libya in 2011. He even spoke with students via Skype when he was in Syria, Ellen Shearer, a Medill journalism professor, told those who had gathered for the service.

Foley, a 40-year-old freelance journalist, was captured by Islamic State militants while reporting in Syria in November 2012 and held for nearly two years. He was executed in August, an act his captors captured on video and posted online.

“We pray that other young journalists will be inspired by Jim,” said Diane Foley, James’ mother. “They have to care very deeply and be willing to risk their own lives. It’s more dangerous than being in the armed forces.”

Current students in Medill’s master’s program said they were not deterred about reporting overseas by Foley’s death but were inspired to follow in his footsteps.

“If a journalist has the inclination to tell those stories, if you have that in your heart, you’re going to go no matter what,” said Ellen Kobe, a current Medill student, after the service.

Ezra Kaplan, another Medill student, is currently planning a trip to Israel and Palestine. “This has reaffirmed both my motivation and my desire to do the work, to go abroad and tell the stories that need to be told,” he said in an interview. “In his death, the best way I can honor his life is to continue doing the kind of work I want to do and the kind of work he did.”

Adam Banicki, who will also be traveling to Israel and Palestine in December, said Diane Foley’s remarks reinforced why conflict journalism is so important to him. “If anything, it built up my confidence,” he said.

At the memorial, Dick Stolley, a member of Medill’s board of advisors, said it was Foley’s “compulsion to report the truth” that kept him in his career. On Dec. 3 Foley will posthumously receive the Medill Medal for Courage along with Rolling Stone journalist Matthieu Aikins, Stolley announced.

Diane Foley said Foley’s family has established the James W. Foley Legacy Fund to honor the three areas Foley was most passionate about: building resources for American hostages and their families; supporting American journalists in conflict zones; and promoting educational opportunities for urban youth.