Journalist Kathy Gannon receives Tully Award for Free Speech after being shot in the field

The Associated Press correspondent is the ninth recipient of the award for her dangerous, important work in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Kathy Gannon received the 2015 Tully Award for Free Speech on March 7. Gannon, a native Canadian, spent the past 18 years in Afghanistan and Pakistan as a senior correspondent for the AP. She is known for having exclusive contact with the Taliban and for her tenacious attitude when it comes to reporting on important issues in the region such as women's rights, elections and the intricacies of war.

Photo: Wen Xin
Gannon and Gutterman speak to an audience in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium.

The Tully Award, given to a journalist who showed courage in the face of a free speech threat, honors Joan Tully's wish to uplift journalists who put their work above all else. The Tully Center for Free Speech presented the award in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium following an hour-long conversation between Gannon and Roy Gutterman, the Tully Center's director. The talk was followed by a 30-minute Q&A session with members of the audience, which was made up of about 150 people.

Gannon began the conversation by explaining why she decided to work in news media within Canada before working as a reporter overseas — something she said she always wanted to do.

“I wanted to know my own country first for a number of reasons — because I think you really have to hone your own skills as a reporter before you try to report on another country,” Gannon said. “In a way, I think it’s more respectful of whatever country that you go into — having experience and knowledge in your craft — as opposed to honing it in someone else’s country."

After working in Canada, she sold everything and moved with a colleague to Israel, where she freelanced for three years before joining The AP.

Reflecting on her long-time experience in the field, Gannon recommended that young journalists don't forget the basics. Having the ability to develop contacts, know which questions to ask, find a great story and be empathetic are skills that transcend the journalism field, she said.

The event climaxed when the discussion shifted to a single moment that happened on April 4, 2014. While Gannon and Anja Niedringhaus, a close friend and AP photographer, sat in the back of their truck, an Afghan police commander opened fire on them. After firing six bullets into Gannon’s upper body and several others into Niedringhaus, the commander immediately surrendered as the two were rushed off to a hospital.

Gannon said she thought she would die, and had no idea that Niedringhaus was already dead beside her. The attempted murder — which robbed Gannon of a dear friend and of the full use of her hands — is not something that will define her life, Gannon said.

“I am not going to let some gunman — whether crazy or not — decide my future. I’ll decide my future. I’m not going to let a person for whatever his reasons decide what I will do or will not do,” Gannon said. “It’s part of who I am — not who I am — and I don’t want it to define me either.”

A picture of Niedringhaus, along with a slideshow of her photos, stood on display behind Gannon and Gutterman during the event. After 16 operations, Gannon said she never doubted that she would go back to work. She has since moved back to Pakistan in early January and has already written a number of stories for the AP.

Erin Skelly, television radio & film sophomore, said she thinks Gannon deserved the award.

“She’s been great through everything," Skelly said, adding that Gannon's fearlessness in deciding to go back to work is an admirable trait.

“I though the speaker was so fascinating. She’s lived a lot of life — she’s a real-life Wonder Woman," Skelly said. "She’s like the person who you aspire to be when you grow up."

Another student who decided to attend the event, broadcast and digital journalism sophomore Tara Lanigan, did so after reading Gannon’s biography and learning that she put her life on the line multiple times.

Lanigan thought Gannon’s story was inspiring, courageous and everything in between. While she listened to the talk, Lanigan said she learned of another side to journalism — not what you bring to it, but what the work brings out of you.

“You really have to be dedicated and you really have to be passionate about what you’re doing,” Lanigan said. “In certain situations you might be putting your life on the line, but if you are that dedicated and you really do believe in what you’re doing, it’s worth it at the end of the day.”

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