Women War Correspondents: From the Frontline with Empathy

Authors: Fowler-Watt, K.

Journal: BSA Auto/Biography Yearbook


This paper explores the role played by women in reporting compelling narratives from the frontline in a ‘post-truth’ era. In January 2017, Clare Hollingworth died, aged 106: the first war correspondent to report on the outbreak of WWII. Her American counterpart, Martha Gelhorn (1908-1998), was described as ‘that special breed of women who never had problems identifying both as a woman and with men at war’ (Sigal, 1986). Their lives provide a context for this paper, which will examine narratives of conflict, written by women and focused on human suffering (der Lippe & Ottossen, 2016). It will posit that an empathetic approach to the stories of others resonates in an ‘autobiographical age’ (Plummer,2001), whilst also informing geo-political debate. Time for a ‘non-dramatic’ journalism of compassion, shining light into dark corners?

The conflict in Syria offers a case study to examine the writing of two modern day female war correspondents – the late Marie Colvin and Janine di Giovanni – this paper considers how notions of empathy are reconciled with the shibboleth of impartiality and the role of literary, auto/biographical accounts. Colvin postulated that ‘I feel strongly that we have to include these stories of the suffering of civilians to get the point across’ (Swain in Colvin, 2012:534). In 2012, staying in Homs when others had left, she lost her own life. Does looking at war through the dispatches of female war correspondents tell us anything about ‘truth’? Does it enhance our emotional and media literacy? And should we expect it to? Keywords: frontline; truth; empathy; gender; emotional literacy; war reporting;


Source: Manual