Alumna brings war photography to university

By Matt Daray

Few American civilians have come close to a war zone, but for one SIU graduate, it was a way of life for several years.

Now she wants others to see war through her and other journalists’ eyes.

Jackie Spinner, a 1992 university graduate who spent 14 years at Washington Post and now teaches journalism at Columbia College in Chicago, has brought a multimedia exhibit called “Conflict Zone” to her alma mater. Students and staff will be able to view a collection of photographs and videos taken during the war in Iraq and conflict in Afghanistan. The exhibit will be open until December.

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Spinner has covered the Iraq War extensively and reported from the front line during the second battle of Fallujah, one of the bloodiest in the entire war.

The idea for the exhibit came from a group of journalists who tried to raise money for photographer Joao Silva after he lost both of his legs from a landmine in October 2010 while accompanying American soldiers patrolling in Afghanistan. After realizing what the group had in terms of quality and quantity of the pictures and video collected, the group created the exhibit, Spinner said.

“Conflict Zone” is also dedicated to Chris Hondros, a photographer killed April 20, 2011, while in Libya. Some of Hondros’ photos are displayed in the exhibit.

Presenting war through first-hand images is an important reality check for those who have only seen the war through news reports, she said.

“I think it’s really important to show people what war looks like, and it doesn’t necessarily look like what they’ve seen on the television screen or one or two photos in a newspaper,” she said. “I think when you do the kind of work that I’ve done as a war correspondent and that my colleagues continue to do as war correspondents, you want to feel that it mattered and by continuing to show Americans what war looks like, you feel like what you did was important.”

Covering wars can be a hard thing to come back from because of the numerous stories that need to be told, Spinner said.

“The hardest part about war reporting is knowing when to stop and not being able to do it,” she said.

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Spinner said giving up on covering war stories is tough because she wants to keep doing it, but now she has a baby boy to take care of. She said while most people are interested in her war coverage, she is just as passionate about covering school board meetings.

“War is an important story to cover because you can be the only witness to an event that no one in the world is aware is happening,” she said. “But that’s no different than covering any other story anywhere in the world. Journalists fulfill that role of watchdog whether it’s war, whether it’s a zoning hearing, whether it’s a building going up at the end of your street.”

Spinner is not alone in her outlook on war journalism. Several School of Journalism staff members recounted stories of how they discovered the importance of conflict reporting.

Phil Greer, a senior lecturer of journalism, said war reporting is crucial because it helps people understand what is happening in a war.

“I think it’s very important. It brings it home and it personalizes it,” he said. “If you didn’t have the journalists in the field covering war, you really wouldn’t know what goes on.”

Greer said war journalism has been impactful in how people view a war, with Vietnam, a war he spent time in, being a perfect example. Without war reporters, some stories may never be known or told, he said.

Wars become more humanized and impactful when journalists report from the field instead of just receiving reports, Greer said.

“Your responsibility as a journalist is to inform, and a lot of times I think it shocks the public when they see what’s transpiring in a foreign country or in a war zone,” he said. “I think that a lot of times they give more credibility to images they see from wars or reports that they see from the actual field rather than a brief that you get from Washington, D.C., or the Pentagon or a general sitting behind a desk.”

Journalism professor William Babcock said Spinner’s visit to campus and works are an inspiration to the next generation of journalists.

“Journalism students always need to have role models and to have a person who has been through what she’s been through and still has her sense of personal integrity. You don’t always see that in journalism, and when you do, it should be cherished,” he said. “You couldn’t have a better role model than someone like this.”

Some journalism students were enthralled to meet Spinner and see her work.

Ian Mullen, a senior from Eldersburg, Md., studying journalism, said it was an amazing experience to listen to Spinner and learn of her career as a reporter.

“She has a lot of experience not only in the professional world but within SIU, and that was a really cool thing to see someone who started at SIU and was able to go so far,” he said.

Yvet Holmes, a senior from Belleville studying journalism, said the experience of listening to Spinner was inspiring.

“I was honestly very surprised to see such a woman short in stature with such amazing photos and great stories and just all-around interesting work,” she said.

Holmes said she was inspired to work harder at accomplishing her goals because of the sheer enthusiasm Spinner showed at the presentation. Holmes said she is excited to check out the exhibit and will make it a point to visit.

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