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AP’s Kathy Gannon Awarded 2014 James Foley Medill Medal

Shot six times, Gannon honored for outstanding courage; coverage of Afghanistan

  • Gannon honored for coverage of U.S. – Taliban prisoner exchange
  • Veteran reporter covered Middle East for more than 20 years
  • First-known case of security insider attacking journalists in Afghanistan

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Kathy Gannon, a veteran Associated Press foreign correspondent who was shot six times by an Afghan security officer while on assignment in Afghanistan, has been awarded the 2014 James Foley Medal For Courage in Journalism.

The award, given by Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communication, includes a $5,000 prize and honors the journalist who has best displayed moral, ethical or physical courage in the pursuit of a story or series of stories.

“It’s a great honor to have your body of work recognized and to have it described as courageous,” Gannon said.

In April 2014, Gannon and her reporting partner, AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus, were working in eastern Afghanistan, covering the presidential elections. The two women were sitting in a car in Khost when an Afghan security officer walked up and fired an AK-47 into the backseat.

Niedringhaus was killed. Gannon, who was shot six times in the arm and shoulder, was badly wounded. It was the first known case of a security insider attacking journalists in Afghanistan.

Still recovering from her injuries and grieving for her colleague, who she had been working with since 2009, Gannon continued to write about Afghanistan. Two months after the attack, she wrote about the prisoner exchange between the United States and the Taliban.

“The AP has been spectacular in their support and their willingness to do the stories I thought were important,” Gannon said. “Year after year, they stuck with me.”

Gannon has been reporting in Afghanistan for decades. She witnessed the Taliban take power in 1996 and reported on the American invasion following the Sept. 11 attacks.

Much of Gannon’s distinguished work has been filed from Afghanistan, but she has reported from around the Middle East and Central Asia.

The Foley Medal is given annually to an individual or a team of journalists working for a U.S.-based media outlet. Gannon was the unanimous choice among the judges.

The selection committee included Medill Board of Advisers members Ellen Soeteber (BSJ72), former editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and Richard Stolley (BSJ52, MSJ53), former senior editorial adviser for Time Inc., as well as Medill Professor Donna Leff.

Gannon’s longtime work in a volatile region is impressive, the judges said, but her resolve to continue working as a journalist in Afghanistan after the April 2014 attack exemplifies the kind of work the medal was created to honor.

Gannon’s entry “comes on top of a long, brave and distinguished career spanning decades,” Soeteber said. “She’s a veteran dedicated to telling the story.” 

In one of her first interviews after the shooting, Gannon said she and Niedringhaus were not “cavalier or careless about security arrangements” and that the experience would not stop her from continuing to tell the Afghan story. Niedringhaus, she said, would have been equally determined to continue their work.

“I know she felt exactly the way I do, and there’s absolutely no way some crazy gunman is going to decide for me what my future is going to be,” Gannon said in the interview. “I will go back to Afghanistan, for sure.”

Two other entries were selected as finalists: The Washington Post’s Kevin Sieff, for his coverage of Ebola in Liberia, and a team from Reuters, led by special correspondent Stephen Grey, for reporting on the business dealings of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Judges said this year’s crop of entries was especially strong.

Last year’s winner was Matthieu Aikins, who also reported from Afghanistan. His story “The A-Team Killings,” published in Rolling Stone, exposed alleged war crimes by U.S. Army Special Forces in Wardak Province.

Last year also marked a name change for the award in honor of freelance journalist James Foley (MSJ08), who was posthumously honored with the medal. Foley was captured while reporting in Syria in 2012 and killed by ISIS extremists in 2014. Gannon said winning an award named for Foley is an honor.

“I hadn’t met James, but I’m certainly familiar with his work, and it’s an honor to be mentioned in the same sentence as him,” she said. “Aside from the quality of his work, he had real courage. I think he defeated ISIS’s attempt at terrorizing with his death. James inspired with his work and his courage. “

Foley’s courage also reminds Gannon of her friend and colleague, Niedringhaus.

“Her courage mirrored James’s courage, and that makes it particularly meaningful for me,” she said.

Niedringhaus, who was part of a 2005 Pulitzer Prize-winning team from the AP, also has an award named in her honor. The International Women’s Media Foundation created the Anja Niedringhaus Courage in Photojournalism Award in 2014.

It has been more than a year since the attack in Khost. Gannon has endured the loss of a close colleague, multiple surgeries and arduous physical rehabilitation, but she has said she will not stop her important work. 

“We are honored to present this award to Kathy Gannon,” Leff said. “Without her, we would not have a full picture of what’s going on in Afghanistan.”

Find out more about the James Foley Medill Medal for Courage in Journalism and read about past winners.

--Jasmine Rangel Leonas contributed to this story.

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