The media today: Remembering journalist Kim Wall

Police in Copenhagen confirmed yesterday that remains washed ashore near the city belonged to Kim Wall, an independent journalist who was a graduate of the Columbia Journalism School. Wall, 30, disappeared two weeks ago after boarding Danish inventor Peter Madsen’s submarine.

Wall, who was Swedish, built a successful career as a globe-trotting journalist, reporting from Haiti, Uganda, Sri Lanka, and North Korea. She covered eclectic topics ranging from Haitian vodou to Idi Amin’s torture chambers to staged fairytale weddings, and saw her stories published in major outlets like Harper’s, The New York Times, and The Guardian.

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Though the circumstances of her death have elicited international attention—Birgitte Borup, a reporter for Danish TV, told me it was “the most spectacular murder case in Denmark’s recent history”—Wall’s former professors at Columbia chose to focus on the woman at the center of the story, writing for CJR about a passionate young journalist committed to pursuing her innate curiosity. Karen Stabiner praised Wall’s professionalism and hunger for reporting, writing that she had “the ability to find outlier stories and to treat them with respect.”

“She was alive in ways that most of us can only dream of being alive. She sparkled with a delightful enthusiasm about everything she undertook, with such a ready, beaming smile,” wrote Howard W. French. “She dreamed big dreams and she was unafraid of pursuing them. Kim’s life merits celebration. She was very, very special, and will be missed.”

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At a candlelight vigil on the steps of Pulitzer Hall, former classmates gathered to pay tribute in a somber ceremony punctuated by moments of levity in celebration of Wall’s life. “I know everyone says this in these situations, but with Kim it’s true,” former classmate and current BuzzFeed food writer Marie Telling said. “She was full of light. She was a real presence that was unforgettable.”

Wall’s story highlights the dangers that journalists, especially freelancers, face around the world. Coverage of Madsen’s trial will no doubt raise those issues again. In the meantime, it’s worth remembering a talented journalist gone too soon.

 

  • Family tribute: Wall’s mother issued a statement praising her daughter’s work: “She has found and told stories from different parts of the globe, stories that must be written…She gave voice to the weak, vulnerable and marginalised people.” 
  • A dangerous profession: For The Guardian, Wall’s friend Sruthi Gottipati wrote about her death and the dangers freelancers face, even in a country as safe as Denmark.
  • “Not just a crime-novel tale”: Quartz’s Hanna Kozlowska writes about a person who deserves more coverage than the the gruesome details of her apparent murder.
  • Thoughts from friends: BuzzFeed’s Amber Jamieson compiled responses from Wall’s friends, who remembered her as a reporter who could “give her subjects incredible humanity, to write their stories in a vivid and most of the time, a humorous way, and to put individuals’ stories into a bigger social and historical context.”

 

Other notable stories

  • Sorry. This is commentary dressed up as news reporting,” Wall Street Journal Editor in Chief Gerard Baker wrote to reporters and editors in response to a first draft of their story on President Trump’s Wednesday rally in Arizona. Baker has faced criticism—at times from within his own newsroom—for not taking a more critical approach to coverage of the president. The New York Times’s Michael M. Grynbaum has the details.
  • NBC News’s Steve Kornacki argues that we shouldn’t put too much stock in polls showing a lack of approval for the job Trump has been doing. 
  • Sports Illustrated’s Richard Deitsch says ESPN’s decision to remove broadcaster Robert Lee from calling a University of Virginia football game was “a self-inflicted wound and a decision made out of fear of negative press.

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.