The students of #loweclass weren’t too sure how to react when we found out that Diane and John Foley, James Foley’s parents, would be visiting our class in 10 minutes. We hadn’t prepared anything, but the name James Foley stirred up something in each of us. We all knew his name and something of his story. He was the Marquette alumni journalist who was captured and killed by ISIS while working to tell the stories of the conflict-stricken in the Middle East. To many on our campus and around the world, he is a hero. What would his parents be like?
Much to our relief, they showed qualities that we were all familiar with, those of caring parents who both admire and worry about their kid. “It sounds like a movie but it’s not,” John Foley said when describing his son’s life as a war correspondent. He seemed proud but also frightened just by talking about it. The closest thing that I could think of was reading Lynsey Addario’s memoir "It's What I Do" that seemed more like a page-turning thriller than a realistic account of someone’s life. Addario is a conflict photographer and detailed her experiences on the job, including being kidnapped and the struggles of having a family while doing that kind of work.
“We so need passionate young journalists in conflict zones, but it’s so dangerous,” Diane Foley said with a hint of worry in her voice. She explained the importance of safety precautions and risk assessment in journalism, especially among freelancers who don’t have a news organization looking out for them. Both her and her husband have become staunch advocates for preventative safety measures for journalists. They spoke on this throughout their most recent visit to Marquette, commemorating their son's birthday a year after his death.
“It’s a very tricky business,” John Foley said, warning the room of aspiring journalists in front of him. It was clear to us that their strong conviction on the matter was coming from a very personal space. They want future journalists to be safer than their son was. They don’t want other parents to have to feel how they do. They even encouraged us to pursue investigative journalism and stay stateside rather than ever working abroad.
Our interaction with the Foleys was something incredibly human. We were able to experience and appreciate their perspective, one that we could relate to more than we anticipated before class started. They weren’t anything strange, foreign or distant because of what they had gone through. They thought, felt and said things that I could hear my own parents saying. Their praise of Jim and admonition about safety all seemed to come from a place of deep love.
That is one of my favorite parts of journalism, getting an inside look at amazing peoples’ experiences and then realizing that we’re just normal people having a conversation. It’s a reminder that everyone we have everyday conversations with has an amazing story to share too. The Foleys seemed to agree.
“Jim always said that everyone has a story that needs to be told,” John Foley said, shifting the direction of the conversation and ending our time on a more hopeful note. It was almost as if they were reminding us that despite their grief and caution for journalists going forward, they are ultimately supportive of all their son stood for. They believe in what he was doing when he was captured. They know that stories are important.
I am a senior studying journalism and international affairs at Marquette University. I am a Milwaukee-dweller and a storyteller passionate about exploring the intersection between community-building and communication. I'd love for you to learn alongside me!