For more than 160 years, reporters and photographers for The Associated Press have rushed into battlefields, disaster zones and any number of dangerous places. On Tuesday night, a few went where it is believed none had been before — a Broadway stage.
"It's terrifying," Santiago Lyon, the director of photography for the news cooperative, said from the lip of the Cort Theatre's stage in New York. "Especially without makeup on."
Lyon and three other veteran combat journalists for the AP — three of whom have been injured covering conflicts — were invited to discuss their thoughts after the evening's performance of "Time Stands Still," Donald Margulies' drama about war correspondents.
In the play, Laura Linney and Brian d'Arcy James portray a photojournalist and a foreign correspondent who return from Iraq broken and in need of finding their footing as a couple. Linney's character has been maimed by a land mine; James' has suffered a breakdown.
The play cut close to the bone for the four journalists, who recognized in the drama some issues that have emerged in their life's work — the excitement of chasing a good story, the strain that can have at home, the guilt of being witness to suffering, and the deep friendships born under pressure.
"They really did a good job with this," said Julie Jacobson, a staff photographer who was embedded with the U.S. Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, among other assignments. "I was rather impressed with all the issues that they talked about."
Jacobson, who last year photographed a powerful image of a dying Marine in Afghanistan, said she identified with the play's portrayal of war correspondents coming home and feeling disconnected. She said she found it odd upon returning from the Haiti earthquake to find that she didn't have to brush her teeth with bottled water any more.
For Lyon, who met his journalist wife in a war zone, the play's story of two driven, passionate foreign correspondents was even more familiar: "It seemed at times as though it was like watching other people act out parts of your own life."
Kimberly Dozier, a former CBS News reporter who survived a car bomb in Baghdad in 2006 and joined the AP this year, said the play dramatized the risks of war journalism, but that a foreign correspondent must be interested in more than just danger.
"It makes a great play to talk about adrenaline junkies, but really you're chasing the headline, you're chasing the story," she said. "Sometimes it's in Pakistan at parliament, where there's an argument going on over who is going to be the next leader. And sometimes it's the front line."
The AP has suffered 31 staff fatalities since the news cooperative's founding in 1846, starting with a reporter killed while covering Gen. George Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876. Late last year, AP photographer Emilio Morenatti was severely injured when the Stryker vehicle he was riding in ran over a bomb in Afghanistan.
John Daniszewski, who leads AP's international coverage as senior managing editor, said what keeps journalists going in conflict zones must be more than ego or the buzz of excitement: It is the attempt to make others care about the issues being covered and the hope that they will then help find solutions.
"It is exhilarating but the main thing is you feel you're doing something good," said Daniszewski, who has covered such stories as the fall of Communism in eastern Europe, the wars of the former Yugoslavia and the end of apartheid in South Africa. "What you're doing can make a difference."
That's something the panelists could all agree on. Jacobson said she didn't believe her photographs alone can change the world, but they can still be a powerful engine of change. "If you can make someone think outside the box even for just a day and remember to tell someone 'I love you,' I think we've done our job."