September 21, 2018

Kim Wall, Slain Journalist, Is Remembered in Her Own Words

But Ms. Wall’s life, not her death, was the unerring focus of Wednesday’s memorial, which was attended by about 100 people, including family members, former classmates and professors.

The ceremony, which was held at the journalism school, strove for joyful commemoration but often lapsed into grief and somberness.

“We have been deprived of all the untold stories,” Ingrid Wall, Ms. Wall’s mother, said tearfully.

Several of Ms. Wall’s former professors shared their memories of the young woman, who had been raised in a family of journalists and had professed her desire to carve out a space for herself in what she called the male-dominated world of foreign policy (at Columbia, she studied journalism and international affairs). They described the “oddball” stories she pitched while in school, the Sri Lankan refugee camps she talked her way into afterward, the combination of childlike enthusiasm and intellectual rigor she brought to her work.

Her friends read excerpts from her writing. Her brother, Tom Wall, recalled his sister’s almost evangelical passion for pens manufactured by the Japanese company Muji.

Ms. Wall would never pick up a pen again, Mr. Wall said, his voice strained. But others could, he continued.

“And that’s exactly how we should remember and honor her,” he said. “By remembering the words that she wrote. What she stood for. What she believed in.”


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Ms. Wall’s family and friends have established a grant in her honor. It has raised over $110,000, and it will support young female journalists who wish to pursue stories about, in Ms. Wall’s words, “the undercurrents of rebellion.”

For female journalists, Ms. Wall’s death has opened a well of horror, outrage, grief — and, perhaps most of all, of urgent discussion about the perils of freelance journalism, especially for women.

“Every single one of us would have gone on that submarine. Why not? I would have,” Nina Berman, an associate professor at Columbia’s journalism school and one of the memorial’s organizers, said in an interview.

Coleen Jose, a classmate of Ms. Wall’s at Columbia, recalled scraping together less than $12,000 in grant money for the two of them and a third friend for a reporting trip to the Marshall Islands.

“Looking back, that really speaks to that systemic issue, that as freelancers we really have to pinch the pennies and focus on what the work is, versus our safety, sometimes,” Ms. Jose said before the ceremony.

But Ms. Wall never shied away from a story, the speakers at Wednesday’s ceremony said. In describing her, they used words like “chutzpah” “unapologetic,” “inventive,” “persistent” and “determined.”

A photo projected behind the speakers showed a close-up of Ms. Wall’s face. Her lips were parted in a smile, her gaze slightly to the right of the camera, as if she had been captured for just a moment on her way to somewhere else.

In one excerpt read by one of her friends, Ms. Wall wrote about a self-made businesswoman who had left her hometown, Changsha, China, for Uganda. But, to hear her friends and family tell it, she could have been writing about herself.

“Yet, she figured, if she stayed in her hometown of Changsha,” Ms. Wall wrote, “she would never get to see the world.”

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