CBS's Palmer Accepts ICFJ Excellence in International Reporting Award

I am humbled and honoured to accept this award, which I share with all the men and women who have been my partners behind the camera through thick and thin over nearly 30 years.

It has been a privilege to travel the world – watching, listening, probing – and  to try to deliver stories that reflect the truth.  Or as close to the truth as we can get.

I am so grateful to the news organizations – and especially my current employers at CBS News – for believing that I was up to the job. Thank you for the plane tickets, the editorial backup, the reality checks, the encouragement…and most of all for putting my stories on the air.

Every trip has reinforced my reverence for the beauty of this world, and for the human courage and compassion which is everywhere.

What have I learned? There are some universals:

  • People with power don’t give it up willingly…except the rarest among them.
  • The price of war is always so much greater than those who start them pretend.
  • A corrupt state cannot deliver justice.
  • We all love our children.
  • Women’s washrooms are always cleaner than men’s.

I’m often asked – what’s it like to come under fire.  The answer is, bloody awful.  But not as terrifying as being in an air raid… or too close to a car bomb.  I’ve survived all of these in pursuit of the story, and I’d like to thank my long-suffering husband and my two kids for swallowing their worries and giving me unflagging support.  

They know that these are occupational hazards.  The job of an international reporter is travel to events far away, get as close as possible – sometimes too close – and figure out what’s going on.  

Then to organize the facts into a coherent account.

It’s hard work.  Truth is rarely simple.  People lie.  And there’s never enough room in a TV newscast – this is for my CBS bosses here tonight – for foreign stories. 

Strong international reporting is one of the most powerful weapons we have to fight the dog-whistle shorthand of populism, the rhetoric of politicians and interest groups who want to convince that we – the “us” – are under threat from a “them”. And the “them” are often conveniently in (or from) other countries – countries someone recently referred to as shithole countries.

In October of 2012 I was on the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan.

A Taliban gunman had shot up a school bus and almost killed a student….

Just an unlucky brown-skinned girl from a poor family caught in fallout from a war that was by then in its tenth year. It was messy.

Except that girl was Malala Yousafzai.  

Local and foreign reporters began to dig and tell her story – of a soft target who turned out to be tough as nails, a heroine who refused to give in to violence. 

I was one of the reporters who got to Malala’s village.  She was gone… air lifted to the hospital, but I found her school.  And every desk was full in her class – except hers.  

The “them” in this particular community had decided that Malala’s empty seat was not going to scare them; they made it instead a summons to fight ignorance with learning, and dedication to learning, for a new generation of boys and crucially girls.  Who doesn’t connect with that?

That’s what good international reporting does. It knocks down walls and introduces “us” to “them”.  It underlines that we all inhabit this blue bubble of a planet, currently in such distress.

That brings me to my final point.  

The story of our age is climate change and it is about to elbow its way onto the news agenda in ways we can’t even imagine.  By definition, it is a global story.

It represents a huge and unique opportunity for international journalism, for fact-based stories that will be essential to our survival and guide the way toward solutions and cooperation.

I have no idea how that journalism will be shared…or paid for…but it will be led by young reporters using the next generation of technology – reinventing the old craft of fact-based reporting for a brand new age

For us and them – all together – the stakes couldn’t be higher.