Emma Daly Writes About Kurt in The Independent
Kurt Schork was never a household name (except in Sarajevo, where a
media-literate population with a lot of spare time on its hands followed
his work, reprinted in the local papers and read out on local radio) but he
probably should have been. To journalists, aid workers, diplomats,
soldiers, even politicians with a special interest in Kurdistan or Bosnia,
he was one of the finest correspondents of the 1990s - and a wonderful,
challenging, entertaining friend.
Because he wrote for the wires, for Reuters news agency which distributes
copy to thousands of newspapers, radios and televisions across the world,
his dispatches were published everywhere, graphic but anonymous accounts of
life and death.
And because he wrote for the wires, Kurt worked without the prizes, the
photo bylines, the magazine interviews bestowed on higher-profile
journalists working for prominent newspapers or television networks.
He also wrote without the reliance on the personal pronoun, without the "I
was there" element that has sustained many a lesser talent.
Yet he managed to win the respect, admiration and affection of his
colleagues and competitors and, more impressively, of the diplomats,
soldiers and politicians whose every move he scrutinised. Books by Richard
Holbrooke, US architect of the Dayton peace plan, and General Sir Michael
Rose, former commander of UN forces in Bosnia, both contain passages
praising Kurt's journalistic and human talents, despite the fact that Kurt
gave them anything but an easy ride.
His graphic accounts of the civilian sufferings in Sarajevo served often to
highlight the inadequacies of Western and UN policy in Bosnia. You might
see Kurt in the trenches or at the hospital, in warm international offices
or the freezing homes of Bosnians he wanted to interview, or to get to
know. He would visit the morgue, to check on the number of dead himself,
and he would carry the wounded to safety, if necessary.
He was one of the brightest, sharpest, bravest reporters around, a
self-propelled bundle of boundless energy who did not even start in
journalism until he was over 40.
Born in Washington in 1947, Kurt was an over-achieving baby boomer sent to
Oxford as a Rhodes scholar at the same time as Bill Clinton. He worked as a
property developer, a political adviser and, bizarrely, as chief of staff
for the New York Mass Transit Authority - in other words, Kurt ran the
buses and the subway. One day, though, he decided to chuck it all in and
pursue a dream - to become a foreign correspondent, to report from the
front lines where life is most intense.
He spent thousands of hard-earned dollars sending himself around
Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, annoying more seasoned hacks and getting little
in the way of work but amassing the experiences that would help him to
survive the fighting in Iraq, Bosnia, Chechnya, Kosovo and East Timor.
Kurt recognised the Gulf War as his opportunity and, in true Schork style,
moved to Kurdistan, to live in discomfort and danger in Kurdish villages,
to share the daily hardships of a people horribly oppressed by Saddam
Hussein. He began to sell the occasional photograph to Reuters and then the
odd story - which he could only file by crossing the border back into
Turkey to find a working telephone.
He spent 15 months in the region, eating eggs every day - as a vegetarian
there was no other option - and by 1992 had done well enough to be sent to
Sarajevo, where the war had just begun.
It was in Bosnia that Kurt refined his craft. Clear-eyed, clear-thinking
yet profoundly moved by the suffering he witnessd, Kurt described in
graphic detail the lives and deaths of Sarajevo's beleagured citizens.
He questioned authority and was capable of shredding the official line -
if, as so often with the UN mission in Bosnia, that line was self-serving,
hypocritical and ineffective - with a single deft and subtle question.
And yet because he was scrupulously fair, because he worked hard, all the
time, because he checked and re-checked his facts, he was respected and
liked not only by his fellow hacks but by the generals and politicians
leading the charge. They might be irritated by his ability to skewer their
shortcomings, but they could never accuse him of bias or of slip-shod
"He was an icon," said one friend yesterday, still in shock from the news
that an ambush in Sierra Leone had killed not only Kurt but another
wonderful colleague and friend, the Spanish cameraman Miguel Gil Moreno. It
has been like that since the terrible news broke late on Wednesday night, a
never-ending chain of disbelieving phone calls, of mourning and despair
It is almost impossible to believe that Kurt is dead - he seemed such a
permanent, stable figure, perhaps because, at 53, he was older than most of
the rest of us though he looked younger than many of our more dissipated
He was a natural ascetic who adored women and got on well with men. He
usually rose before dawn to read literary novels (he was a great fan of
Michael Ondaatje), rarely drank alcohol (though he would occasionally get
joyously plastered at a party), didn't smoke or use drugs.
He was strong and fit - he was a keen and accomplished skier who enjoyed
the risks and rigours of off-piste heli-skiing - and he took his job
extremely seriously. But also Kurt was funny, very, very funny, with a dry,
sardonic wit. It was always worthwhile going on road trips with him - it
might be frightening and horrifying to seek out the fighting, the refugees,
the wounded - but his company would also ensure that the journey was
interesting, enlightening and amusing.
On Wednesday in Freetown he set out as he had so many times before, in so
many different places, with Yannis Behrakis, a Reuters photographer, Mark
Chisholm, from Reuters Television and Miguel Gil, who worked for Associated
Reuters and AP are deadly media rivals - yet Kurt and Miguel both knew that
in life, as in war reporting, friendship, human relations and trust
outweigh any sense of competition. They went together because it's safer
that way, and because they were all old friends and comrades before they
were competitors. They knew that they could stand or fall on the quality of
the work alone, that they didn't need to cheat or lie or outwit the
I have worked with all four of them, but most often with Kurt. It was a
relief and a delight to know that he was around. I trusted his judgement,
his ability to calculate risks, I enjoyed his company tremendously and I
would have climbed into his car on Wednesday morning without a doubt,
secure in the knowledge that I could hardly want for a better companion in
such a dreadful place.