History doesn’t just live in books


I remember learning about Tiananmen Square in one of my high school history classes. The picture of the man standing in front of the Chinese army tanks was an impactful image that symbolized resistance against oppressive regimes, but to me it was only a chapter in a textbook. It felt distant from my small, Midwestern world.

Thirty years ago this week, student-led protests calling for democracy and greater freedoms for Chinese citizens took place at Tiananmen Square. The Chinese army reacted to the protests with firearms, and as a result up to thousands of protesters were killed (the exact number is unknown).

Last week I was editing a video with a co-worker at CBS News. I spoke to him about an interview I had just transcribed between a foreign correspondent and one of the leaders of the student protests at Tiananmen. I expressed to him that I couldn’t even imagine how terrible experiencing the massacre would be.

He said to me, “Actually, I was there.”

He shot footage of the massacre for CBS News 30 years ago. He witnessed hundreds, if not thousands, of Chinese students and protesters die, and he was sitting next to me.

Suddenly, what I had learned in history class didn’t seem so far away.

After that encounter I decided that, from now on, my priority at my internship will be to ask about and listen to the stories that my co-workers at CBS are willing to share.

I went on a shoot this week with a cameraman who told me that he was once a stills photographer. I asked him about the photos he took, and he told me he took the iconic photo of Nelson Mandela and his wife raising their fists victoriously after his release from prison.

It was the first time Mandela had been photographed in 27 years.

Many more people at CBS have stories such as these. I get to work alongside people I consider to be real-life heroes, and I am constantly in awe.

Listening to their stories reminds me why I want to be a journalist. I don’t just have to learn about history through books. I get to capture it firsthand.