Alumna slain while reporting

Alumna slain while reporting

A former Northeastern graduate student working as a journalist was killed Saturday in Afghanistan when gunmen wielding AK-47s struck the tent she and a technician had pitched on the side of a road, according to news reports over the weekend.

Karen Fischer, 30, a former student in the School of Journalism, was working as a freelance journalist for Deutsche Welle, the German state-run broadcasting company.

Fischer and the technician, Christian Struwe, 38, were traveling in the Afghan province of Baghlan, which is north of Kabul, on their way to the city of Bamiyan, according to a release from Reporters Without Borders, a French organization that advocates for press freedom and tracks journalists who are killed or jailed.

They were on their way to Bamiyan to report on the city’s historic sites, including a pair of statues of the Buddha destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, the release said. No motive for the killing has surfaced.

Fischer graduated from Northeastern in 2000, according to university records. She was remembered by faculty as one of the best students to go through the School of Journalism’s graduate program.

“We were talking about what direction we wanted the graduate program to go, and one of the things we said was, ‘How can we get more students like Karen Fischer?'” said journalism professor Laurel Leff, who had Fischer as a student in several classes. “And this was just a few weeks ago.”

A German citizen, she came to study in the United States with little journalism experience, but immediately stood out after shooting a documentary for class about a school teaching violin-making in the North End, said journalism professor Alan Schroeder.

Her ability to craft a story through images, combined with the long hours she was willing to spend shooting, made her a “natural” at documentary production, Schroeder said.

“She just had a real eye for telling a story with pictures,” Schroeder said. “I know it when I see it, and I don’t see it very often.”

In addition to her talent and work ethic, Schroeder said she was “fearless.”

“I was never surprised to hear she ended up in Afghanistan covering war zones,” he said.

She served as a research assistant for Leff’s book “Buried by the Times,” an investigation of the New York Times’ failed coverage of the Holocaust.

Fischer brought a natural curiosity and the ability to translate German to the project. She made connections with interview subjects after her tenure as research assistant ended, Leff said. After returning to Germany, she contributed a key piece of research that allowed Leff to make the connection between the family that owned the New York Times and the small town of Furth, Germany, where persecution of Jewish people was rampant during World War II.

“To have this beautiful young German woman who was so committed to learning about her country’s history, it was very important,” Leff said.

In the book’s dedication, Leff made specific reference to Fischer, saying she “not only provided invaluable assistance, but exemplified the best of a generation of Europeans willing to learn from the past.”

In addition to her reporting prowess, her free-flowing personality made her a hit socially, said Sree Vidya Bhaktavatsalam, a former classmate and friend now working as a reporter at Bloomberg News.

“She could walk into a bar and when she’d leave she’d have made friends with half the people there,” Bhaktavatsalam said.

According to a report by Deutsche Welle, Fischer had traveled to the Middle East and Afghanistan on many occasions. She filed a number of reports for the company’s radio news service over the last several years.

Despite the end of the full-scale U.S. invasion in Afghanistan in 2002, violence has continued to trouble the country. The government remains fractured and paralyzed to provide basic services for its people, and violence from militant troops thought to be affiliated with the former ruling party – the Taliban – continues.

It is likely that Fischer was forced to constantly consider the possibility she could die, said journalism professor Nicholas Daniloff, a former foreign correspondent in the Soviet Union during the Cold War.

“In America we live in very calm and I would say hopeful conditions, but when you go to a warzone, you may be hit by flying shrapnel that you have no idea where it’s coming from,” he said.

Afghan authorities are investigating the deaths. As of Monday, six people were identified for questioning, according to Reporters Without Borders.

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