Commemorating Lyra McKee, our friend and colleague of 7½ years
On September 25, 2011 I initiated a Skype call with Lyra McKee, a 21-year-old college dropout from Belfast with a spotty resume but an intense passion for journalism. It was a job interview, and I knew midway that the dynamo on the other end would be our next hire. She started work the next day.
The role was editor for Mediagazer, our media-tracking news vertical, a sister site to Techmeme. Since that day, Lyra has worked on other projects frankly too numerous for me to even keep track of. Books, investigations, essays, talks, advocacy work, editing projects, and so on, plus 52,530 tweets about all of the above. And yet throughout it all, she still worked continuously as one of Mediagazer’s main editors, and helped edit Techmeme, as all Mediagazer editors do. So when Lyra was killed in Derry on April 18, 2019, the news hit our staff like a tidal wave. Not only was a colleague of 7½ years instantly gone, we were left with the task of covering her murder on the news site she had been actively editing just one day prior.
The sudden volley of tributes that followed her death ranged from furious to profound to solemn. Some were op-eds on news sites, while others were just tweets. But all were sincere, and the sheer volume of these postings formed the surreal yet uplifting background music to our somber work. Accolades from other journalists were especially moving given Lyra’s drive to succeed, and it’s clear she would have been “well chuffed” (absolutely delighted) to hear how heroes like Kara Swisher regarded her work.
A few days after her death, I paused to consider why exactly the outpouring was so massive. Clearly the political implications of murdering an innocent were a major factor. The compassionate nature of her work was another big part: as others have expressed better than I can, she made us remember her country’s forgotten, and offered reassurance for its marginalized. Long after the world moved on from Northern Ireland’s conflict, Lyra devoted herself to documenting the lives affected by the Troubles, often investigating events that preceded her birth by several years.
But perhaps the most underappreciated factor behind the eruption of eulogies was her relentless encouragement and advocacy for colleagues and peers. As someone constantly reading and often online, she would dispense this support readily and “at scale”, via text, @-reply, and email. When Brian Stelter looked through his messages last week, he found Lyra offered a term for this sort of altruism: the “daisy chain of kindness”. (Of course she was describing Brian, not herself, at that moment.) The lesson here for all of us who work collaboratively online: seize the many daily opportunities to touch colleagues in a positive way. This was second nature to Lyra.
Lyra’s murder was not just an atrocity but also the cruelest of ironies. That someone who wrote of a freer, more peaceful Northern Ireland and relayed news on the mortal dangers journalists face could die as she did strains our comprehension. But it’s that very calamity, inflicted on someone as eminently kind as Lyra, that has put in motion encouraging signs of solidarity and urgent calls for unity. Her generous spirit was plainly the antithesis of the darkness that stole her away, so anything less would be unthinkable. Lyra’s death is a warning that in one direction lies “absolute madness”, to quote her last written words. But her life is a shining example that in the other direction lies the only acceptable destiny for her fellow citizens, where a generation dedicated to empathy and tolerance insists on peace and reconciliation.