Lyra McKee was a remarkable journalist in many ways. She took on the hardest kind of journalism (investigative) and did it in one of the most difficult places (Northern Ireland) without any support.
At the start of this decade when I was thinking, writing and speaking a lot about the future of journalism, Lyra was trying to investigate unsolved political murders. There was little interest and no money from newspapers and yet, somehow, she had the grit and determination to keep reporting, asking questions, gathering evidence.
Investigative journalism is the least rewarding, most gruelling kind of journalism there is, I think - and that’s when you have a regular pay check and the resources of a major publisher behind you. Imagine doing it with none of that.
Lyra and I used to see each other at journalism conferences, back when I did that. She was energised and optimistic about the future of journalism when I sometimes lost my faith. We almost collaborated on a publishing project together but it never worked out.
We last spoke when she was thinking of using crowdfunding to publish a book, which she did, successfully. As of this year she had a two-book deal with a major publisher. Talk about making it work.
Over the last few years she also became a leading voice for gay rights in Northern Ireland, a place still many years behind the rest of the UK on this issue. In 2014 she published a remarkable letter to her 14-year-old self, recounting how hard it was to carry her secret, but promising it would get better.
“Life will not only get easier, it will get so much better. You will walk down the street without fear. Teenage boys you’ve never met will not throw things at you and shout names. Your friends will be the best anyone could ask for. You will be invited to parties. You will have a social life. You will be loved…Keep hanging on, kid. It’s worth it. I love you.”
Anyway, someone shot her in the head on Thursday night as she covered a riot which had broken out in her town. She died on the way to the hospital.
She was only 29 and - after years of graft and struggle - was on the rise of what should have been a stellar career. She should have been Britain’s next great investigative journalist. She’s been robbed of that now; her partner Sara has been robbed of the person she wanted to grow old with; and we’ve been robbed of a fearless advocate of truth - right when Northern Ireland seems to be slipping back into dark places.
It’s hard to find positive things to say at times like this. One good thing is a GoFundMe campaign to cover her funeral costs and decide on her legacy has raised £55,000 in a couple of days.
Keep hanging on, kid. Sometimes, I guess that’s all we can do.
Until next Sunday,