There’s something in her eyes. Something more than the bafflement you so often see in the faces of innocents victimised by the wars of others. It’s something that haunts. Something that reaches you most powerfully not in your mind, but somewhere more prosaic. In your guts. In your bones.

Her expression seems to plead directly. To ask of you, do you care? Do you see me?

When we saw this image, there was no other that seemed more apt to lead our website on March 15th, the day Syria entered its fifth year of misery and mayhem. Its fifth year of slaughter.

Several human rights groups, and many Syrians, had a powerful accusation to make that day. The world, they said, had failed the country and her people. The world didn’t care anymore.

The twisted steal the attention. And the people we should pay attention to fade into the background, bit players in a narrative wrongly and unfairly dominated by the grotesque.

Sometimes journalism itself feels like a fight to get people to care.

And as often, maybe more often, it’s a fight to get yourself to. Every day, the media deals in stories of death and devastation and despair. Too often, it feels like work, just there to be processed. A day’s pay to be earned.

But we have a duty. Because these are other people’s stories.

And they deserve to have them heard.

On the anniversary, we published a lot of content. There were stirring documentaries, powerful polemics, Syrian paintings, infographics, analysis, interviews, features and news. There was streaming TV. We tried to take our audience into the lives of those caught up in this.

And all of it was fronted with the bloodied woman, that gaze taking up most of the screen.

But the number of people who came to our site that day was far lower than expected. As we watched the analytics, tracked our traffic, that stinging accusation of apathy seemed justified.

There are variables, of course. Anniversaries don’t tend to grab the imagination, some people may prefer other news organisations for Syria reporting, and perhaps our work wasn’t what it could be.

Then there’s fatigue. It’s been a rough few years for the world. Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, Libya, the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Ukraine, Somalia and more. Dark stories dominate.

I have never heard so many journalists say that the job is grinding them down nor so many people who watch the news say that they cannot stand to do so anymore. Bearing witness is gruelling.

Confronting our indifference

We have seen a stagnation in traffic to our Syria conflict stories since 2012 with intermittent peaks when it makes headlines – Assad says something unusual, the possibility of Western missiles.

Recently, though there have been occasional spikes, they appear mostly related to ISIL. The taking of Fallujah, the fall of Mosul, the detestable beheadings, and the sledgehammering of history.

The twisted steal the attention. And the people we should pay attention to fade into the background, bit players in a narrative wrongly and unfairly dominated by the grotesque.

We find that stories about the suffocating grind and everyday hardship of war don’t do as well. Stories about the almost four million Syrians who have been forced to flee their country, the same.

When we tweeted the accusation that the world didn’t care, many people retweeted it. But most didn’t click the link to read our stories. Perhaps they wanted to be seen to care. Perhaps they believed that people should care. But they didn’t care enough to read what we had written.

That’s a shame.

Because this was an opportunity to take stock. To stand back. To reflect on the fact that more than 220,000 people have been killed and half a country’s population pushed from their homes. To ask the Syrian people what they need from us. To pressure our governments to take them in.

Our indifference is something we need to think about and talk about. As journalists, we should question our performance. As people, our humanity. Because we can do better.

And that woman in the photograph should know that we see her.

Barry Malone is an online editor at Al Jazeera. Twitter: @malonebarry

Source: Al Jazeera