It is a vivid reminder of the dangers that journalists encounter to bear witness, of the extraordinary bravery they often bring to their craft.
It appears that James Wright Foley, the American photojournalist kidnapped in Syria almost two years ago, has been beheaded.
Journalism takes its practitioners into many extremely frightening places. Syria is top of the charts.
Sixty-six journalists have died there since the rebellion against President Bashar Assad began in 2011, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Another 30 are missing.
Two of the finest foreign correspondents of their generation died covering the rebellion there against Assad: American-born Marie Colvin, who wrote for The Sunday Times of London, and Anthony Shadid of The New York Times.
There's a lot of cynicism about journalism today, about the preoccupation with the sensational and the trivial that stems from the frantic effort to build large digital audiences.
But it's important to keep in mind that journalists continue to do important work, work that is critical in a democracy. Sometimes they pay the ultimate price.
Covering combat, of course, is extremely risky. But the journalists reporting on the tumult in Ferguson, Mo., also place themselves on the front lines as they run the gantlet of law enforcement officers and now protesters who don't want them chronicling the confrontations, as they try to sort out a chaotic situation replete with gunfire and tear gas.
Why do journalists, particularly war correspondents, do what they do? Why do they subject themselves to the risks? Why would James Wright Foley, a freelancer who worked for, among others, GlobalPost and Agence France-Presse, venture into such treacherous, unforgiving terrain?
Because there's only one way to tell the story. And that's by being there. The official briefings only take you so far. War isn't just strategies and body counts. It's real people, real soldiers putting their lives at risk, innocent civilians caught up in the carnage. You can't tell the story unless you see it firsthand.
Colvin, who covered seemingly every major conflagration, from Kosovo to Chechnya to Syria, lost the sight in her left eye when she was hit by shrapnel in Sri Lanka in 2001, That slowed her down not at all.
How did she keep going? "It's a human mechanism," she once told American Journalism Review's Sherry Ricchiardi. "You put your fear, emotions and physical exhaustion on hold. You get so cold, hungry and dirty. You exist on a few bites of stale bread and drink water out of mudholes but, no matter what, you don't walk out on the story."
And why did she keep going? Colvin bitterly resented the notion that she was an adrenaline junkie, a "cowgirl" as she put it, who simply loved the action.
"I don't do this for fun," she said. "I do this because it is necessary."