Whenever people ask me why I left television news (a world which – I have to say – I loved) to run a J-School, I never give the real answer.
Because the real answer is just the name of someone they (and you) probably won’t ever have heard of: Richard Wild.
Richard is gone now. He was shot dead in Baghdad in 2003. I wrote the letter that got him in to Iraq.
You didn’t have to be a genius to see Richard’s potential. He had studied Medieval History at Cambridge, and gone on to do an M.Phil. He’d been a leading light in the student theatre. He was a keen sportsman, and he had a year’s commission as a Lieutenant in the British Army. He was bright, determined and talented.
He was also thoughtful and curious. Most definitely not a self-obsessive looking for a heroic canvas on which to act out a literary psychodrama (yes, you know who you are…).
Richard was going out with the sister of a foreign correspondent friend. He decided that he wanted to be a journalist and he came to see me. For my part, I opened the door to get him a job at ITN, and helped set him on a path that ended with his murder.
(After his death, another foreign correspondent friend – for whom I have great respect – accused me quite plainly of killing him.)
I neither suggested he go to Iraq, nor was I the cold-hearted bastard that shot him. I merely helped expedite his passage, and did some mentoring via email. Some mentor, you might say. And you would be right.
I never had the opportunity to help Richard become the great reporter he undoubtedly would have been. Someone with a gun robbed him of those years, and much more besides.
And so this – journalism education – is my unfinished business.
So when I get angry with glib pundits (not that I’m ever glib or a pundit myself, you understand) talking about journalism and journalists and society and democracy, it’s because it’s not a game. And we need more Richards, and yes fewer – well, you know who I mean.
And perhaps on a bad day, I’d include myself on that second list.
And on a good day, maybe not.