Journalism Education: My Unfinished Business

March 19, 2009

Richard WildWhenev­er 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.

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