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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