Writing about one’s own profession or pastime is not necessarily of interest to others. But when such a sage as the President of the United States keeps banging on about fake news, maybe I should say a few words about the sanctity or otherwise of journalism. Who knows, it may even be of help for the next time that you are interviewed by the New York Times, one of The Donald’s favourite titles, er, targets!
My very good friend and colleague, and former multiple Italian record holder, Franco Fava writes for the prestigious journal Corriere della Sera. Franco told me a story following the World Champs last month, about interviewing the coach of a promising Italian youngster. The coach said that though he would prefer that Franco didn’t mention it, he thought the young man was going to be a star. Now that, dear friends, is a headline waiting to be written; so since the coach had not specified that it was off the record, Franco did mention it; which upset the coach, who complained in passing to Franco’s predecessor at Corriere, whom he happened to know.
The predecessor showed no sympathy, telling the coach that is he didn’t want Franco or anyone else to know that he thought his protégé was going to be star (hardly earth-shattering news anyway), then he shouldn’t have told him.
Now, you may have seen my previous piece on this site, about the ageing East African trio – Kipchoge, Kenenisa and Kipsang – who will contest the Berlin Marathon later this month. In passing, and it is hardly a secret, I mentioned that the age of many Kenyan and Ethiopian stars has long been a matter of debate and conjecture. When I wrote about the subject last year, I got a response from a Kenyan runner who, though no international himself had grown up with many illustrious high-achievers, and he happened to know that many were older than advertised.
He contacted me, a journalist, with this information, and we had a subsequent email exchange. At no point did he say that any of this information was privileged, ie off-the-record. Indeed, he said he’d often thought about writing it up himself but hadn’t ever found the time. So, in passing, I included the info in last week’s piece. It was written in good faith, and attracted a fair bit of attention, and some interesting responses on this site.
But my source went ballistic, asking me to take his name off the piece, implying his revelations might get him into serious trouble; and that he felt I’d betrayed him.
Now, I have taken his name off the piece, and rephrased it such that he can only identified by those who read it previously, or those close enough to him to guess his identity.
Frankly, I’m at a bit of a loss to know why he’s so upset. Like Franco’s coach’s quote, it is hardly nuclear secrets.
This piece is not intended to either criticise or condemn my source, or even draw further attention to him. On the contrary. But nor do I sympathise with him. Because the lesson here dear friends is…..
IF YOU DON’T WANT ANYONE TO KNOW, DON’T TELL A JOURNALIST!