I once didn’t take some pictures that would have earned thousands of euros in a heartbeat.
AIK had played Levski Sofia in a Europa league qualifier, and as I left the ground fans of the Swedish club set about attacking their opponents’ team bus.
In my bag I had a professional-quality digital camera, zoom lenses, flashes, the works- all I had to do was pull it out and snap the action.
I would have made a fortune from the Swedish tabloids if I’d only captured the moment a brick was hurled through the window of the bus.
I didn’t, because had I done so the guys attacking the bus (hooligans whom I’ve crossed paths with before) would probably have attacked me instead, leading to an immense amount of damage to me and my equipment.
Instead, I got out of there and reported the story from safe distance, because sometimes as a journalist, you don’t take a picture or ask a question in the interests of your own safety.
It’s called professional judgment, and it seems to be sorely lacking over at the Sunday Independent.
Last week, Niamh Horan filled the front page with a report of how she was almost attacked by an Irish property developer in a bar in Portugal.
I’d love to be able to link to her report to let you see for yourself how bad it was, but I can’t, as the Sindo promptly removed it from its website.
Remarkably, there was a follow-up piece today denouncing those who criticized Horan for her stupidity and useless writing – but no explanation as to why an article that was deemed front-page material on Saturday night wasn’t allowed to remain online.
Indeed, when I contacted Horan and Sindo columnist Barry Egan via Twitter to ask why it had been removed, the “very brave” (Egan’s words) Horan blocked me.
Aside from being littered with snide references to “competing” journalists and allegations of online bullying, it essentially makes no effort to deal with Horan’s shoddy work, so let’s look at it a little more closely.
Horan – a journalist whose output mainly consists of gossip and harassing middle-aged celebrities like Van Morrison and Sinéad O’Connor, according to a quick Google search – sees a developer in a bar, and thinks that this would make a good story.
What seems to have happened next is that she approached said developer and asked him if he’d like to talk about his situation – this either before or after taking an opportunistic (and frankly awful) picture on her phone.
The developer then apparently threatened to ram his glass down her throat, smashing it in the process, and she ran off crying.
Now let me get one thing straight – there is never a valid reason for threatening a journalist, man or woman.
Unfortunately, given the nature of the job, it happens. All the time.
Despite the frankly bizarre question on the front page of last week’s Sindo, which asked people to identify the “thug” who had threatened her, Horan says she already knew who he was,, and vice versa.
Whatever the odd circumstances, it seems that it was at this point her professional judgment (or the total lack of it) failed her completely.
The man allegedly in Horan’s photo was once sentenced to 26 years in prison for attempted murder, possession of illegal weapons, and robbery, and had spent time on hunger strike – all of which Niamh would have known if she’d done her research properly, or indeed at all.
Had she done so, she would have given him a wide berth.
I’m 6’ 3”, weigh over 90 kilos and play Gaelic football regularly, but even at that I wouldn’t be going up to this guy when he’s full of pints, snapping pictures without his permission and asking questions about his finances. Journalist or not, that’s asking for trouble.
And had Horan called her editors at the Sunday Independent – who, let us remember, are well-versed in dealing with the dangers that face investigative journalists as they go about their work – to consult with them before approaching him, they surely would have said the same thing.
But somewhere along the line, either she or they failed to correctly assess the situation, thus putting the reporter in grave physical danger. That is not the fault of any tweeter or blogger or critic or “bully”. That is the fault of the Sunday Independent and Niamh Horan.
Despite that, they went ahead and published, only to remove the online version without a trace.
One can only assume that the developer – having not been arrested, tried or convicted of anything like the assault (and maybe even attempted murder) described in Horan’s article – took umbrage at his image being used in this way and in this story, and complained to his lawyers.
I’d love to know for sure, but Niamh dosen’t seem in any hurry to tell me.
Instead, the Sindo article dismissing criticism of Horan’s amateur efforts at investigative journalism blames – quite incredibly – the recession:
“Media suffering from the effects of recession and other ills are investing too few resources in serious, in-depth reporting on the agents, causes and extent of Ireland’s problems.
When they see an opportunity to highlight an aspect of that bigger story, reporters should be protected against assault and intimidation on the ground, and spared the attention of bullies in cyberspace.” (my italics)
The first duty of the editor is to protect his or her journalists from harm – either physical harm when reporting in the field, or the damage they can do to their careers when writing non-stories that, had they exercised a touch of common sense, never would have arisen.
And if the Sunday Independent feels that too few resources are being invested in investigative reporting, forgive me for suggesting that there might be a very simple way for them to remedy that.
Namely, by the Sunday Independent investing more resources in investigative reporting, and not relying on a gossip columnist striking gold in a pub in Portugal.