Last week Grapevine Events ran an event at the Frontline Club and from it I have some cheery news – if we make a mistake during work experience, it’s probably not all over.
Indeed, John Witherow (acting editor, The Times), Ian Katz (deputy editor, The Guardian), and Sarah Baxter (editor, The Sunday Times Magazine), were all asked to recount one of the mistakes that they had made in their career. Katz looked particularly guilty upon hearing the question. There was a good reason, but we’ll get to that later.
Let’s start with Witherow, shall we? Witherow narrated his story, saying it took place in his first few weeks as editor of the Sunday Times, in 1994. He received a book by Gordievsky that claimed former Labour leader Michael Foot was a KGB agent, and he was referred to in the Kremlin as “Agent Boot”. Witherow published the story, Foot successfully sued and Witherow did not lose his job.
Baxter was next and she started by telling us that journalists make mistakes throughout their careers, even the more experienced one. Her story was far more recent, when she was following the John McCain campaign to be Republican candidate in 2008 for the Sunday Times. “John McCain was absolutely tanking, his campaign was broke, his advisors were at war, and I had received what I considered to be excellent sources that he was about to pull out”, she began.
It was pretty much downhill from there. She ran the story and it received a huge amount of coverage across the pond. We all know, of course, that McCain went on to win the primaries. Perhaps it was her article that gave him the push he needed, she suggested.
Finally the mic was passed to Katz and his story was astounding, although not related to a factual error. He did end up emptying the Guardian offices of staff though.
He set the scene as a period when The Sun would expose “supposed security weaknesses” by placing fake bombs in areas that might injure people, for example in a helicopter above Parliament (which they did). Katz thought he would have some fun and decided to deliver a fake bomb to the boardroom of News International. His assistant, however, made a bomb that looked extraordinarily realistic and he sent off Hadley Freeman, a features writer to deliver the fake bomb.
Freeman however was stopped in her tracks three times by News International security and eventually Katz told her: “Don’t worry, you’ve done valiantly. Go home.” On his way back from lunch, Katz came across a rather odd site when he saw hundreds of people exiting the Guardian offices. Upon being asked why, he was told: “There’s been a bomb found in the fashion cupboard.”
So there you go. Making a couple of mistakes on work experience probably isn’t going to ruin your career – even the best get it wrong sometimes.
Siraj Datoo is an award-winning political, technology and media journalist. One of his current interests specifically lies in storytelling. He co-founded The Student Journals and has written for The Guardian, The Independent, Huffington Post UK and The Muslim News amongst others. You can tweet him @sirajdatoo and follow his writing at sirajdatoo.com
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