Oct 23 2014
I saw this statement of German journalist Hanns-Joachim Friedrichs for the first time today: “You can recognize a good journalist in that he does not allow himself to be taken in by any cause – not even a good one. He is everywhere but never belongs”.
Friedrichs died in 1995. The following story would, I’m sure, have pleased him.
In 1995 I worked for Naspers, reporting from parliament for its newspapers. The new SA was about one year old and the ANC government still driven by principles. Many at Naspers were still struggling with the idea that the whites had handed political power to the blacks. Including my boss. In the four years I reported from parliament for his newspaper he summoned me to his office three times to tell me how unhappy he was with my work. My reports were “far too soft on the ANC government”, he always complained.
Every red carpet affair challenged me for days thereafter. Was I really such a bad journalist? I mean, I was there; I heard what was said; I made my judgment calls and wrote the story as I saw it. And now this experienced editor tells me I got it all wrong…
And then I was saved by a “Friedrichs moment”. There came a week in 1995 in which I was first summoned to the Naspers HQ by my boss to be told that I was too soft on the ANC, and then summoned by Thabo Mbeki, then deputy president of SA, to hear that I was too hard on the ANC.
In the same week.
That was when I knew I was getting it right: sailing straight down the middle, not belonging to anyone, not allowing myself to be drawn in by any cause. If that was the criterium, I was doing a better job at serving the community than my editor.