Be careful what you say–to reporters!

The examples of libel in class today reminded me of a story that happened years ago when I was the outdoor reporter for The Honolulu Advertiser (RIP), a morning paper, and assigned to write weekly columns on sports of my choice. Surprisingly, although I would be a competitor, a good friend and counterpart at the evening paper recommended me for the job. I covered running, hang gliding, cycling, swimming, the Ironman Triathlon, etc., and so did he. I also participated in some of the sports including bicycle racing, sailing, running and long-distance swimming. My friend was a sailor, cyclist and runner.

The Ironman event captured everyone’s imagination including mine and I wrote so many stories about it I ran out of insight. So I decided I would compete in it to write from an inside point of view. By compete, I didn’t mean “be competitive and win a trophy” but merely see if I could finish a race that consisted of a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run.

During the nine months I trained for the race my reporter friend called frequently to see how I was doing. He would ask how training was going and I would chat away happily, giving him the inside scoop. I was training about 10-hours a day, getting physically stronger and a tad faster.

Well, I completed the race and it took me over 17 hours. The next day I ached everywhere from sheer exertion but was thrilled just to have finished. I was even more thrilled when I learned I’d won third place in my age group. I won’t say how old I was, but my age group was 40 and over.

The next day my “friend” wrote his entire column about a woman who he said “bragged to anyone who would listen about how good she was,” and chastised said woman (who, it was later determined, was me), for “running such a slow race.” (The competitive women, many years younger than me, finished in the 12-to-13-hour range.)

Our mutual friends were furious that he would write something so mean. Sadly, his rant ended our friendship. I moved away and a few years ago learned that while he was running along the Ala Wai Canal, a deranged man pushed him in, he hit his head on a rock, and died.


One thought on “Be careful what you say–to reporters!

  1. Wow . . . Sorry to say I am not unfamiliar with this kind of story. Journalists are competitive. I’d suggest the p.m. paper’s writer was being lazy by using another journalist as a source, as well as sleazy by misleading you.
    But I’ve also learned that among journalists there are “friends” and then there are “professional friends” or colleagues, who might be nice people but are not necessarily people to spill secrets to. Or, as in your case, even stuff you don’t particularly want published.
    I learned a similar lesson when I was a college student, and a reporter at my hometown paper quoted me extensively in an article drawn from what I thought was a conversation, not an interview. I was particularly stung because I thought I was “grown up” enough that I wasn’t some local kid anymore, but a professional colleague — I’d completed an internship, had done some freelancing for pay, and was very close to graduation. But she considered me a kid.
    That experience came back when I read about this exchange that might interest you. I got to know and respect both parties while I lived and worked in Silicon Valley. They were formerly colleagues at the San Jose Mercury News, and the columnist who still worked there mined a conversation that the former reporter thought was just a chat. The American Journalism Review recounted the exchange:

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