One unexpected, at least I didn't expect it, hazard of reporting from a conflict zone is ridicule. And it hurts even more when the ridicule is misdirected. What happens when some clown at Head Office messes up a story which you may have risked serious injury to file? When I was involved in training young reporters I used to tell them that one misspelled name or other slip meant their work had just been poured down the drain. Readers would feel that if the reporter had got something easy like name wrong, what else had they got wrong. The whole story had been stripped of all credibility by what would prove to be the only error in it.
Move forward several years to a scabby, dead dog-littered, town dump in Kosovo. It is nearly midnight. I've been trying for hours to file an account of Canadian troops crossing into Kosovo. Finally, I get through to head office and start dictating the story to a colleague. Let's not go into why in 1999 a reporter is still phoning in his copy. I have torch gripped between my inclined head and hunched shoulder so I can read my notes. It may well be the only light showing for fifty square miles. Not a good idea. When I get home and see the paper I find out that some idiot has added in a paragraph which states that Serbs in Kosovo had to leave the province as a condition of the Serb army's retreat. It's nonsense. Certainly, many Serbs had decided to load as many of their possessions into their cars and flee north. But that was because the local Muslims had made it very clear that they were no longer welcome. It was certainly not because of any stipulation in a peace agreement. The credibility of the whole story had been destroyed by an idiot. I suspect the same idiot had also screwed up the best quote in the article. A Canadian soldier had told me he had been uncertain as to what kind of reception he would get in Kosovo. “We were expecting bricks, instead we got roses,” was the quote. In the Edmonton Sun it appeared as “We were expecting bread, instead we got roses”. There are days, and this was one of them, when I wonder why I bother.