About two weeks ago I got a call from a friend. "Hey, when did you give an interview to Mx?"
"I never gave an interview to Mx," I said. For anyone who doesn't live in Melbourne or Brisbane, Mx is a trash tabloid newspaper given away for free at every major train station in the city. It's run by the Herald, and is essentially a way of acclimatising readers to the same dumb-as-a-post writing style used in the Herald (a similar bottom-shelf newspaper, except it actually costs money).
"Well, you're in here," the friend said. "On the front page."
I was furious and confused. I train parkour very damn hard and I've put a lot of work into making sure it isn't mis-represented in the media. There was no way I'd accidentally given an interview to Mx, and when I finally got a copy of the paper later that day I found the article was a beat-up piece of journalistic trash full of inaccuracies (including the misspelling of my own name). How had they gotten my words? Did they interview anyone in the writing of the article? Has the staff of Mx heard of fact-checking?
I put on my trilby and went to work.
The Melbourne editor of Mx is Stephen Acott, whose emails and phone numbers are available on the Mx website. I fired off an email:
It was a nice surprise yesterday to get a call from a friend saying that I was quoted on the front page of the MX in an article about Parkour. I don't know what other article or online source you yanked the quotes from, because I was never interviewed nor gave my permission for you to use my words in a feature article - doubly so because I can't ever remember saying the words you attributed to me.
If you HAD interviewed me, I could have made your article a litle more factual and a little less nonsensical. For example:
- Parkour was not started in the 1980's - it was only trademarked in the late nineties.
- Sebastien Foucan didn't start the discipline - he was a student/friend of the creator, David Belle, and has now been excommunicated from the global parkour community for lying about being the creator.
- Dozens of thrillseeker deaths? There has only ever been one parkour-related death, in Latvia in early 2008. Statistically, rugby, boxing and skiing are all far more dangerous.
- Your half-page photo is of a young man doing a backflip off a railing. 10 seconds on wikipedia would have told you that Parkour does not involve flips, spins, or tricks. It's all about fast, useful movement.
- Finally, you spelt my name wrong. There are two N's in Kossmann.
After five years of training and numerous interviews, I've only ever been involved in one newspaper article that didn't twist the discipline of parkour into a "daredevil teen craze". I guess we'll just keep on running our classes, keeping young men and women fit, strong and ready to help others in need. Because that's the central ethos of parkour: "Être fort pour être utile"--"Being strong to be useful." We're out training so that when we see someone in need, we can assist. That's all we've ever wanted to do...
Stephen quickly replied:
I've just spoken to the reporter, XXXXXXX XXXXX, and he says he interviewed you a month or so ago when he was working for the Sunday Herald Sun. The story he wrote at the time was not published, so he offered it to me. He says he tried to contact you again two or three days ago but could not reach you. You don't have message bank.
The story is about teens posting videos of themselves doing dangerous stunts that they believe are parkour-inspired. Log on to YouTube and type in "parkour" and you can see for yourself.
XXXXXXX interviewed you to get a professional viewpoint and your view that this type of stunt is not parkour is expressed in the article.
I accept there are a few facts he seems to have got wrong, but they are incidental to the story. However, we don't like to get facts wrong and this has been conveyed to XXXXXXX.
The article is not anti-parkour it is anti-stupid stunts.
Steven was fast. Steven was smooth. And he's right, the onus of fact-checking does sit in the hands of the reporter in question. But some of the mistakes in the story are not "incidental." One death is not dozens. Parkour, when trained sensibly, is very safe and beneficial to the body. More people die every year skiiing or skydiving than have died in the entire twenty-year history of Parkour.
Also, my phone number hasn't changed in five years, and my messagebank is always on. There was no attempt to call me. The reporter in question is a liar.
There's no moral to this story. I'm just pissed that this sort of thing could go to print. As a friend of mine pointed out,
That's what you call a 'brush off'. Stephen Acott should know better than to publish such biased nonsense, lazily purchased as a throwaway from the Herald Sun (obviously because it was too full of shit for even them to publish). There is no possible reading of the article that could be seen as anything other than anti-parkour.
No, wait. There IS a moral to the story.
The moral is this:
If you let the media bully you then you have no right to complain when shit goes downhill. If you want the image of the things you love to be protected, you have to fight for them.
That's why I'm sending an email to Mediawatch. Maybe I'll get a result, maybe not. But at least I'll have given it a shot.
Journalism should be better than this. The truth, above all else.
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Thanks for reading my little article about how the Mx misused my name a couple of years ago. If you like reading free things so much, why not check out my freebies page? I'm always giving away something, including the first novella in my hit Olesia Anderson series!