His beat is the world
In his job as a foreign correspondent for the ABC television network, London-based Jeffrey Kofman, Artsci’81, is “living his dream on a daily basis.”
He knew from an early age what he wanted to do in life. “As a kid, I devoured the newspaper and drove my parents crazy by insisting that I stay up late to watch CBC and CTV news,” says Jeffrey Kofman. “For me journalism is the perfect fit: a blend of curiosity, creativity, compassion and a huge dose of adventure.”
While studying political science at Queen’s, he cut his journalistic teeth writing for The Journal and founding and editing The Queen’s Journal Magazine. He also dabbled in broadcasting at CFRC and wrote a series of columns on student life for the Whig-Standard.
Now based in London, U.K., and traveling the world, Jeffrey was ABC’s correspondent for Florida, the Caribbean and Latin America for 10 years, an experience that, among other things, saw him visit penguin colonies in Patagonia, walk on the world’s largest salt lake high in the Bolivian Andes, fly into the jungle with Colombian anti-narcotics police, and traverse the Panama Canal aboard a Chinese container ship.
“I knew very little about this whole region when I began, but I learned to love it as I traveled to almost every country in the hemisphere,” says Jeffrey. “I’ve joked that it was my own version of graduate studies. It was thrilling to dive into a region that’s sparingly covered by journalists. I read books, built an extensive network of contacts, and learned to speak Spanish.”
The year 2010 was particularly memorable for Jeffrey. In the spring he spent four months living in a fishing lodge south of New Orleans covering the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, traveling around the area in helicopters and speedboats. In August, he was the first foreign reporter on the scene at the San Jose mine crisis in Chile’s northern Atacama Desert.
“I was at the mine for most of the seven weeks it took to rescue those 33 trapped men,” he says. “It was as good as journalism gets: human drama, brilliant science and engineering, and some of the most impressive leadership I’ve ever witnessed. And it all had a happy ending when the miners came to the surface alive.”
The other less glamorous side of his job is the danger that inevitably comes with reporting on wars. Jeffrey has seen colleagues seriously injured and even killed, and he himself has been caught in sniper cross-fire and risked roadside bombs in the course of his work.
“Anyone who covers war zones confronts fear and horror on levels nothing can prepare you for,” he says, referencing several raw, emotional experiences in Iraq and Libya. “As war reporters we want to believe we’re streetwise and savvy, but I know all too well that we’re all lucky until it’s too late.”
In 2004, during the month he spent in Haiti covering the revolution that ousted Jean-Bertrand Aristide, he and his crew were caught in a terrifying scene when a mob began running towards them with machetes in hand and hurling rocks. “We weren’t the object of their anger, but we were standing in their path, and the rocks were coming right at us,” he recalls. “It happened in seconds; we only escaped because I’d instructed my driver to turn the vehicle around just in case we needed to leave fast. To this day I don’t know why I did that, but I think I was adhering to a dictum that was taught to me by a veteran journalist who advised that when you are in a dangerous place, ‘Always have an exit strategy.’”
As a journalist, Jeffrey sees himself as a storyteller, but one who adheres to a rigorous ethic of responsibility that includes balance and fairness. His aim, he says, is to connect people to the world around them; to decode the complex, empathize with the afflicted, and sometimes simply share the wonder.
However, he sees the tides of his trade turning and concedes that the journalism he knew 20 years ago as a reporter and CBC news anchor is disappearing.
“Every news organization has had to confront diminishing audiences, decreasing revenues, and the rise of the Internet, all factors that have pushed editors to pander more to what viewers and readers want,” he says. “For all the failings of traditional ‘mainstream media,’ at its best it offers a range of views and challenges people’s assumptions. That’s what I believe we need to keep doing.”