Media studies students filled a Humber North campus lecture room Tuesday to hear from Jeffrey Kofman, a seasoned foreign correspondent for ABC News and co-founder of the speech-to-text start-up Trint.
Kofman delivered a lecture full of real world truths about overseas journalism. He framed these lessons by sharing stories about his correspondence work during the Arab Spring, coverage that won the former Toronto-based CBC journalist an Emmy.
Speaking to aspiring journalists, said he was going to be blunt.
“This is a kind of uncensored view of what network television at the highest level of America is, under insurmountable pressure – what you see on TV is the tip of the iceberg” said Kofman to start the event.
Step by step, Kofman described his experience leading up to the fall of Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. Using that as a backdrop, he took students through some of the challenges that foreign correspondents face, from drivers abandoning their teams in danger zones, to witnessing a man get shot in the neck and die in front of you.
“You just have to get it done” said Kofman, while recalling an evening when he had to use a car battery to write and submit a story to ABC’s New York office. On this particular night, he and his team had no power and were locked out of the only hotel in town while travelling through Tunisia.
According to Kofman, these situations are where most of the work lies: “90 percent of journalism in conflict zones is logistics” he said.
Yet the sacrifice that comes with being a foreign correspondent is sometimes heaviest for loved ones left at home.
“The truth is, I left my will on my desk” said Kofman. While working as a correspondent in Iraq, Kofman was told his mother didn’t sleep for most of his assignment.
Despite Kofman’s vivid picture of the danger of working in conflict zones, students in the audience weren’t discouraged.
“I loved it” said Kit Kolbegger, a first year student in the advanced diploma program.
“It was super motivating and informative, I’ve wanted to do this since I was kid.”
But Kofman had a warning for new journalists seeking a big break and entering conflict zones as freelancers: “Don’t go. People go, without some of the training I’ve had and they take big risks. Your career is not worth dying for.”
Kofman also raised concerns about the state of news right now, suggesting changes in consumption habits due to social media have impacted the news room in negative ways.
“In news rooms you can’t do the why (any more). It’s just surface, black and white, but the world is grey.”
Newsroom changes are part of the reason Kofman chose to leave the journalism spotlight.
“Being in a war zone and when they tell you they don’t have room in a newscast because Kim Kardashian has been arrested is quite soul destroying.”
Still, to a room of eager media students, Kofman offered some encouragement on the future of the industry:
“One of the interesting things that future journalists will face is that you’re being asked to do a lot of things at once. It’s a new world, but it was a new world for those who came after the guys covering the Vietnam war in the 60’s.”