News anchor alum launched career at Queen’s

ABC foreign correspondent Jeffrey Kofman, sat down with the Journal to talk about reporting

Kofman spoke at Dunning Hall on Thursday afternoon as a part of the Alumni Spotlight series.
Kofman spoke at Dunning Hall on Thursday afternoon as a part of the Alumni Spotlight series.
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Jeffrey Kofman has gone a long way since his days as an eager political science major and student journalist at Queen’s.

Since his career began three decades ago, Kofman, ArtSci ’81, has worked for Global TV, CBC, CBS and now ABC News, where he works as a foreign correspondent covering Florida, the Caribbean and Latin America. He’s reported from war zones and covered Hurricane Katrina, and on Thursday he stopped by campus to share his experiences with the Queen’s community.

The School of Graduate Studies, the AMS and the Queen’s Student Alumni Association welcomed Kofman to Dunning Hall, where he spoke about “revolution and reform” in a talk titled “Lurching toward democracy.” The Journal caught up with him earlier in the week to discuss his time at Queen’s and his life after graduating. How did you start your career?

I started really in high school and here at Queen’s. I edited something called the Queen’s Journal magazine. One day, I met the editorial page editor of the [Kingston] Whig-Standard and I said, ‘Gee, can I have coffee with you? I want to be a journalist.’ He said, ‘Why don’t you write a column about Kingston from a student’s perspective?’ I went back and wrote something and he was pretty tough on me. He said, ‘Let your personality come through, don’t be so formal, this isn’t a politics essay.’ I went back and he said, ‘See, that’s better,’ and I ended up writing an occasional column for the Whig Standard.

I also worked at CFRC radio. I hosted a show called Folk Waves, which was a weekly hour-long show about folk music. I knew nothing about folk music. I think it was probably a pretty dull show but, I learned how to spin disks and talk on the radio.

How do you feel your time at Queen’s helped to shape your next step and the rest of your career?

I would never have imagined sitting in those political studies classes and those economics and history classes, that the theory and the history that I was reading and we were talking about would be so relevant to my career every day. It seemed so distant from what you would do in the real world and yet here I am, going out and watching rebellions and revolutions, parliaments form and fail, pressure groups exert undue influence. It’s exactly what we talked about in terms of peoples’ desires and aspirations for freedom, the very uncertain road they have to travel in order to secure that freedom.

What is one of your favourite stories that you’ve covered or that you’ve followed over the course of the years?

I think covering the Chile mine rescue was really one of the most thrilling, fascinating, moving, inspiring stories a reporter could ever ask for. It involved all of the qualities of great storytelling and great humanity.

There were maybe a dozen reporters from Chile there in this remote desert mine in Northern Chile. By the time they were rescued, there were over 2,000 journalists there. It was the biggest media event of its kind ever because the entire world was rooting for these 33 miners. It was a rare moment where whatever your religion, whatever your political values, whatever your nationality, no one wanted to see these guys die, everyone wanted to see them live.

Whether you were Muslim or Christian, whether you were Chinese or American, it was just a human story of survival against incredible odds. I was there when they came up, and I was broadcasting live. I was so moved, I had to bite my lips, I had tears in my eyes. It was really hard work because we were in the middle of the desert, the conditions were very rough and the closest city was 40 km away. I was filing for Good Morning America, for World News and Nightline, so I was filing from 7 a.m. to 11:30 at night. We were trying to drive back, have a shower at our hotel, sleep for three hours, then go back to the mine site and we did that for days on end and just got completely worn out.

What compelled you to pick a career in TV?

I planned to be a print journalist. I had no plans to go into TV. I spent a year backpacking through Southeast Asia after I graduated from Queen’s and did some writing for the Globe and Mail while I was there. I came back in 1982 and there was a recession. There were hiring freezes and a friend of mine had a very junior job at Global TV. She said, ‘Oh they’re always firing people here, you should apply, they always have openings.’ I’d done some summer jobs at the Edmonton Journal, the Toronto Sun [and] the Stratford Beacon-Herald, the smallest newspaper in Canada, so I had a pretty strong resume for a guy who was 23. So they hired me. And she was right, they were always firing people there, it was great experience.

When you first started out at Global TV, you weren’t a foreign correspondent. How did you transition into that role and decide to take on that undeniably tough career path?

Well I think I always got into journalism in part for the adventure. I’ve always been curious about the world. I’d like to think I’ve always had some compassion for people whose lives are different. Journalism’s always appealed to me because it has huge creative challenges: the writing, the storytelling and the discipline of the research. It was always my goal, I’m a lucky guy. When I was a student at Queen’s, I dreamt of being a foreign correspondent and I have been living that dream.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

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