Arthur Kent is a television journalist who has spent his career in broadcasting covering revolutions and wars for the CBC, BBC and NBC among other outlets. Known as “The Scud Stud” for his coverage of the 1991 Persian Gulf War, the Emmy Award winning journalist has earned acclaim for his reporting on world events, such as the Romanian Revolution and the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
I was at university in Ottawa and I met the anchor, Max Keeping, of CTV’s Ottawa affiliate. Max’s newsroom had a practice of having journalism students take a swing at news. I snagged a couple of decent stories and brought them to the station. Max took a look and next thing I knew I was on the air.
I joined CBC in ‘76. I was at CTV in Ottawa for a year after I graduated and then moved to CBC Toronto and was appointed Alberta correspondent about six months later.
There were many capable correspondents in line ahead of me to get overseas posts and so it appeared to me that it was going to take a long time for me to work my way into an overseas position just by staying at CBC, so I left the network.
The news ethic in Canada was highly respected around the world. Canadian television journalists were sought out, actively sought out, by the American network news outlets.
I went to Afghanistan independently and shot a documentary in 1980, which I then sold to the CBC and after years of operating independently overseas in ‘86 I tied up with NBC. I simply took a project to NBC news management in New York and sold them on it and that was the start of my work in US broadcast news.
The great thing about international news reporting is that you not only get to see the world, but you have a responsibility to try to understand it too and become familiar with it.
The sights, the sounds, the drama stays with you forever. Those are indelible moments — ones that the world is still trying to make sense of now. Same goes for the Gulf War, same goes for the 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States and Britain, same goes for the war in Bosnia in the ‘90s. Like Afghanistan, we’re still dealing with the horrifying aftermath and the continuing tensions if not open warfare in all of those places.
I think of individual nights, I think of individual days and instances. Certainly when you and the people close to you are subject to determined aerial bombardment, you’re able to keep a camera rolling and videotape bombs bursting in near proximity to you, those are moments you never forget.
Surviving Tiananmen square, while people around us were being shot, you never forget that. You never forget the sight of the dead and dying when your responsibility is to record that and document it.
As journalists, as reporters, we’re there for the opening chapters or the continuing chapters of this turmoil overseas. These are stories that have still not been written in their entirety but it is a real honour to feel and know that you’ve been there to witness at least some of that history and to be able to just describe to people what you saw, what you heard and to help inform and debate on what’s happening there now.
The best conflict reporters that I’ve worked with are really curious, really driven by their curiosity to travel, to undertake difficult and dangerous journeys just getting to the story, to experience dangerous circumstances while reporting. Keep your cool to make sure you’re keeping the camera turning. Keep the information, your tape recorder rolling. Keep the notes going down on the page.
The only thing you knew for sure is that every time you went back, you’d discover how little you really understood. The people, the conflict, the parties to the war, everything was so complex that returning reminded you that you had to keep learning.
The best journalists that I’ve known and had the honour to work with define themselves by their ability to see things clearly and just report them genuinely and accurately.
If there’s anything that I and colleagues of my generation have learned it’s just that it’s very disappointing to know that with all of the knowledge and evidence that is out there that has been gained by good journalism, governments in the West continue to make enormous blunders and continue to act against our collective best interests by making poor decisions that aren’t based on the best evidence.
A great editor of mine at (CTV affiliate station) CJOH in Ottawa used to say “Just do your story.” If you do the story that is assigned to you, you are making a contribution to the institution as a whole, to the profession as a whole and you are making a small but positive contribution even to the biggest battles being fought elsewhere.
As told to Brian Cortez. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
This article is part of a series of profiles on industry professionals through the Calgary Journal. To see more like this, visit the On the Job page.
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