Broadcast journalist, war correspondent and independent filmmaker Michael Maclear says journalism is “addictive” as he accepted the Canadian Journalism Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. J-Source interviewed the veteran journalist on his successes, regrets, and plans for the future.
By Tamara Baluja
You know the problem with journalism? “It’s addictive,” said Michael Maclear, as he accepted his lifetime achievement award from the Canadian Journalism Foundation, Thursday night in Toronto
For more than 60 years, Maclear has worked as a broadcast journalist, war correspondent, and independent filmmaker. J-Source sat down with Maclear to chat about his career, successes, regrets and future plans.
J-Source: How did you get started in your career?
Michael Maclear: I started off when I was 14 years old as a copy boy on Fleet Street, fetching coffee for the bosses. That eventually led to a job at the Chicago Tribune in their London bureau where I was a cub reporter in 1951. But I wanted out of London and ended up in Canada. That was a bad year with the recession. I eventually wound up at the Oakville Record-Star in 1954, and got hired by the CBC in 1955 on the rewrite desk.
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J-Source: What was it like going from print to broadcast?[node:ad]
MM: No one wanted to do television when it first started, can you believe that? All those film clips were a pain to feed into the machines, to shotlist it and to make the news copy work with the film clips. I discovered I could write to film and it’s very different from writing for print, but somehow, I liked it. In 1955 I started as editor of Newsmagazine, CBC’s first live news-documentary program. And at the time, the CBC was really the only network for most of Canada, so everyone wanted to be on the show. That was a great job. Eventually that led to other jobs as the first Far East Correspondent in 1961 and then London Correspondent from 1964 to ‘71. I became the first television journalist from the west to report from North Vietnam. Those were interesting times … my reports from North Vietnam were extensively used on so many U.S. networks and my columns were syndicated by The New York Times.
J-Source: You went from the public broadcaster to the private sector when you joined CTV. What was that like?
MM: Well ratings matter a lot more at CTV. We started a show called CTV Reports and the show folded within months. The show was ahead of its time, I think, because the format was new live programming. And that is one of my regrets … all the people who had to find new jobs. But I think that eventually paved the way for a show like The Journal on the CBC.
J-Source: So that’s one regret. What would you say is one of your accomplishments you’re proud of?
MM: Vietnam goes to War – that’s an independent film I directed and it showed at the Hot Docs festival. In a way, it was the follow-up to my other documentary, Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War but the difference is the new one had a point of view, whereas The Ten Thousand Day War was very focused on being objective. The head of the National Film Board asked me, which one was a better film and I said The Ten Thousand Day War, but he disagreed. Sometimes as journalists, I think we forget that a point of view is still important. And that documentary is something I’m really proud of.
J-Source: What’s next for you?
MM: I’m working on a book called Guerilla Nation: My Wars in and out of Vietnam, which should be out in September. I actually think this book will be of interest to journalists since a large part will focus on the process of reporting.
This interview has been edited and condensed.