A Well Written Career
By Stephen Johnson
Murray Campbell (BA’70)
Murray Campbell (BA’70) never suspected a volunteer position at a student newspaper would lead to an international career in journalism.
“While attending the University of saskatchewan, i had a few friends who wrote for the student newspaper, The Sheaf,” said Campbell. “Frankly, i first joined mainly to meet girls and go to good parties.”
Beyond expanding his social life, Campbell found volunteering for the newspaper to be a rewarding experience. “I was involved with the paper from 1969 to 1970. The campus was a lively place and it was the era of student activism. We were involved in issues ranging from anti-Vietnam rallies to student governance. The newspaper played a central role in those debates.”
Campbell’s role with The Sheaf quickly expanded beyond contributing articles. “In fairly short order, I was asked to become the editor due to an illness [of the previous editor]. I learned the newspaper business from the ground floor. Everything from writing news stories to delivering the final copy to the printers. It was a great education for my future career.”
After obtaining his Bachelor of Arts in English, Campbell spent several years traveling and working, including a stint at a magazine in England. He returned to Canada in 1972 and studied journalism at Carleton University in Ottawa completing his thesis and obtaining a Bachelor of Journalism in 1976. During this time, he also started a full-time job at the Ottawa Citizen in the fall of 1973.
“I learned the craft of journalism at the Citizen,” remembers Campbell. “We had a great newsroom with many people who enjoyed a long career in journalism. I was assigned the education beat, which was rather ironic since I did not have children and did not pay property taxes.”
In 1977, Campbell moved on to the Globe and Mail in Toronto, where he enjoyed a long and varied career, working everything from city editor to sports editor. There were a few assignments that stand out for Campbell. “I was the Los Angeles bureau chief from 1990– 93. This was the time of the L.A. race riots after the Rodney King incident. I remember the racial divides in the city and being in the middle of the riots. I quickly learned it is impossible to predict the nature of a riot or where it will lead. It was interesting but scary as well.”
While in L.A, Campbell covered the 1992 American presidential election. “I met Bill Clinton when he was running to be the Democratic nominee for president. Even then, a person felt like you were the only person in the universe when talking with Clinton. It was quite something to cover his victory speech in Little Rock, Arkansas the night of the presidential election.”
Not all of Campbell’s assignments were as glamourous as meeting future presidents. “I covered Rwanda after the genocide in 1994. It was time when tens of thousands of people were dying of disease and malnutrition. You would see bodies stacked along the side of the road. As a journalist, I had to put a shell around me. There was plenty to write about, and I felt there were stories that needed to be told. You just have to keep going otherwise you will stop doing it.”
Another assignment in a war-torn region is etched in Campbell’s memory. “I was in Afghanistan for a month in 2007 covering the war. We would go out on patrols with the soldiers. There was always the threat of an attack or roadside bomb. One time, I had to file a story and needed photos. I approached a Master Corporal with the Canadian army who was a military photographer. He graciously provided me with a CD of photos and I was able to file the story. About a week later, he was killed in a Chinook helicopter crash.”
“I learned the newspaper business from the ground floor. Everything from writing news stories to delivering the final copy to the printers."
In 2009, Campbell chose a different career path and became the director of corporate communications for Ontario Power Authority. Campbell is philosophical about leaving journalism and taking on a new job. “I had a great career in journalism but felt it was time for some of the younger people to take over. There are a lot of stories to tell at the Power
Authority, and I am happy to be a part of it.”
Campbell’s wealth of experience in journalism gives him credibility to reflect upon the profession and its future. “When I was first starting out, I would go home to write a story on a manual typewriter and call a cab to deliver the story to the newspaper before deadline. Now, you can be in the middle of nowhere, set up a satellite dish and file a story.”
This instantaneous access also has drawbacks. “Journalists are expected to file all the time, whether it is stories, blog updates or video reports. The 24 hour news cycle has placed many demands on the profession.”
Campbell could not offer a definitive answer on the role of print newspapers, but he offered his own observations. “I just see my two sons who get a lot of their news information via the internet. Also, I notice not as many people reading newspapers in the subway.”
From humble beginnings at a student newspaper to covering some of the top news events of the twentieth century for Canada’s largest newspaper, Campbell’s career is a truly amazing story.