Meet the OPC Members: Q&A With Jim Laurie

Jim Laurie disembarks from a helicopter after arriving from Cambodia in 1975. Photo courtesy of Jim Laurie

Jim Laurie disembarks from a helicopter after arriving from Cambodia in 1975. Photo courtesy of Jim Laurie

By Trish Anderton

Jim Laurie has been a journalist and broadcaster for more than 40 years, much of that time in Asia. He currently heads Focus Asia Productions Hong Kong Ltd., which produces documentaries and provides consulting services to international broadcasters. From 2000 to 2005, he headed news development at Newscorp/STAR Television in Asia helping develop TV news channels in India. From 2005 through 2011, he served as director of broadcasting at the Journalism and Media Studies Center of the University of Hong Kong. Earlier, over a 28-year period, Laurie was a foreign correspondent for NBC News and ABC News. He launched his career in Vietnam and later opened the first television network news bureau in China. He reported from dozens of global datelines including Beijing, Tokyo, Hong Kong, Manila, Delhi, Islamabad, Kabul, Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City), Phnom Penh, Moscow, London, Johannesburg, Beirut, and Bagdad. He now divides his time between Washington DC, Norway, Maine, Tampa, Florida and return visits to China and Vietnam.

Hometown: Born in Eustis, Florida. Raised in Worcester, Massachusetts.

Education: Graduate in History and Asia Studies, American University and Masters study at George Washington University, Washington, DC (incomplete).

Languages: English. Some Chinese.

First job in international journalism: Radio Reporter in Saigon, Vietnam and Phnom Penh, Cambodia, April 1970.

Countries you’ve reported from: China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Myanmar, the Philippines, Indonesia, Japan, North Korea, South Korea, India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Soviet Union (most of its republics as they gained independence: eg. Ukraine, Georgia, Lithuania, Estonia, Latvia), United Kingdom, Germany, Poland, Czechoslovakia, Bosnia, Serbia, Croatia, Albania, Italy, Israel, Lebanon, Jordan, Iraq, South Africa, Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda.

Year you joined the OPC: 1996. I served on the board of the OPC from 2006 to 2010.

What drew you to international journalism? I worked part time in radio when I was in high school and college in Massachusetts and Washington, DC. My fascination with Asia took me out of America in January 1970. I stopped first in Japan, picking up freelance assignments as I went. Later I wrote on Asian affairs for the Far Eastern Economic Review. It was fascination with Asia kept me going. I never looked back. I landed my first good job with NBC News in Saigon in early 1972.

Best journalism advice received: NBC’s John Chancellor once said: “maintain your constant curiosity and when you’re tired – learn how to take a quick nap. You’ll need it!”

Worst experiences as a journalist: Two incidents when I was nearly killed and one when I inadvertently sent a man to jail:

1) Along the ‘Street Without Joy’ in Quang Tri province in Spring 1972. One colleague with ABC News was killed. Another with NBC News was wounded not far away.

2) Beirut, Lebanon, November 1975 when I was nearly shot by a Phalange sniper bullet.

On the other hand – one could argue – they were good experiences as a journalist – because I lived to tell the tale.

3) Beijing, June 5, 1989 when video of a man I interviewed was used by Chinese Security to hunt a man down, arrest him, and sentence him to five years in jail for “rumor mongering” to a foreign journalist.

Hardest story: Three stories: The Fall of Saigon (April 28 to May 25, 1975); The Tian An Men Massacre (Beijing, June 4-5, 1989); The Russian Coup (Moscow, August 1991).

Journalism heroes: Edward R Murrow.

Academic heroes: Bernard Fall, John K Fairbank, George Kennan.

Advice for journalists who want to be foreign correspondents: Just go do it. Don’t wait. Go Freelance. In the multi-media, multi-skills, digital age–you must just be out there, do it & do it all.

Dream job: My dream job was at ABC News in the period 1979 to 1995. Never had it better.

Place you’re most eager to visit: I’d love to return again to every country I reported on but not as a reporter – just as a person keen to soak up the cultures and societies I missed in the relentless effort to meet news deadlines.

Most over-the- top assignment: Rented a boat in Singapore in 1980 to go out to sea in search of refugees fleeing Vietnam. Silly idea which sounded smart at the time. The ocean is huge! My cameraman and sound tech got seasick.

Most common mistake you’ve seen: Name a mistake & I’ve made it at one time or another.

Twitter handle: @focusasia and @jimlaurie2016

Website: – See stories on Youtube

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