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Love of words still strong 40 years on

Mar 17th, 2011 | By | Category: Front Page Layout, Latest News, News

MCBETH AND REBEL: Photo: Wayne Morrison

WHAT began as a 10-day stopover on the way to England ended up being a 40-year love affair with Asia for Kiwi journalist John McBeth.

Landing in Thailand in 1970, New Zealand-born McBeth became the longest serving correspondent for Bangkok’s Far Eastern Economic Review.

“Of course, the plan wasn’t to stay in Asia,” says McBeth, pictured here with Moro rebels leader Abdul Kyar Alonto in the Phillipines in 1976.

“Like a lot of New Zealand journalists, I was heading for Fleet St.  It was a beacon for all of us keen young things.  But that would have been just a work experience – Asia became a life experience for me.

“I knew fairly soon after I got off the boat, this was a great place to write stories.  There were wars on virtually every border for a start.”

McBeth (66) is in New Zealand to launch his book Reporter: Forty Years Covering Asia, part personal memoir, part insight into reporting in that emerging part of the world.

He considers himself lucky he knew, in his very early teens, that reporting is what he wanted to do.

Scoring a perfect 100 per cent for a school essay confirmed this passion and his parents encouraged him to look at a newspaper career.

At the age of 17, he joined the Taranaki Herald, the 110-year-old daily in his hometown of New Plymouth, where he learnt his craft for the next three years.

“I learnt the absolute essentials at that paper.  The Who? Why? When? Where? and How? and getting the facts right,” he says. “I have made factual errors of course, but I can still look at this face in the mirror each morning.”

Fitting in the writing of his book over the past 18 months has been a task he undertook at the insistence of wife, Yuli Ismartono, executive editor of the English edition of Tempo – Indonesia’s biggest circulation magazine.

“Yuli was so tired of hearing the same stories at dinner parties, she made me write it,” he says.

It is obvious telling a damn good story still stirs McBeth – throughout the interview he spoke with contagious enthusiasm.

McBeth now contracts as a columnist for The Strait Times in Singapore.

At McBeth’s request, sales proceeds at this week’s launch were donated to the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal.

Reporter: Forty Years Covering Asia is available from Unity Books, Wellington.

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is Cathy Romeyn is a student studying journalism at Whitireia Polytech, Wellington.
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