War correspondent recalls his U of R experience

Posted: September 19, 2016 6:00 a.m.

Derek Stoffel is to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award for Professional Achievement, October 6
Derek Stoffel is to receive the Distinguished Alumni Award for Professional Achievement, October 6 Photo courtesy of DG Corporate Studios

As the senior journalist for CBC News in the Middle East, the most volatile region in the world, Derek Stoffel strives to provide his listeners and viewers with stories that offer perspective and insight.

To Stoffel, that means getting out of the newsroom in Jerusalem and into the field.

“In a world where there are so many things vying for our attention I think it’s important that we continue to send journalists into the field to help us better understand the world and our place in it. Headlines are not enough. We need context and depth and one needs to leave a newsroom to deliver that.”

Such coverage comes with the potential for danger. In 2013 Stoffel and another CBC correspondent were detained while reporting on citizen protests in Istanbul that were met by police with tear gas and water cannons.

In spite of the risks, Stoffel maintains – as he did at the 2015 James M. Minifie Lecture at the University of Regina – that it is important to provide Canadians with stories that have a Canadian perspective.

“We need to understand who are the Syrians that are being resettled in Canada. We need to know what Canada’s assistance to countries such as Egypt and Jordan is doing to help alleviate poverty. It can be dangerous at times but the less we understand about these places the less we understand about ourselves.”

Before becoming the CBC’s Middle East correspondent in 2011 Stoffel spent more than a decade covering national news in Toronto. He also worked as a reporter and producer for the BBC World Service and has reported from the United States, Europe and Afghanistan. His stories about the fallout from the Arab Spring in Egypt, Syria and Libya have earned national and international awards.

Stoffel says he’s still on a journey of discovery and learning that began at the University of Regina. Most of his classes in political science and then in journalism were small, creating good memories of engaging debates that encouraged critical thinking.

“The University really opened up my mind to challenging my beliefs and to process, question and evaluate my way of looking at the world. In obtaining degrees in political science and then in journalism I remember how most classes were small which allowed me and the other students better access to our professors,” he says.

For the last three years Stoffel has received the Radio Television News Director Association of Canada’s radio award for continuing coverage for stories from Egypt, Syria and Libya. The same body of work from Syria (from the only trip by a Canadian journalist working for a major news outlet to the embattled city of Aleppo) won the prestigious New York Festivals Gold Medal in 2013.

“It’s an incredible honour to be recognized by the University,” he says. “Sometimes I almost feel I have to pinch myself to see it’s not just one big dream - as I look back at all the amazing events I’ve been witness to and the incredible people I’ve met. To be recognized for this is quite something.”

Living half a world away from home, Stoffel keeps in touch with the University through online alumni updates, through friends who also attended the University and Degrees magazine.

“The University of Regina certainly began the period in my life when I became engaged in the world,” Stoffel says. “Through classes in, say, international relations, I learned about the world outside of Regina — while helping me develop a keen sense of who I was and where I came from.”

The 2016 Alumni Crowning Achievement Awards celebration is Thursday, October 6 at the Conexus Arts Centre in Regina. Come and support your Alumni. Please visit here for ticket and event information.