Malcomson has worked for the US State Department, the United Nations, and the International Crisis Group over his careerChiara Delpiano Cordeiro for Varsity

“He’s the dog’s bollocks,” my friend tells me when rattling on about his supervisor while sitting perched on my desk. With a quick Google search, you will find out that Scott Malcomson definitely fits this description. A former reporter who has written for publications such as The New York Times, Foreign Affairs and The Guardian, an author, a former U.S. government official, a research fellow, and a consultant. The list is, fair to say, extensive. So, of course, I was nervous when opening Zoom to start the call where I would be the one interviewing him. A seasoned ex-journalist with decades of experience certainly overshadows my four months of being a student journo. I am surprised, however, when he’s the one who shows the first sign of nervousness as he stutters, “Could we do this without the video?” I agree almost immediately, but still feel slightly taken aback as my idea of a fearless adventurer and journalist is interrupted.

“Once you put on your journalist hat, then it’s like having a superpower, you can just knock on doors, you convey the confidence that you feel”

It was at this point I realise, despite my lack of experience, that I am the one in the interviewer’s seat. I have the power to steer the conversation, to ask questions and to prod for answers. I was in the position that Scott has been in for the great majority of his life. But, like me, he too must have had to start somewhere, right?

It was this idea of starts that paved the way for our conversation, as I begin by asking what sparked Malcomson’s journalistic career. “When I was a kid, I loved to write and I had this idea in my head of being a writer. When I got to college, to Berkeley, I also needed to make a living. My parents were of some help, but I had to pay my own way through school, so needed to work while I was taking classes. And by a very happy coincidence, The University of California Berkely’s newspaper, The Daily Californian, had been taken off-campus in the early 70s. The newspaper paid actual salaries to people and so that kind of gave me a way both to afford college and to write. And once I was there, I kind of fell in love with journalism.”

However, Scott is quick to assure me that the work wasn’t just for the money. He continues, “it also gives you a kind of invisible shield, or social permission to ask people questions.” His words echo my thoughts from the start of our interview as he moves on to tell me how certain questions can be seen as taboo or inappropriate to ask a random stranger, “but once you put on your journalist hat, then it’s like having a superpower, you can just knock on doors, you convey the confidence that you feel, and they feel it too. It was like a licence to ask questions. And that, to me, was intoxicating.”

“I think I had a high-risk appetite, you know, and a mix of narcissism and courage”

I couldn’t help but agree with everything that was said. Although I am relatively new to the world of journalism, I too feel like it is a rabbit hole that’s easy to fall into. Especially when considering the adventure of it all. “The first big trip was to Britain. I wanted to cover the coal miners’ strike. I had a backpack, a tent, and a small typewriter, and I spent five months just travelling all over Britain.” I’m impressed by the free-spirited nature of Scott’s adventures, and I begin to understand where his journalistic success perhaps came from as he continues, “I spent a fair amount of time with Peter and his wife Betty. Peter was the number three in the Coal Miners Union. And through them, I got to know a lot of people.”

It seems everywhere he goes, Scott is able to insert himself seamlessly. While I’m dwelling on this, Scott continues to list the various locations and news stories he has covered: Algeria to investigate the Western Sahara war, England to cover Thatcher’s race against Kinnock, the upper Amazon jungle to write an article on the narcotics trade, following Shakira around because she was building schools in Colombia. The list feels dynamic but endless. I confess I’m met with surprise due to the jump from Amazonian drug cartels to the singer whose Hips Don’t Lie. However, Scott’s attitude was nonchalant as he mutters, “that was the rhythm of my 20s.” I couldn’t help but wonder whether I, turning 20 in just three months, would have the same level of adventure or would even have the guts to put myself in situations as dangerous as he described.


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“I think I had a high-risk appetite, you know, and a mix of narcissism and courage that saw me through a lot of those situations.” I ask him if he was ever scared. He confesses, “there were certainly moments where I was scared,” but quickly pivots to inform me how these fears can be dealt with. “A lot of it is managing risk. My big sport growing up was rock climbing, and that’s also about risk and danger and negotiating your relationship with it.”

As our discussion comes to a close, I think about the excitement, adventure and adrenaline-fuelled nature of Scott’s life. But it still feels as if I have only scratched the surface. I only wish we had more time. Although, I doubt Scott’s life could ever be unpacked fully with just one conversation.