Longtime CBC News foreign corro Patrick Brown talks in his new book about the peripatetic life of a TV news “fireman” and his personal battle with alcoholism.
After more than a quarter-century covering the world's hot spots, Patrick Brown decided it was time to take a long look back.
At the same time, the CBC foreign correspondent decided to lay bare his long struggle with alcoholism and also, since he's called Beijing home since 1990, to articulate his path in seeking to understand the world's most populous nation.
The result, Butterfly Mind, is a witty and trenchant chronicle of Brown's travels around the globe, covering the rise and fall of despots, the downfall of communism in Eastern Europe and the disastrous policies of the United Nations in places like East Timor.
The title comes from the bluntly acerbic assessment by an English schoolmaster long ago who described Brown as having “a butterfly mind,” a label he happily embraces.
“I'd been such a butterfly all those years flitting from one country to another, one crisis to another, it was finally good to have something where I could try to drill down a bit and start understanding from the bottom,” Brown said in a recent interview.
“The thing about broadcast journalism is that you're dividing up the world up into little two-minute slices every day. Television is good at action … but it's not very good on abstract thought and ideas and connections.
“So as a writer, I wanted to do something in a longer form and it was a natural thing to do. It was an interesting exercise in looking back over your life,” Brown said of his first book.
Brown is among the select breed of journalists labelled “the firemen,” those who hopped from one trouble spot to another, covering civil war, disaster and genocide.
“They call it a `fireman' because it is kind of like being in a fire station and the bell goes off – or the earthquake or the revolution – and out the door you go,” Brown said.
Did the job drive him to drink? Brown says no:
One of the points I make (in the book) is I don't think alcoholism is an occupational disease brought on by the practice of journalism. I would have been an alcoholic if I was a bus conductor or a bishop,” Brown said.
The article didn't talk about the looming departures from CBC News of Brown and fellow veteran corro Don Murray.