Malcolm Foster ’88: Associated Press Journalist
Malcolm Foster will never forget the flash on the TV screen warning that a major earthquake was about to strike. It was Friday afternoon, March 11, 2011; he was in the AP’s 7th floor bureau in downtown Tokyo. Seconds later, the walls began to creak and groan as the building shook, the blinds rattling loudly against the windows. His colleagues dove under their desks as Malcolm struggled to type a news alert as his keyboard rocked back and forth. After the shaking died down two minutes later, the newsroom sprang into action, and over the next hours and days they pursued a nightmarish, surreal chain of events: A tsunami, triggered by the magnitude 9.0 quake—the strongest ever recorded in Japan—smashed into the northeast coast. Entire towns were swept away, killing about 19,000 people. Then explosions and radiation leaks at the damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi plant added the specter of a full-blown nuclear disaster.
Sensing the enormity of what was unfolding, Malcolm early on blurted out what he calls an “arrow” prayer for clear thinking. “God was with me every step of the way,” he says. “I felt his calming presence. But directing coverage of this huge story for weeks on end was the biggest challenge of my career.”
Being Tokyo bureau chief from 2009 to 2013 was Malcolm’s dream job; it was exciting and fulfilling to lead a team of reporters, using the Japanese he learned as a missionary kid. He wrote about political turnover, diplomatic tension with China and radiation polluting the ocean. But his most memorable stories were about the sadness and resilience of ordinary people who lost much in the 2011 disaster—homes, livelihoods, loved ones.
Over time, the dream job proved extremely stressful, grueling and all-consuming. The unpredictable daily agenda, long hours, reduction in staff—not to mention coping with a multi-faceted disaster—took time away from his family even as his two boys were quickly growing up. After four years, it became clear his family needed a change. Malcolm now works more regular hours as an editor on the AP Asia desk in Bangkok, where he helps spearhead AP’s regional coverage from India to China, and Australia to North Korea.
It’s still a highly challenging work life. With the spread of the Internet, smartphones and social media, news organizations including the AP have gone through major changes. But the underlying principles of good journalism haven’t changed, he says. People more than ever crave reliable, fair, illuminating and engaging news coverage, in images and words, to help them understand our interconnected world.
As a Christian in the media, Malcolm believes that journalism plays important roles that carry spiritual significance: telling the truth, promoting global understanding, shedding light in dark places and holding people in authority accountable. “I believe God is concerned about those things,” he says. A lot of news tends to be bad news, and at times he wrestles with why God allows suffering that can be overwhelming. But the Christian message gives him hope. “We are not left alone. God is working in our world, even amid tragedy. There’s redemption and transformation going on, often in ways we cannot see,” he says. “As followers of Jesus, we are called to be agents of healing and justice, and I think one of the roles of journalism is to help us identify with and aid those in need.”
Working in the high-pressure world of journalism has also forced Malcolm to confront the difficulties of juggling the demands of his job and raising a family. That’s especially true when both parents work, as was the case during their time in Tokyo, when his wife, Mio (Ohta) ’89, taught at an international school. “We are called to do excellent work and use our gifts to contribute to society, yet it is easy to let our jobs take over our lives, and the other parts of our lives can suffer,” he says. Finding the right balance remains an ongoing challenge, he says. “I’d love to hear what other Gordon grads have to say about this.”
Since moving to Bangkok, the Fosters have been volunteering every three weeks or so at Sparrow Home, a home for about 15 kids whose parents are in prison. Many of them just want to be picked up and held. Activities together include drawing pictures, blowing bubbles, building block towers and running around in the small park next door. “Sometimes the people you’re trying to encourage end up encouraging you in a big way,” says Mio.