Hugh Haugland was an unsung hero of the news business

A dedicated professional, he preferred life on the other side of the camera

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The Gazette, Sunday, August 9, 2009

As the tragic death of Hugh Haugland reminds us, photographers are both essential figures and unsung heroes of the news business.

Without pictures, especially in television, there's no story, only headlines. Haugland was out getting the story, the aftermath of a tornado in Mont Laurier, when he died in a helicopter crash that also killed the pilot, Roger Bélanger. In a terrible twist of fate, Haugland flew after a TVA cameraman when he could have gone first. The reporter, Geneviève Beauchemin, was left behind because there was no room in the small chopper.

And so a routine second-day story was transformed into a tragedy. Instead of getting the story, Haugland became the story. A small part of him would have enjoyed the irony, a larger part would have been embarrassed because his job, his life, was behind the camera.

Hugh was born into the news business. His father, Bill Haugland, delivered the news to English-speaking Montrealers for decades as the local anchor of CTV before his retirement in 2006.

Hugh was exactly like his dad - because he did his job so well, he made it look easy, which is precisely the hard part. Like his dad, his apparent easy manner belied a perfectionist intensity in leaving nothing out and getting every detail right.

Like his dad, he worked his way up in the TV news business, from stage hand, to editor, to cameraman. In other words, he could do it all, and he did, in the Montreal bureau of CTV National News. Nobody worked faster or better in a video-editing suite.

Jed Kahane, who worked with him as CTV Montreal correspondent for eight years, before becoming the local news director last year, can attest to his versatility as well as his work ethic.

Says Kahane: "He was an editor first, and self-taught as a cameraman. But as he learned he just got so good." A TV cameraman lugs a ton of equipment on a shoot, but no one ever had to carry Hugh's gear.

"One of his nicknames was 'Huge'," says Kahane, "mostly for the size of his heart, but also because he was so strong."

They covered 9/11 together in 2001 and the London terror plots in 2007. Haugland also covered Hurricane Katrina. You just have to name those events to understand the importance of the images.

Hugh was like his father in another sense - he was immensely popular in the newsroom. "He was so even tempered, he had such an even keel," says Kahane. "I never heard him get mad at anyone, and he never said no to anyone. He was always helping someone out." Even the competition on a job - right to the end, a sort of you-go-first thing.

And now Bill Haugland, as he says "with a hole in our hearts forever," is left to bury his son. Only 44, Hugh left two teenage daughters of his own, and his partner, Françine Maille.

Those girls, as Kahane says, were the centre of his life. "He worked very hard, very long hours," says Kahane. "But he was always running off to drive his girls somewhere, saying he'd be back later."

Among the many things he did so well, Hugh operated the camera on double-enders between Montreal and CTV in Toronto.

He would greet the guests, put them in the chair, clip on the mike, put the audio in your ear, frame the shot, dial the uplink, do the sound check and shoot the interview. He did the job of four people, and was totally laid back in a high stress environment.

Waiting to go on, he always had a word. Our conversations went something like this:

"How's your dad?"

"Great. Writing a book."

"A memoir?"

"No, a mystery novel."

"Really? Say hi for me. Is the shot okay?"

"You might want to straighten your tie, a bit to your right."

When the interview was over he always asked if the guest needed a cab slip. And then he would say, "thanks for coming in."

No, Hugh. Thank you.

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