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“I’d hop on a plane to go interview Sylvester Stallone”

“I’d hop on a plane to go interview Sylvester Stallone”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Loraine Bodewes

Law alumnus Eugène Baak

He didn’t really have big dreams for his future, so he didn’t try to pursue anything in particular. “I was never working towards a specific goal. One thing just led to another,” says Eugène Baak (51). His career in journalism began when he was a student at Observant. He later interviewed film stars like Sylvester Stallone and Jodie Foster for the Dutch weekly magazine Nieuwe Revu. Since 2016, he has worked as editor-in-chief at RTV Maastricht.

“It was 1990. I was in my second or third year of university, studying law. I liked to draw and I thought Observant could use a cartoonist, so I sent them some of my work. Jacques Herraets [Observant’s editor-in-chief at the time] probably hated it, but he did want to know if I was any good at writing. That’s how I started. My first article was about a student who ran a breakfast delivery business. I went with him one Sunday morning. One of the people he delivered to was a man with a few young children. When we left, the student said, ‘I see different faces there every week.’ Herraets later asked me, ‘Was the man in your first article a paedophile?’ I had no idea, but it’s possible. These days, we’d pay more attention to something like that.”

His decision to study law wasn’t entirely random. “Being a lawyer is about telling stories, isn’t it? The judge has to think your story is the best one. I’ve always been interested in stories. I wrote a novel when I was fifteen, but I destroyed it. So stupid. It would’ve been fun to read my old work. I wrote another one a few years ago, about a cold case involving dead children at a boarding school. I also wrote an art book as well as several ‘crime walks’, all self-published at the same time to avoid having to do a lot of marketing appearances.”

He’s a storyteller who often uses flowery language. It’s also safe to say that Baak – the name he went by at Observant – is a man of many talents. He isn’t just a drawer and a writer, but he’s also musically gifted. “I was in a band, The Mess. We recorded albums. I wrote both the lyrics and the music for our songs. Yep, a singer-songwriter, haha. A few months after promoting our first album at what is now called L1, I got a visit from the producer of the programme. They were getting more hours and they wanted to know if I’d like to come work at the radio station. I was nearing the end of my studies; I just had a few exams and a thesis to go. But my degree essentially disappeared from my radar. I never finished it.”

So, he failed as a student? He looks genuinely pained. Then, he says, emphatically, “No, it’s more accurate to say that I dropped out.”

He plunged into an adventurous life. “Suddenly, I was working full-time in journalism and broadcasting. Observant introduced me to [he emphasises each word] everything journalism has to offer. In 1992 I also started working for L1, De Limburger and Nieuwe Revu, partly all at the same time. It’s my passion.”

Working for Nieuwe Revu in particular was quite an adventure. “They’d call me to ask, ‘What are you up to today?’ and then have me hop on a plane to Hollywood – where a five-star hotel room had been arranged – to interview Sylvester Stallone, or Jodie Foster in Paris. It was amazing. I visited the film set of Troy, a film enthusiast’s Olympus.”

They were exciting years, but “I was in too deep, spent too much time away from home”. It was in 1998 when his girlfriend of almost ten years told him that she’d had enough. After a previous warning, he’d promised to maintain a proper work-life balance. “I didn’t manage to do so. She was my first true love. We got together almost straight out of secondary school. We’d grown up together. Her work took her to Washington for six months near the end of our relationship. When she came back we were no longer together, no longer belonged to each other. We were both sad about it. I entered my thirties single.”

That didn’t stop him from eventually wanting to have children, like his peers. He didn’t want to feel like all his projects were just “side orders” and the “main course” of life would pass him by. He met Jacky, his second true love, about seven years later. Silas, his first and only child, was born a couple of years after that. Baak’s work-life balance greatly improved as a result. “I’m more mindful of it now.”

Another factor was the fact that – believe it or not – Baak started working for the government. He took a job as a communication consultant at the Public Prosecution Service in Roermond. “As a journalist, I’d interviewed plenty of government employees. I’d read their press releases and seen a lot of room for improvement there. Nieuwe Revu still had a solid reputation back then; I didn’t have to work my way up to a job at a quality newspaper like Volkskrant or NRC. The opportunity presented itself and I took it.”

What kind of work did he do there? He immediately switches into spokesperson mode: staring at the ceiling, saying “um” a lot and making vague statements like “when you work there, you don’t want to step on any toes at the Ministry of Justice”. It seems like he’s still minding his step. He did love the work, “also because I empathise with victims and the less fortunate. That’s always been me. It still is, now that I’m editor-in-chief at RTV Maastricht. Supporting the underdog is a common theme in my life. It concerns me that Maastricht is among the ten municipalities in the Netherlands with the highest poverty rates.”

OK, but why did he leave his job at the Public Prosecution Service? “Well, I’d had my fill of the rigid bureaucratic hierarchy after eight years. I was reaching the age and level of experience for a position of leadership, coaching.” He laughs. “I don’t necessarily want to be in charge. I just enjoy working with young, talented people.”

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