Erin Ailworth loomed on the massive projection screen in front of all 84 of us. Walking into Fisk 217 at 7 p.m. on the first day, I’d known I’d be listening to a Wall Street Journal journalist discuss covering disasters over Zoom, but I didn’t know she would redefine journalism for me.
Ailworth described how to talk to people during a traumatic moment in their lives and tell their stories. I realized that I, too, want to be someone people trust, even at their lowest points. She described long days, sleeping in her car, going to therapy to process second-hand trauma, writing on a short deadline, eating little more than a granola bar, and flying toward disaster zones. It’s hell. Maybe something is wrong with me, but, as she talked, I just wanted to follow her into a hurricane.
Ailworth said it was surreal coming back to an intact home after reporting amid a disaster because she got lost telling other people’s stories. What she was doing mattered. What she was doing made a difference.
I’m a student journalist; I know that the field has power. But hearing from someone who is living through experiences I want to have one day is something I didn’t get to do before cherubs. As I left Fisk 217 that night, I texted my dad that I “officially want to go into journalism, finalized” — the rest of the program only reinforced that.