Stories of Transformation and Courage: An Evening with Erin McLaughlin

Even from a young age Erin knew she wanted to be an investigative reporter. As a kid she went door to door selling a self published newspaper, and during college she threw herself into reporting on campus news. In 2003 she joined CNN’s San Francisco office as an intern before heading to Atlanta to work as a researcher on an international assignment desk. In 2010 Erin moved aboard to join CNN’s London bureau as an international correspondent. 

During our June Changemaker Chat, Erin shared insights from her career journey to date, including the inspiration behind her long-term passion and how she has grown in her confidence and compassion as a female reporter in today’s unpredictable world. 

The Origins of Erin’s Passion and Drive
Erin always had a strong sense that she wanted to help capture important moments in history, to be the voice of the voiceless and to find good in every story. Even when covering the most horrific news, Erin tries to find examples of courage and bravery that help shine line on the enduring human spirit. One transformative moment in her early reporting career happened while she was studying at the University of California in Berkeley. She was asked to cover a talk by Israel’s former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but on arrival she was met by an angry crowd of anti-Israeli protesters who had gathered outside the venue. Things escalated quickly and the talk was canceled due to growing security risks. At one point Erin was thrown to the ground, and she remembers “never feeling more alive”. Rather than heading home, Erin decided to stay and interview members of the crowd, trying to distill their passionate points of view. Instead of covering Netanyahu’s speech, Erin ended up writing an article about the free speech movement and her piece became a catalyst for a broader campus debate. That evening she learned a valuable lesson in flexible reporting, and the importance of persistence even when your original mission veers off in a completely new direction. 

An Evolving Journey of Self Discovery  
Like most people, Erin didn’t have her career path figured out from the beginning. She was fortunate that CNN allowed her to move around and try a variety of roles. This ability to explore allowed her to eventually identify her area of true passion. A pivotal moment in her journey of self discovery happened a few years ago when Erin was assigned as a producer to help cover the Anders Breivik massacre in Norway. By the end of the assignment it dawned on her that she had coordinated the entire operation from her hotel lobby. She hadn’t actually spent time on the field nor did she really understand what was going on in the real world. Erin realised she no longer wanted to be behind the scenes, “I knew I wanted to be a reporter and to witness history first-hand.” This was a daunting realisation because the move from producer to on-air reporting was significant pivot to make. Through a combination of luck, hard work and persistence Erin went on to pursue this passion and hasn’t looked back since.

Shining Light On History’s Heroes

When devastating world news hits, Erin often finds herself reporting on the frontline. One of the most challenging things about her role is figuring out how to humanise her reporting while being sensitive and respectful to those whose lives have been directly impacted when tragedy strikes. After MH17 was shot down over Eastern Ukraine, Erin was sent to cover the story at a time when family members weren’t yet able to access the bodies of their loved ones. For days they lay scattered across a series of heavily guarded fields. Erin camped out and waited patiently for the right moment to approach family members who were starting to gather on site. She eventually spoke to one of the victim’s mother’s, letting let her know that if she had anything she wanted to say Erin would be there to help her tell her story. Even though it was incredibly painful to articulate her loss, this brave women stepped up and became a spokesperson for the victims and their families at a crucial time. She implored Putin and the rebel forces to release their loved ones. After her story aired we finally started to see some movement in Ukraine, and the bodies were eventually sent home. “To me, this woman was a true hero. Despite her pain, her powerful message instilled action and impacted the entire world.” 

The Impact of Supportive and Inspiring Female Role Models

Erin is grateful to work for a news organisation where at all levels she is surrounded by inspiring and powerful female role models, including CNN’s Chief President who is a remarkable women. In particular, Erin looks up to people like Ingrid Formanek who was one of the trailblazers at the start of the 24/7 news cycle. Ingrid is one of many incredibly strong women who prized journalistic integrity and helped forge a new model of reporting. Erin believes that it is important to reflect on the legacies of those who have gone before us and to remember the hard work and sacrifices that were made to create opportunities for a future generation. “I know I have a lot of work to do to carry on that impressive standard.”