Nicholas Kristof is a big deal. He is the winner of two Pulitzer prizes, author of two bestselling books, and is a New York Times columnist. He has almost two million followers on Twitter, putting him on a level of Twitter fame with Hollywood actors.
Nick covers politics, with a focus on social issues.
Each year, Nick holds a contest to choose a journalism student to travel with him to write stories for the New York Times. This year’s winner is Cassidy McDonald. Winning is a big deal. Now she is a big deal.
Last year’s winner, Austin Meyer, was a student at Stanford. Like past winners, Austin and Nick traveled to the developing world.
Cassidy is a student at Notre Dame. Her Twitter following, with 295 followers, doesn’t match Nick’s, yet. She may need a couple of Pulitzer’s to catch him, but there may be nothing like being the “Win-a-trip” winner to put her on the right path.
Cassidy says, “I’ve always been interested in the subject matter of Nick’s columns and books, but I decided to apply only after encouragement from my fantastic mentor, Tom Bettag (former Executive Producer of CBS Evening News, ABC Nightline, Discovery channel and CNN — and one of the nicest people in the world).”
The seeds were likely planted long before Tom encouraged her. She worked and attended school with the 2014 winner, Nicole Sganga.
Cassidy makes the application process seem easy–but I’m doubtful. She says, “I spent a few weeks working on a video and essay application, and shipped it off! After very brief phone interviews with Nick and his assistant, Nick told me I was the winner. I did not expect to be chosen, and I’m incredibly grateful — and still stunned — that I was.”
Cassidy’s trip turned out to be different. Rather than visit the developing world, Nick took her to Arkansas and Oklahoma to explore poverty in America.
Spending time working with a superstar journalist can teach a student a lot in a short time. “The most salient thing I learned on my trip with Nick was that I’ve been incredibly lucky in life.”
“While I was on my trip with Nick, I met a girl who was born exactly one day after me — less than 24 hours later — and just a few states away, in Oklahoma. And although our lives began at the same time, our paths had taken completely dissonant turns.”
Though their paths diverged, they maintained an odd parallel that helps to explain the importance parents.
Cassidy continues, “She was born to a drug-addicted mother, her father was in jail her entire life for a drug-related offense. And while she was in high school, she found herself trapped in a terrifying, brutally abusive relationship. She became addicted to meth and opiates — just like her mom — and had three sons.”
“She’s now in recovery, dealing with severe post-traumatic stress disorder from her relationship,” Cassidy says. “It rocked me to my core when I met her, and I could tell it was painful for her to tell her story.”
Cassidy recognizes the privilege that characterizes her life. “I am so privileged to be able to freely come and go in the lives of people who are suffering. The greatest challenge in my life is simply to tell stories in a way that honors the voices of the people I’ve met.”
She credits her early success to her parents, much as she attributes the Oklahoma girl’s woes to hers. She says, “My dad is a surgeon who taught me about service, and my mom is a retired attorney who is the best writer I know.”
Her teen years were full of opportunity. “Growing up in Madison, Wisconsin, I was constantly surrounded by politics. At 17, the Madison Police Department allowed me to work as an intern in the public information office, where I produced videos for the department and regularly ‘rode along’ with police.”
These experiences Madison had a real impact on Cassidy. “I had a completely unique look at my city, and became certain that I wanted to work in journalism.”
In college she met Tom Bettag, whose Twitter account features exactly two tweets, the more recent being a post from April 7, 2011 that reads, “Candy Crowley heading to NY to interview The Donald in the morning. His ratings on the rise, especially with the Tea Party.” In hindsight, the tweet seems to be a prescient journalistic breadcrumb that helps to explain November 8 to liberals who couldn’t fathom a Trump victory.
Of Tom, she says, “I can’t overstate how instrumental he has been in my career. He guided me on which internships I should take to maximize my time in college and was constantly on call to talk about journalistic ethics and workplace etiquette — and to give me the occasional pep talk.”
On November 23, 2016 at noon Eastern, Cassidy will join me here for a live discussion about her experiences with Nick and the lessons she learned. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
I’m a marketing major with a journalism minor at the University of Notre Dame. I first became interested in journalism at age 17, when I got a job producing videos for the police department in Madison, Wisconsin. National media descended after three officer-involved shootings and I had an insider’s view of issues like poverty, governmental influence, stigma and courage. I aim to tell the stories of the most voiceless as they interact with the greatest political systems, and I’ve spent the last four years building skills necessary to do just that. I’ve interned at NBC15 in Madison, the Wisconsin State Journal, 60 Minutes in Washington D.C. and at the shooter-producer unit within CBS News in New York City. On campus, I’ve worked as a video assistant for Fighting Irish Media sports broadcasts and I’ve co-hosted a sports highlight show. I am currently Editor-in-Chief of the school magazine, Scholastic. And most recently, I began reporting on poverty for the New York Times with columnist Nicholas Kristof, as his annual “Win-a-Trip with Nick” winner.
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Devin is a journalist, author and corporate social responsibility speaker who calls himself a champion of social good. With a goal to help solve some of the world’s biggest problems by 2045, he focuses on telling the stories of those who are leading the way! Learn more at DevinThorpe.com!