Austin Meyer, a young journalist who recently graduated with a masters degree from Stanford, got his Warholian fifteen minutes of fame this year.
You see, Austin won the New York Times “win-a-trip” with Nicholas Kristof competition. A host of college students apply for the coveted opportunity to travel with the famed columnist to a destination in the developing world to cover, as only Nick does, the painful stories of the developing world.
Austin shared some of his history with me in preparation for this piece and live interview. He confessed that he didn’t always plan to become a journalist.
When I arrived at Stanford, I had no clue what I wanted study. My passion hadn’t been revealed. But in the spring of my freshman year I took an introductory creative writing course in fiction and it clicked: storytelling. The story I was writing in that class was all I could think about. So I followed that impulse. That storytelling momentum. I wrote fiction, nonfiction, audio documentaries, plays, screenplays, and performed improvised stories on stage. I rode that passion to a master’s in journalism.
He continued, “As my master’s year was coming to an end, I was looking for an opportunity where I could use my storytelling as a way to truly impact the world. I wanted to combine my drives to tell stories and to fight against social injustices. There was no better opportunity than to join my journalism idol, Nicholas Kristof, who has made a living doing just that.”
To get a sense of Austin, I asked about challenges he’d overcome. His response didn’t surprise me. “I have been so fortunate in my life. I won the lottery of birth. I was lucky enough to grow up in an extremely loving family with the freedom to pursue my passions. Especially after reporting on issues of social injustice in India and Nepal, there is no challenge I have overcome that is really much of a challenge.”
Upon further reflection, however, he added, “Perhaps the obstacle I overcame that so many of us face, was my own comfort. I wanted/want to do this type of journalism because it is a way to make immense global impact. However, doing so requires a turn towards suffering. It requires reckoning with your own privilege and ego. It requires getting your world flipped upside down. I embraced that escape from my comfort zone, because I know that is what will inspire me to make change in this world.”
Given Austin’s career ambition to be like Nick, he couldn’t have transitioned out of college more successfully. I asked to what he attributes his success.
He replied, “There are so many people who I want to thank for getting me to where I am. First off, my family: my parents Roy and Pam, and my two older brothers Jordan and Brendan. I have the best role models. There are also so many teachers and mentors at Stanford who helped me hone my storytelling skills. Too many to name them here.”
He added, “But other than people, I credit my journey to my determination to be optimistic and inspired. I chase what excites me. I chase what inspires me. And I am optimistic. I know I can make global impact.”
He concluded with a rather demure response, “All that being said, I do not know how successful I am yet. Getting a byline in the New York Times doesn’t make me successful.”
While one byline in the Times may not define success, its certainly a sign that he’s on his way. I suspect his 15 minutes of fame in 2015 won’t be his last.
On Wednesday, December 23, 2015 at 5:00 Eastern, Austin will join me for a live discussion here about his experiences reporting with Nick. Tune in here then to watch the interview live. Post questions in the comments below or tweet questions before the interview to @devindthorpe.
More about the NYT win-a-trip competition:
The New York Times win-a-trip with Nicholas Kristof competition launched in 2006. It is an opportunity that allows one collegiate student to travel and report with Nicholas Kristof in a developing nation. The student reports their own stories for the New York Times website.
Austin Meyer grew up in beautiful Santa Rosa, California where he enjoyed hanging out with his golden retriever, making music videos with friends, and playing soccer. Austin went on to attend Stanford University. At Stanford, Austin played center midfield for the varsity men’s soccer team, was a performing member of an improv comedy troupe called the Stanford Improvisers, and studied creative writing. He went on to receive his master’s degree at Stanford in journalism. He was selected out of 450 applicants as the 2015 New York Times win-a-trip with Nicholas Kristof winner. His stories have been published by the New York Times, LA Times, KQED, and SF Chronicle, among others.