At age nine, Erin McLaughlin was not pretending to be a doctor or a rock star. Instead, she was posing as a journalist and creating her own newspaper—about the history of Iraq and the 1991 Gulf War.
“I read it to my neighbors,” recalls McLaughlin, who grew up in the East Bay and is now a rising-star correspondent at CNN International. “I was lucky in that I knew early on what I wanted to do with my life.” She’s covered some of the network’s biggest stories, among them Britain’s exit from the European Union; terrorist attacks in England, Paris, Brussels, and Berlin; and a series of aviation disasters, including the 2014 downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 over Ukraine.
But McLaughlin’s path from childhood passion to real-world success wasn’t always so certain. As a Berkeley freshman, she approached the Graduate School of Journalism with an offer to work for free, only to discover that the program had more aspiring reporters volunteering their services than it could handle. “I quickly realized journalism was going to be a tough road,” says McLaughlin.
On the hunt for a Plan B, she took introductory economics and was sold on business, with an eye toward a future in marketing or consulting. At Haas, she thrived when she was out of her comfort zone, including during courses on negotiations and statistics. In her spare time, she wrote for The Daily Californian and was part of the team covering the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
Through it all, her journalism dream lived on—just not in the way she had envisioned in her youth. “Print journalists were getting fired, not hired,” says McLaughlin, who graduated Phi Beta Kappa. She turned to television news, where she parlayed an internship in CNN’s San Francisco bureau into a job as a researcher on the international assignment desk at the company’s Atlanta headquarters. She’s been based out of CNN’s London bureau since 2010.
Today, McLaughlin wakes up most mornings not knowing where she will sleep that night. Once, she was sitting on an Italy-bound flight for an assignment when she got a call from a CNN producer who told her to de-plane and race to France, where a Germanwings co-pilot had just crashed a jet with 150 people on board. “I was dressed for Rome but ended up in the Alps,” says McLaughlin.
She was in Australia when a flap from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 washed ashore. Thanks to the statistics expertise she gained at Haas, she says she knew instantly that it was unlikely that more debris would appear in the same location.
Other reporting assignments have taken her as far as Moscow, Seoul, and Jerusalem. “I love the variability and intensity of this job,” says McLaughlin. “I feel an incredible sense of privilege to be able to talk with people who are facing profound tragedy—and to tell their stories.”