In late February, Stony Brook University School of Journalism Alum Rachael Eyler ‘19, embarked on her journey to the United Kingdom for a 10-week reporting assignment out of the Wall Street Journal’s London bureau, as part of the School of Journalism’s Marie Colvin Center Wall Street Journal Fellowship. As she arrived, the Coronavirus pandemic was starting to grip Europe. While Rachael ultimately returned back to the U.S. – just before the UK went on lockdown – she graciously took some time to tell us about the experience and her next adventure while she was still in London.
Q: What a crazy time to be embarking on your first post-undergrad reporting job – and overseas! Tell us about the experience so far?
To say the least, I truly love it here and can honestly see myself moving permanently. I have wanted to come to London for the last six years and report and my expectations have not failed me yet. At the same time, I’ve come to the UK at kind of an odd moment because of both the coronavirus and the recent decision of Brexit. Politically, there are a lot of parallels between what America is facing and what Britain is facing, meaning locals are all on different pages from their government and no one is completely happy. It’s been fascinating talking with residents about Brexit and hearing the effects that no one has yet to talk about.
Of course the real elephant in the room is Coronavirus. If you asked me what I would cover as my first story after college, this is far from what I had in mind. When I arrived in the UK the Coronavirus was just starting to make an impact outside of China and affect Italy. My entire office is now being self quarantined and working from home, including me. Unfortunately, it has come to the point where the safety of others needs to come before production which means my team and I are at the point of trying to make a decision if staying in the UK as travel bans are being put in place and things are beginning to close, is the safest decision for me.
Q: Are you working on a specific story? Can you tell us about it?
I do have a couple of stories in the works! Some are still in development, but the biggest story right of course is the Coronavirus. I can’t say too much about it yet but to say the least it covers the effects of international students and their education plans as schools begin enrollment for the next semester. Daily, I contribute to the WSJ podcast “What’s News?” and also work on quick turn around stories and news analysis pieces.
Q: Congratulations on the Wall Street Journal Fellowship! When did you know you wanted to pursue a career in journalism?
Thank you! I am truly honored to be this year’s Marie Colvin Fellow! I don’t think I ever had a specific moment when I knew journalism would be my career. In fact, I think I surprised a lot of people because I was extremely shy growing up and I didn’t like to put myself out there. To this day I am still terrified of public speaking, even though no one would believe it. But I also grew up in a very sheltered lifestyle. I was never really exposed to what was happening outside of America. Even when I would ask my dad about his experience in the military he never gave me detailed answers.
It was probably around the time that I was 12 years old I started to break out of my shell and become more outspoken and curious, mainly because of the experiences I was going through. In middle school I suffered from juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, always in and out of doctor’s offices and in the corner they would have the news on while you waited to be seen. It was the first time I was exposed to world news, seeing headlines about the war in Afghanistan, the droughts and floods in Sri Lanka and the stories that stuck the most with me, the uprising and violent protests in Syria. I remember hearing about Marie Colvin’s reporting during some of the newscasts and I continuously asked why isn’t anyone doing anything, why don’t more people care? Those memories stuck with me through most of high school and even after Colvin’s death. After finding out junior year of high school I couldn’t pursue my original plan of music performance due to a condition with my vocal chords, I remembered my time waiting in doctor’s offices and watching the news, being upset that more people didn’t know the truth about what was happening in the world. I ended up searching through Colvin’s articles and listening to her final broadcast with Anderson Cooper. I was inspired by her reporting, her courage to report the truth and ultimately I wanted to be like her, I just didn’t know how or where to begin. As college application deadlines drew close it was my mother who really encouraged me to go into writing and suggested I pursue something like journalism. I ended up enrolling in a broadcast class my senior year and really the rest is all history.
Q: You were a transfer student to SBU. Tell us about why you decided to attend Stony Brook?
Transferring was definitely the hardest thing I’ve had to do because I was so scared of not being able to find a university that would challenge me while still supporting my wild ambitions. When I was considering schools I would reach out to all the SOJ Deans to talk about their program and what my future could look like. Some never got back to me, others would rush conversation and only give me 15 minutes, but the founding Dean of SBU’s School of Journalism Howard Schneider not only spent an hour speaking with me, but he was so genuine and enthusiastic about my future. I could tell right away he cared for each and every one of his students. He never put down any of my dreams but supported them and helped guide me at SBU since day one.
Dean Schneider was only one part of my decision to come to SBU. During my initial conversation with Dean Schneider he mentioned the Colvin family. I never knew Colvin was from Long Island or even had a connection to the school. But that’s when I instantly knew Stony Brook was it. I wanted to be a part of the School of Journalism, I wanted to help carry on my hero’s name. Marie Colvin was the reason I wanted to be a journalist, she gave me so much courage to be ok asking the hard questions and be curious in the first place. How could I not want to be part of a program that stands for everything she represented as a journalist?
Q: Do you have a favorite memory or experience from your time at the J-School?
I have so many I don’t think I can pick just one! If I had to choose it would probably be working in the equipment room with Phil Altiere. I could go on and on raving about my peers and how great Phil is himself! But something I will never forget was when Phil and I would decorate for the holiday season. We truly would go all out with tinsel hanging everywhere, Christmas lights, and we even made stockings to hang on our computer yule log mantle. And of course I can’t forget the 24 hour Hallmark Channel Christmas movies that we played in the background. It was just really special because I was never able to make it home to help decorate for Christmas so decorating the equipment room brought a little bit of home to school.
Q: What are your plans after the fellowship wraps up?
After I return to New York I will be packing up and moving to Wisconsin. Right before this fellowship I was offered a contract with NBC Affiliate WJFW Newswatch 12. There I will be working as a Multimedia Journalist covering politics as well as doing investigative reporting. It’s also extremely exciting because I will get to be a part of the 2020 presidential election coverage.
I truly never thought that life would take me to Wisconsin, but I am looking forward to the stories I will be working on and getting back into local news.
Q: Any advice for new students starting at SBU in the fall?
Your time at college and in this program is what you make of it. So take chances, don’t be afraid to put yourself out there and stay humble through it all! I can’t sugar coat this and say it will be easy, because it’s not. Your professors will challenge you and be critical of your work, but they will also build you up and teach you so much if you’re willing to listen. They want to see the best for you and help you succeed. You’re going to have some rough days and might even want to quit, trust me, I know – there were plenty of those days for me. But I promise, when you walk across that stage four years from now, walk into your first job and they give you your official press badge, it will be all worth it.