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Travel Journalism From Home: CNN invites Cronkite grad student for a third internship


By Sarah Donahue

When Megan Marples started her first programming internship at CNN, she could’ve “stayed in her lane” and just designed the home page, but as a travel journalist, she says she knew she wanted more.

To seize the opportunity, Marples reached out to the CNN features team to show her interest in contributing. Her efforts were not in vain, as she chose and formatted the stories on CNN’s front page, while also reporting trending and travel stories while living in Atlanta last summer.

“I sort of made my own opportunities,” Marples says. “That’s what ended up landing me my second and third internship at CNN.”

After her time with CNN as a programmer, the news organization remembered her and invited her back the next summer to remotely report for its features team. During her time interning, she wrote about health and wellness, mental health, style, space and travel.

When 21-year-old Marples was invited to intern in the summer, she says, “It felt super surreal, because when the pandemic hit, everything just kind of went out from under me.”

Marples’ ultimate travel journalism plans were shattered when the Tokyo 2020 Olympics were postponed due to the coronavirus. It was sad to see the trip fall out, she says, but it was perfect timing when CNN called within a month of the bad news, inviting her back to continue to do travel journalism—from at home, of course.

“It feels super great to know that I can still do travel journalism even when there is not too much travel going on,” she says.

During her internship, Marples wrote about giant tortoises in the Galapagos Islands and was able to tell a compelling story despite not being able to travel there herself. Marples also wrote a story about how the pandemic affected the world’s oldest restaurant in Spain without a transatlantic trip and a passport—just an email, she says.

“I was a travel journalist this summer, but I didn’t leave my bedroom,” she says.

Before COVID-19 hit, Marples’ passport was an open book, where the pages were filled with stamps from places like Ireland, Japan and Canada, she says. While she is staying optimistic about reporting from home, she says she hopes to someday be sent out to the places she’s writing about so she can truly immerse herself.

During her internships for CNN, Marples says her writing skills grew tremendously. Her training from Cronkite already prepared her to write on deadline, but her skills were “tested to the extreme” at CNN last summer when she wrote trending stories, she says.

Marples co-wrote a trending story about a 2019 Reynolds Wrap contest where barbecue lovers could submit a photo of themselves grilling and 100 words on why they deserve to be picked to be paid to travel around the country tasting barbecue.

“That story ended up getting over 2 million page views, which was insane,” she says. “I’m someone that works really well in an environment where I know the work that I’m doing matters, and with CNN you really see those results.”

Marples got to “slow it down a little bit” with her most recent summer internship, where she was able to write more in-depth stories and talk to more sources, which helped her reporting skills grow even more, she says.

For a few weeks, she worked on a story about seniors living in assisted living communities using VR to stay connected during the isolating time of social distancing. She was able to interview seniors from all over the country, many of whom were using VR for the first time, she says.

“It was just so uplifting hearing their stories about how excited they were,” she says. “I spoke to one person who was a pilot in the Air Force in the 1950s, and he got to relive flying a plane, which is something he no longer gets to do in real life, but he got to do it in virtual reality.”

Marples will be interning for CNN’s features team again during the fall as she finishes up her graduate degree.

A Chandler native, Marples started her journalism career with the Times Media Group— the parent company of College Times—her junior and senior years of high school. She finished her undergraduate journalism degree at ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication in two and a half years with a minor in tourism management.

Reflecting on her time as a journalist, she says what has brought her the most success is thinking she’s “crazy enough” to accomplish something, she says, mentioning how going out of her comfort zone and going the extra mile is what has made the biggest difference for her.

“If you don’t see a path, don’t try to fi t yourself into a mold,” she says. “Reach out; make your own opportunities. You never know who’s going to take a chance on you.” CT


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