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Journalism grad returns to Northeastern to train next generation of digital storytellers

Meg Heckman, a newspaper reporter turned journalism professor, believes that good storytelling can "change the world." Photo by Adam Glanzman/Northeastern University

“Storytelling can change the world for the better,” according to Meg Heckman, a newly appointed assistant professor in Northeastern’s School of Journalism.

It was this long-held belief that compelled her to transition out of the newspaper industry and into the world of academia. After spending 10 years at a Pulitzer Prize-winning paper in New Hampshire called The Concord Monitor, first as a staff writer and then as the online and community engagement editor, Heckman enrolled in a journalism master’s degree program at Northeastern.

It was 2012—11 years after she had received her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of New Hampshire—and she had a singular goal in mind. “I couldn’t find young journalists who were great storytellers and who could operate in the digital ecosystem,” she explained, recalling her experience as the Monitor’s online and community engagement editor. “So I made a conscious decision to return to school, get my master’s degree, and become a professor so I could train the workforce that I wanted to be able to hire.”

As a graduate student, Heckman served as a writing coach, led a series of digital storytelling workshops, and penned a thesis titled “Where the Women Are: Measuring Female Leadership in the New Journalism Ecology.” Then her dream came true. After graduating in 2013, she spent three-and-a-half years as a journalism lecturer at UNH, where she led courses in newswriting, editing, digital storytelling, and entrepreneurial journalism while co-producing a massive, open online course on the New Hampshire primary.

Now she’s back at Northeastern, where the second act of her career began to take shape more than five years ago. She’s a faculty member in the Media Innovation program, which is designed to empower working journalists to become digital storytellers, and the faculty advisor for The Docket, the university’s student-led justice reporting lab.

“Storytelling can change the world for the better.”

Meg Heckman assistant professor in the School of Journalism

“I really appreciate the scholarship that is coming out of the School of Journalism,” Heckman said. “It feels like a place that is operating at a high intellectual level without ever losing sight of journalism’s mission.”

Heckman is a star in her own right. She’s contributed chapters to A Practical Guide to Digital Journalism Ethics; uncovered the little-known backstory of the first two women to win Pulitzer Prizes; and co-authored We Went to War: New Hampshire Remembers, a collection of oral histories with World War II veterans and others who lived through the war. She’s twice served as a Pulitzer Prize juror—first for local news in 2015 and then for breaking news in 2016. “It was a gift to be able to sit in a room for three days, where I was given the time and space to do nothing but read the finest examples of journalism in the country,” she said. “Despite all of the challenges facing the journalism industry, it gave me hope to see so much great storytelling.”

Her recent work has appeared in USA Today, The Boston Globe, and the Columbia Journalism Review. Most of it has focused on shedding light on the oft-overlooked role of women and other minorities in journalism, a topic that she first looked into for her master’s thesis and hopes to continue investigating now that’s she’s returned to Northeastern. “We need to find ways to make sure that the future of journalism is truly inclusive of women, people of color, and other members of marginalized groups,” Heckman said. “These people have been practicing journalism for centuries, but what’s lacking is validation of their work.”

As a professor and practicing journalist, she is also keenly aware of the importance of telling inclusive stories. It’s a principle she’s hoping to impart to her students—the world’s future storytellers—who have already impressed her with their intellect and thirst for knowledge. “The undergraduates are fantastic. The graduates are fantastic,” said Heckman, who is teaching “Journalism 2” and the “Fundamentals of Digital Storytelling” this fall. “The fact that I have the opportunity to help grow the Media Innovation program in the coming years is amazing.”