Lessons Learned on Another First Day

Twenty-five years ago this week I covered one of the biggest news stories in the 20th century: the space shuttle Challenger disaster. I had just started my television reporting career at a small station in my home state of New Hampshire. As a graduate of Concord (N.H.) High School, my assignment was to return to the campus and provide live reports on the celebrations as Challenger lifted off with Christa McAuliffe, a teacher at Concord High, and the first teacher in space.

Christa’s colleagues and students had gathered in the school auditorium. Everyone was cheering as the shuttle rocketed into space. Within minutes it was clear that something was terribly wrong.

It is an understatement to say that I was unprepared professionally and personally to cover a tragedy of such magnitude. The fact is I wasn’t much older than some of the students at the high school.

While I seriously lacked reporting experience, I found myself drawing on some of the values I learned growing up in a small town. Honesty, compassion and determination were some of the most important tools that helped me to get through that difficult day and the weeks ahead.

Now, 25 years later, I am drawing on those same values as I start my new career at the American Cancer Society as National Director of Media Relations. A career in journalism has given me plenty of experience to help in the day-to-day functions of my job, but it is those values that will guide me as I join the fight against cancer.

Over the years, I’ve learned that stories must be told with honesty and accuracy.  Showing compassion and understanding helps foster a civil dialogue. Determination is needed to motivate others and get the job done.

Christa McAuliffe and the Challenger crew were more than determined. They had courage and conviction, traits shared by millions of cancer survivors. I’ve known too many people whose lives have been touched by the disease.  I am honored to have the opportunity to work in a place where I can really make a difference and help save lives.

About Judy Fortin

National Director, Media Relations for the American Cancer Society.
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