Allison Shirk Collins
By Ellie Zimmerman
Allison Shirk Collins (at right in the photo in Morocco) called me from her home in Chattanooga, Tennessee on a peaceful Sunday afternoon with her “fur baby,” as she affectionately calls her dog, Ginger, on the couch next to her and her new husband in the kitchen. Collins, 26, is a local business reporter for the Chattanooga Times Free Press— not the job she might have expected while a journalism student on the SIT Study Abroad/Round Earth Media program in Morocco.
“Morocco was really my first taste of any sort of boots on the ground reporting,” said Collins, who has a degree in journalism from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “If you’d have asked me in Morocco, I’d have been like, ‘I want to be a foreign correspondent!’ because everybody wants to be a foreign correspondent when they’re in journalism school.”
Some of Collins’ friends on the Morocco program went to work for NPR and NBC or started their own blogs and freelance careers. But Collins says she “would 100% encourage” other young journalists to start at local newspapers where reporters are needed. Collins says she derives satisfaction from keeping what she views as an essential community resource alive.
Collins’ first newspaper job was at the North Port Sun in southwest Florida, where she was one of four reporters, including the editor. With such a small staff, she was required to churn out two or three stories a day. Despite (or perhaps because of) the workload, Collins described her job at theSun as “better than any classroom experience I ever got.” After less than two years, she moved on to the Daytona Beach News Journal, where she won a Florida Press Club award for feature reporting.
News Journal Managing Editor Derek Catron calls reporters like Collins “the journalism zealots” who “believe in something greater than themselves.”
And yet, Collins did not grow up with dreams of journalism. She went into college with her major undecided, only an aimless interest in writing. Still shaky on what sort of career path she truly wanted to take, the woman who Catron describes as a “hard worker and a quick study” happened upon the journalism department and decided that it played well enough to her strengths to give it a try. But, it wasn’t until the SIT/Round Earth Media program in Morocco that Collins says she found her passion for journalism.
Catron has an example of what he considers to be the essence of Collins as a journalist. As Hurricane Irma tore through Florida in 2017, Catron was in a pinch. With his top weather reporter and his top investigative reporter out of the office, he turned to Collins to step up as lead writer. It was a huge responsibility for someone so young but Catron says Collins was key to covering one of Florida’s biggest natural disasters.
Collins “believes in the good that journalism can do not only for your community, but for society, for democracy,” said Catron. “On the worst days it’s journalists like Allison who restore my faith in what we’re doing.”
Ellie Zimmerman is a sophomore history major at Carleton College. She was an intern at Round Earth Media this December.