Lyra McKee had a talent for inspiring people. In 2012, when she first approached me about becoming a distance learning student on my MA course, I was inspired by her obvious passion for journalism. She had zigged and zagged — from working with Headliners and Children’s Express and BBC Blast as a 15- and 16- and 17-year-old, to dropping out of university; from being part of the news startup Qluso, to working for a US tech publication from her base in Northern Ireland.
It is the sort of circuitous route that too few people in the industry take — or benefit from.
She wasn’t afraid to take on big challenges with long timescales: in her first year at Birmingham City University she decided to look into children who went missing during the Troubles. (More than 5 years later those first steps were due to come to fruition in the book she was preparing to publish when she was killed.)
Then, in 2014, she wanted to look into the unsolved murder of a politician. Being told she hadn’t “paid her dues” by one editor didn’t deter her —instead, she turned to her readers, beginning an experiment in crowdfunding support to pursue the investigation.
Lyra McKee: why more journalists are going direct to readers
Lyra McKee* is an investigative journalist in Northern Ireland. In this post, originally published on The Muckraker…
On the eve of the day she was due to speak about the project at the POLIS journalism conference in London, Lyra’s crowdfunding page hit its target of 200 subscribers (it would eventually raise over $6000).
Sitting on an early Ryanair flight from Belfast to London, Lyra hadn’t had time to celebrate — or sleep — but she was happy. Her passion had been vindicated; she was no longer alone in her belief that this was a story that needed telling: 200 people had backed her.
We met at Holborn tube station wearing grins that went from ear to ear, unable to believe what had just happened. Then we walked to the conference and I got to continue grinning as I watched Lyra nail her talk.
Years later, those backers would get a for-your-eyes-only preview of Lyra’s work in the ebook “A Boy Soaked in Moonlight”. In her email accompanying the release Lyra wrote:
Little did I know the doors this project would open for me. The last three years have been a whirlwind. Forbes Magazine named me one of their 30 under 30 in media in Europe; my stories were published everywhere from America’s The Atlantic and BuzzFeed; I delivered training courses to journalists in The Times and The Sunday Times; I spoke at conferences; the list goes on.
It’s fair to say this project launched my career and I would not be anywhere if you had not believed in it. I owe you so much more than I can ever repay.
Lyra continued to inspire me, taking risks, getting out there. It’s not true that she was fearless — she was afraid as anyone else. But she would do what she did anyway, having faith that it was worth doing regardless.
And Lyra kept on going.
In 2017 Lyra returned to Birmingham City University for the Rethink Media conference, speaking frankly and eloquently about class bias in the journalism industry.
Lyra was very conscious of her position as an ‘outsider’ in so many ways: it was part of what made her a great journalist, and a wonderful person. Her letter to her 14-year-old self in 2014 (as I write this, being republished in a number of national newspapers) and her 2017 talk at TEDxStormontWomen inspired many more.
I wish Lyra could see what is happening now. I wish the woman who worked for 6 weeks to raise $6,000 to fund that first investigation could see how quickly £50,000 has been raised in just a day on her memorial page.
I’m devastated by the news of Lyra’s death. I loved working with her. She was tenacious, a fighter, passionate about journalism, and full of love for her family and partner.
Oh, and that cat.
She had worked for a decade to get to a good place, and we had been talking about what she could do from that place.
I’m angry that we’ll never get to see what she would have done next, so I watch that video, thinking about what she achieved in those 10 years, and how happy she was. And I will miss her.