NLPeople: Eryn Busch, executive and board liaison
This is part of a series that introduces you to the people behind the scenes at the News Literacy Project.
1. Can you tell us a little about your background and what brought you to NLP?
In sixth grade, my principal brought various speakers in to inspire us to think about our future careers, what we wanted to contribute to society and why we should already be worried about the value of compound interest. The most compelling of the speakers was a man named Faustin Uzabakiliho, who spoke to us about his escape from the Rwandan genocide and his subsequent work as an evangelist. I’ll never forget him telling us that, most likely, the job we were going to have someday had not even been invented yet, and neither had the company we’d be working for. He encouraged us to dream big, generalize and never pass up an opportunity to serve. So, I took his advice. I joined the Army after high school and took a circuitous route through all manner of adventures and failures to what has been a very fulfilling four years at NLP. I’ve also dabbled in phlebotomy, private security for a royal family, gun sales and voice acting.
2. How (if so) has working for NLP impacted your life or changed your world perspective?
My pre-internet upbringing in the foothills of Los Angeles was far removed from a lot of the painful realities of how the American experience has not offered equal opportunity for everyone. But in 2019, we as a staff had the opportunity to travel to Montgomery, Alabama, to tour the Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice (projects of the Equal Justice Initiative). My words can’t do the experience justice, but I think of that trip as the beginning of my reeducation. Every single day I think about that trip and what I learned. I now quietly seek out literature, creators and nonprofits that build on that experience, and I plan to take my daughter when she’s old enough to see it for her own eyes.
3. You served in Iraq as a Civil Affairs Sergeant with the U.S. Army during a surge in operations, and back home, as an assistant to senior White House officials. Have those experiences impacted how you approach your work at NLP and your life?
Well, I’m still very tired from those adventures, I’ll say that. But I’m also very fulfilled because working at NLP is a natural extension of working in public service. A couple years before joining NLP, my life was turned upside down overnight by a conspiracy theory. People online picked apart as much of my life as they could, including my military service and my time at the White House, concocting stories about me from the wildly fantastical to the truly dark and traitorous. They almost made me feel that my service was forfeited. I had to change my phone number and then my name, and there were regular attempts to steal my old identity. My family and I seriously considered moving, and my heartbeat would quicken when I would see an unexpected package on my stoop (and admittedly, this still happens). So, when I saw that NLP was hiring for my exact skill set, I jumped at the chance to join the fight for facts because I have been on the other side of misinformation, and I’ve seen how it can do permanent damage. Working at NLP gives me a sense that I’m helping prevent this from happening to others. As with my work in the Army and at the White House, doing the right thing or preventing the wrong thing from happening doesn’t usually make the headlines. That’s hard to remember every time we see a headline about the damage misinformation does, but there won’t be a headline for the chaos our work is preventing, nor for the lives I truly believe we are saving.
4. What is the most surprising thing you have learned or experienced since joining NLP?
My colleagues’ epic karaoke choices aside, I’d say it has been fascinating to watch NLP grow and walk the fine line between nonprofit and ed tech startup. I remember being very intrigued by that during the interview process. When I explain to friends and family what we do and what we offer, I love watching their faces light up. I think a lot of people still feel powerless in the face of misinformation and our work gives them real hope —even better than hope. It gives them a way they can act.
5. What news literacy tip, tool or guidance do you most often use?
I am admittedly a compulsive reverse image searcher! I didn’t even know all the ways to do it quickly and easily until I saw our tutorial on it this past summer.
6. What did you miss most during the COVID-19 shutdowns?
At one point I would have said concerts and live music, but what I truly miss most is seeing my astoundingly brilliant colleagues in action and supporting their professional development presentations and NewsLitCamps when they come to D.C. I miss watching educators’ faces light up and hearing their audible gasps when they are taught a concept or tool to help them help their students navigate what many thought was a hopeless information wasteland. They leave our events empowered. I know they still do, but I miss seeing that and celebrating it together.
7. Aside from fighting for facts, what else are you passionate about?
I’ve been a songwriter for 21 years, and joining NLP gave me more work/life balance to focus on my craft every day, which in turn gave me the confidence to start performing. So many supportive colleagues came to my shows around the D.C. area. A highlight of my life was getting invited to perform in the round at The Bluebird Café in Nashville (the songwriters all sit in a circle facing each other with the audience around them). I retired from performing in January 2020, and since then I’ve contented myself with making music in my basement studio and taking on voiceover work occasionally. Most recently, I voiced the text and arranged the music for an audiobook of poetry coming out on Audible this December.
8. Are you on team dog, team cat, team wombat? Or do you prefer stuffed animals to pets? (If you have a pet, please consider sharing a photo.)
Can I be team everything? I’m team everything (except spiders). My daughter and I adore snakes and would love to get a ball python to join our cat and dog, but so far, we’ve been outvoted by my husband and mother. I grew up in apartments, which forced me to be a cat person, but now I finally have a friendly dog who loves to hang out with other NLP dogs (see picture). One of my favorite moments at NLP was when my colleague Miriam adopted our foster dog, Reign, a mere week before we shut down for the pandemic.
(Picture: Gus and Ebonee’s dog Psalm, 2021)
9. What one item do you always have in your refrigerator?
10. What’s in your pocket/backpack/laptop case right now?
I don’t go anywhere without my daily planner/journal that I custom-made over the course of the pandemic. I got tired of hunting for the perfect planner and just created it in Microsoft Word. It took three months to finish, but it was worth it to have something that helps me keep my own life together. My daughter and I were recently both diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety within a few months of each other, so we’ve been learning together about the tools and tricks available to help people like us function in the world.