Alumnus captures Ebola epidemic
When Marcus DiPaola was an undergraduate at Rutgers, he got up and left in the middle of School of Communication and Information instructor Steven Miller’s class to cover a ferry crash in New York.
It may have hurt his grade, but he got a story out there, Miller said.
After graduating from SC&I in 2014, DiPaola became a freelance reporter for Xinhua News Agency, a contributor for Nurphoto and a United States correspondent for CNC World. Recently, he traveled to Liberia to photograph Ebola patients, with the photos eventually landing in the British-based newspaper The Guardian.
He found out a Red Cross team was traveling to Liberia to collect the bodies of Ebola patients and asked to come along. He was not even a little bit concerned about catching Ebola.
“I was working with professionals, people who have been fighting this thing since March, when it first really exploded,” he said. “I figured if they’re still alive, I should trust what they’re doing.”
Despite his confidence, he brought top-of-the-line Hazmat suits and gear, but did not end up using any of it.
Ebola is a horrible disease and kills people fast, but it is not particularly easy to spread.
“People do not understand that people can only catch the disease through direct contact with bodily fluids,” DiPaola said. “It is not likely that you will catch Ebola just from sitting next to someone on the subway.”
After returning from Liberia, he sold every single photo he shot.
“That’s how easy it is,” said DiPaola. “The only thing standing between you and a story is the plane ticket.”
At the same time, he found it frustrating to be one of the few Western reporters on the field, knowing the story deserved 20 or 30 reporters.
He photographed the Red Cross team in their protective suits as they picked up the body of an older woman who had recently died from Ebola. Her 13- and 9-year-old daughters watched their deceased mother being taken away.
The father of the children was in a treatment center for the virus. Their grandmother, who had been taking care of them, also contracted Ebola.
“I was like, what the hell are these girls going to do?” DiPaola said. “And it turns out they just hung out at the house alone. It’s a miserable existence.”
At one point while driving in Liberia, DiPaola noticed some people huddled around a river and stopped the car.
It turned out a thief had stolen food and jumped into the river to avoid the police but had missed the river and fell onto the rocks instead. No one wanted to touch his corpse because they thought he might have Ebola.
DiPaola started freelancing during his sophomore year at Rutgers and now works for several different news wire services and TV stations.
At first, he wanted to work in the United States Senate, but he decided he wanted to make a difference without having to sit at a desk all day.
He started with local news, covering the same “small town stories” and reporting by phone, but has now traveled to 25 different countries chasing news stories like disasters, earthquakes and wildfires.
“I literally go tornado chasing because you can’t get a good news story unless you’re right up close in the action,” he said.
Miller, also the undergraduate coordinator of the Department of Journalism and Media Studies, said DiPaola has been chasing down stories since he was an undergraduate.
He said DiPaola already has his bulletproof vest and helmet packed in his car in preparation to cover the events in Ferguson, Missouri, once the grand jury returns.
Miller called DiPaola a “fantastic journalist” without any fear.
“People miss classes all the time,” he said. “What we’re trying to do in this department is to train [students] to be good reporters, investigators and journalists. If Marcus cut my class because of that, that means I’m doing my job.”