He attended the Nikon School before attending graduate school at the Grady College of Journalism, where he graduated in 2003 with a Master's degree in mass communication and a cognate in Islamic studies. 
McLaughlin has written regularly on Africa, the Middle East, hip-hop, civil rights, courts and sports. He has covered a range of figures in court, including singers Bobby Brown and Whiteny Houston, wide receiver Andre Rison, tight end Shannon Sharpe and running back Jamal Lewis. 
He also covered the Fort Collins, Colorado, proceedings surrounding Tim Masters, who was wrongly accused of murdering a woman when he was 15. He contributed field reporting to CNN's Hurricane Katrina, Jena Six and Ferguson, Missouri, coverage. 
Among his many notable interviews, he was the first reporter to speak with Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide after he went into exile in Central African Republic. He has also interviewed Maya Angelou, Ambassador Andrew Young, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton and has sat down with several hip-hop luminaries, including L.A. Reid, Nas, Common, Afeni Shakur, Lupe Fiasco, RZA of the Wu-Tang Clan, Talib Kweli, K'Naan, Big Boi of OutKast and Damian Marley.