51 people. 51 drastically different perspectives.
This summer I had the opportunity to attend the Al Neuharth Free Spirit & Journalism Conference, a week-long program sponsored by the Freedom Forum and the Newseum. Although the conference was held in DC, I was the only Washingtonian in attendance. Well actually, there were two of us; the other being from the state of Washington.
In addition to Washington and Washington, DC, each state was represented at this conference by one high school journalist. And while we may have shared a common passion for journalism, our backgrounds differed greatly. One minute I was talking to the student from rural Idaho about living on a farm, and the next I was listening to the student from NYC talk about her experiences with NYPD before and after the Eric Garner incident. Meanwhile, the student from Alaska received daily updates from home regarding a wild bear that was terrorizing her town. These simple interactions with my fellow representatives were incredibly insightful, and often left me in awe.
As we met with panels of distinguished journalists and media dignitaries, I saw the implications that news events, and their resulting coverage, have around the country. We met with Sarah Ganim, the reporter who uncovered the Jerry Sandusky sexual harassment scandal at Penn State, whose work inspired other journalists and athletic departments to do their own investigations. David Fahrenthold of the Washington Post revealed tips on how he was so successful in building relationships with his sources during his investigative work on Donald Trump’s business practices. We toured the USA Today headquarters and explored the variation in national news coverage in local publications across the country.
I could go on about sitting in on Meet the Press with Chuck Todd, touring the Senate chamber, participating in a mock trial before a US Superior Court judge, and all of the other fascinating things we did. But more significant were the relationships I built with the other representatives. We were certainly very different. There was no common political ideology, religion, or race that all 51 shared. However, what made the conference so engaging was the collaborative atmosphere that we created.
In this time of extreme divisiveness in our country, especially following such a polarizing election, this conference exemplified the effectiveness of open-minded discussions. I believe the reason that the result of the recent presidential election was so surprising to some is because people lack knowledge and appreciation of the problems that other Americans face. When Americans are forced to have dialogue, as the 51 of us were at this conference, positive change seems much more attainable.
PHOTO BY MARIA BRYK, COURTESY OF THE NEWSEUM INSTITUTE