Al Neuharth said “Free spirits dream, dare and do” and this past summer I was able to do all three while roaming the streets of DC with 50 other young and ambitious people just like me. No, I did not attend Awesome Con or Landmark Music Festival but I was one of many scholars chosen to attend the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference.
Looking back, I wasn’t particularly excited about attending the conference. I was the 51st scholar, the girl from DC who had been to the Newseum, the girl who had lived and breathed every tourist attraction there was to see. From my house in Northeast DC, it took me all of 20 minutes to travel to the C Street Holiday Inn that happened to be a 5 minute walk from where my mother worked. There was no flare to my travel and I thought there were no new adventures in store for me during the week. But I was wrong.
That week the first amendment became my best friend and so did journalism. It was the week I raised my soft-spoken, number 51 voice and asked Chuck Todd one of the many questions I had written down in my tiny notebook before and during a taping of Meet The Press–the question I had texted my dad, my sister and my journalist cousin to make sure I didn’t sound like a stone fool.
And it was during that taping of Meet The Press, after a controversial video on gun violence aired featuring only African-American men, that I realized how important diversity was in the newsroom and ultimately why, in whatever way, I wanted to be involved in journalism.
It was the week I got to ‘Meet the Press and the Rest’ I would say.
The 30 minute bus ride to tour USA Today, conversations with Val Hoeppner, a digital journalist and media strategist about Periscope and Snapchat news and last but not least living and learning vicariously about broadcast journalism through Grace King (Florida), opened my eyes to the world beyond the print journalism I had done in the past. I was able to ignore my cringey feelings towards large groups touring DC and bask in all the information my fellow ‘Free Spirit” Marion gave me about why Idaho is more than the “Potato State.”
At the conference I was introduced to the paths that journalism could lead one down. I listened to Mary Pilon, author of The New York Times bestselling novel, The Monopolists, and Free Spirit alumna talk about her experiences working at Dow Jones, USA Today, New York Magazine and Gawker. “Journalism is always changing because life is always changing,” Pilon said, and that was evident.
Meeting Greg Barber the founder of Coral Project, listening to Juana Summers of National Public Radio (NPR) discuss their different career paths helped me realized the multiple faces of the profession that I one day hoped to be a part of.
I will never forget the days that started out at the Newseum, attending sessions and listening to speakers, and ended in my hotel room at the Holiday Inn. The mock trial in a DC courtroom I participated in, where we debated over the first amendment resounded when my school’s new principal tried to prior review our paper. Every time I pass the Newseum I am reminded of a week where I met 50 other students who, whether passionate or on the fence about journalism, were able to dream, dare and do.
PHOTO COURTESY OF NEWSEUM INSTITUTE