Free Spirit ’16: Taking a look at Journalism across the Nation
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As I stood in the corner of the second floor of the Newseum in Washington D.C., I peered into a glass case, holding a dusty Canon camera, charred press badges, a tattered wallet, and a few broken batteries. All of these items belonged to Bill Biggart, a photojournalist who lost his life covering the 9/11 attacks. As people scrambled to get away from the falling rubble of the Twin Towers, Bill ran into the chaos, pursuing the truth before protecting his life.
Around two years later, I found myself back at the Newseum, but this time, I was surrounded by teenagers just like myself: aspiring journalists. This past summer, I represented the state of Hawai’i at the 2016 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference. The conference was created to give future journalists from all 50 states and the District of Columbia the opportunity to see what it’s like to work in the field and how your work can make a difference. We were exposed to broadcast journalism by watching a live taping of Meet the Press at NBC studios in D.C. and meeting Chuck Todd himself. Print and digital journalism was showcased through a tour of the USA Today headquarters in Tysons Corner, Virginia. Throughout the week, we got the chance to ask questions to those who produce the news such as the Editor-in-Chief of National Geographic Susan Goldberg and the 2016 Excellence in the Media recipient Chris Berman, a renowned sports newscaster and apparently huge fan of Hawai’i and those who were featured in the news such as Mike McCurry, the former press secretary for President Clinton and three members of the Freedom Riders movement.
However, I walked away from the conference feeling a greater appreciation of not only the work of journalists around the world but also the support from my peers across the country. In between key note presentations and media tours, 50 other high school journalists and myself explored Washington D.C. together. With each bus ride, lunch break, and dinner excursion, I had the chance to sit down someone new and learn about their homes and, of course, their newsrooms. Although we’re all scattered throughout the continent, we still find time to talk to each other every day. Over merely 5 days, we bonded over the urge for what we feel is necessary—accurate and truthful reporting.
I believe that journalism is documenting and shaping history as it is happening. Good journalists record events, lives, stories that cannot be heard during another time period. Great journalists change the future through the stories they share; their reporting exposes the truth and can create laws, shift governmental or organization funds, and even alter societal behavior. In D.C., I saw all of those traits of a good journalist being exhibited through speakers such as Sarah Ganim, a young Pulitzer prize reporter who broke the story about Jerry Sandusky, and Mary Pilon, a New York Times reporter who writes about corruption behind finance in sports. After attending the Al Neuharth conference, I am confident that the my fellow Free Spirits and I are going to enter a world in which we learn to navigate through the truth.
Courtesy of the Newseum Institute