I was selected to represent the State of Georgia at the 2019 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference in Washington, D.C. The Freedom Forum Institute and the Newseum selected 51 rising seniors, one from each state and the District of Columbia, for an all-expenses-paid journalism conference from June 14-20. Throughout the conference, we attended panels and seminars led by world-renowned journalists and media professionals, all while exploring the nation’s capital.
This conference was an opportunity for 51 student-journalists to unite to share their experiences during this age of journalism. Interestingly enough, we had a wide variety of platforms used from videography, print, digital and even podcasts, which taught me how rapidly the journalism world is changing, and for the better. We also learned about the importance that the First Amendment has on our changing society, as well as the most significant freedom to us.
During the conference, we met with world-renowned journalists such as David Fahrenthold from “The Washington Post,” and 2004 Free Spirit Alum Mary Pilon, author of “The Monopolists” and “The Kevin Show.” They both explained to us the importance of journalism, while speaking on their most notable works and how we can get ourselves involved in the journalism community. We were also granted the opportunity to meet with a panel of Free Spirit Alumni from The Washington Post, New York Times, and CBS Network, including AJ Neuharth-Keusch, a sports journalist for USA Today. They all spoke about how this program helped influence their later careers and internship opportunities. Then on that Monday, I had the incredible honor to meet and watch four-time Pulitzer Prize winner and photojournalist Carol Guzy win the 2019 Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media.
This program did not only involve panels and seminars, but included afternoon tours. After our seminars were complete, we got to go out and explore the capital by experiencing the monuments and iconic buildings of Washington, D.C. A few of the most memorable experiences was getting a VIP tour of Capitol Hill and viewing all of the galleries from the press section. Another was getting to view the iconic Newseum. In the Newseum, we got to get an early access tour of one of their final exhibits, “Seriously Funny: From the Desk of ‘The Daily Show with Jon Stewart,’” which opened June 21.
Not only did this conference provide me with an opportunity to learn about the future of journalism and the impact that we have on it, but it provided me with 50 new friendships with young journalists all across America. I cannot express how passionate these other journalists are, and while some may say that the future of journalism is uncertain, from what I saw and experienced, it is going to be better than ever.