The Student News Site of Malvern Preparatory School

Friar's Lantern

The Student News Site of Malvern Preparatory School

Friar's Lantern

The Student News Site of Malvern Preparatory School

Friar's Lantern

The Free Spirits are the Future of the Free Press


The five days I spent in Washington D.C. showed me the rise of modern journalism, the places it will go, and the people who will make it happen.

Before I start to explain the amazing opportunities I experienced this summer at the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference, I’d like to throw in a little Easter egg to my fellow 2018 Free Spirits who are hopefully reading this:

If it is 1 a.m. Pacific Standard Time, who goes to bed first, Kacie or Stella?

On a more serious note, every summer the Freedom Forum Institute (an organization committed to representing and raising awareness for the five freedoms of the First Amendment) invites one student journalist from each to state, as well as one from District of Columbia to an all-expenses paid conference in the nation’s capital. The conference is held in the Newseum, a museum preserving the history of journalism, and exhibiting each of the five freedoms.

Being selected to represent the state of Pennsylvania allowed me to peer into the professional world of reporting, as well as made me eligible for a $1,000 college scholarship. For the first time, I felt like a true aspiring journalist, and someone who could have capabilities in the field.

The week I spent in D.C. was sweltering, as we had to walk between most locations. Combined with the long days and the not-exactly-comfortable suits I had to wear each day, sleep was an invaluable resource. However every moment became more enjoyable than the last because of the incredible lineup of keynote speakers and renowned journalists.  

On only the second day of the conference we attended a NBC taping of “Meet the Press”, followed by a Q&A with the host, Chuck Todd. We watched him discuss families being separated at the Mexican border with Kellyanne Conway in live action. It was incredible to see the news that would be broadcasted to maybe millions right in front of me.

Al Neuharth, the namesake of the conference, founded the news conglomerate USA Today in 1982. We got a behind-the-scenes tour of their D.C. headquarters, allowing us to witness how professional journalists work under the pressure of a regular news cycle. We also attended a congratulatory dinner of the legendary sports reporter Lesley Visser. She alone broke the glass ceiling for women in sports reporting, and rightfully received the Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in Media.

We got to visit monuments around the city, conduct a mock trial with a U.S.  District Court Senior judge in a real D.C. courtroom, and even sit in Statuary Hall, the meeting hall of the House of Representatives.  And the whole time, I was dining on the food of celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck. I drank water almost exclusively from fancy Saratoga spring water bottles the whole time.

Free Spirits Alex Haylock (left), Nicole Konopelko from Kansas (middle), and Nathan Zhao from Massachusetts (right) on the first day of the Free Spirit Conference, playing a quiz game on hot topics.

Because of our proximity to the White House, we got to watch the news cycle of those who cover the presidency. One of the highlights included speaking with New York Times photographer and Pulitzer Prize winner Doug Mills, who has been covering the movements of presidents since the first George Bush. We got to a learn how a White House press photographer encapsulates the leaders of our country, and presents their lives outside the Oval Office. His business card is currently burning a hole in my wallet.

The entirety of the conference was held in the Newseum which memorializes important moments in journalism and changes in First Amendment freedoms over time. But behind those moments were the people who made them happen. I got to meet some of those people in the form of three real life Freedom Riders. Hearing about the brutality of our country with a refreshingly blunt attitude made me see that history is truly shaped by the people who are a part of it. Because of this I now know that my history is now, and because of the tools given to me by the Free Spirit Conference, I know how to shape it for the better.

I don’t have to miss this opportunity, because I carry the experiences of the Free Spirit Conference with me every day. The other 50 students made my entire trip lighthearted and eventful. The southern twang of Brodie Myers from Oklahoma is still ingrained in my mind, as is the endless barrage of arguments from New Hampshire’s Rohan Kumar, trying to convince me that the Patriots are a commendable football team (they aren’t). But these other students also allowed me to see the importance of a journalist. They exemplified their commitment to quality journalism at a high school level every single day. 

[perfectpullquote align=”right” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]“#Fakenews is not a thing. If it is factually published, it is news. It is not an easy time to be a journalist.”

-Former Malvern Journalism Teacher Kate Plows[/perfectpullquote]

I have a 50 new co-workers and friends who are still trying to figure out how to create meaningful content in this day and age, when that content is not always appreciated. Many of us face the same issues in our own newspapers with other students claims’ of fake news and unneeded reporting. The Free Spirits are trying to rid journalists of that stigma and create conversation on why good reporting techniques must be preserved. 

Many like to say the “Journalism is a dying profession.” What they mean is that print journalism is dying and they’re right on that count. But journalists aren’t going anywhere. As long as there is news to report, the media will continue to provide the public with information in the best way possible. Today, that means moving away from traditional news tactics and moving towards a sleek new 21st Century-paced style.

Because of the vastness of the internet, false news sources have made a rise. It is in the interest of the Free Spirits to contribute to unbiased factual information, regardless of those with agendas to create a false belief narrative in the public. This means that broadcasters like CNN (despite your opinion on them) cannot be barred from the White House. It is outside of the interest of anyone who consumes news and is simply unconstitutional. And while the Free Spirits aren’t near that level of influence yet, there is a generation of student reporters who are genuinely invested in creating veritable news work that the public can use to inform themselves and establish their opinions.

This includes protecting the rights of the press and conducting our individual publications as professional brands. But the Free Spirit Conference brought us together to work as one force and provided us with the resources to accurately represent the truth of journalists. 

We were far from identical. We came from from different parts of the country, and with different viewpoints and politics. Our group chats have daily arguments on everything from political parties’ decisions,  to simpler topics like which regions have the best gas stations. However, the large amount of differences between us let allow us  see that we are also much more similar than you’d think. We’re all just trying to graduate high school and become contributing members to the industry we all witnessed in D.C.

The name of Visser’s memoir Sometimes You Have To Cross When It Says Don’t Walk”  told  the story of how one woman became a trailblazer for women in sports reporting. Well, the Free Spirits are planning to jaywalk all over this profession, and I’m proud be one of them.

[button link=”” newwindow=”yes”] If you are a junior in high school, and an aspiring journalist, I highly suggest you apply for the Free Spirit Conference here.[/button]

All photos provided credited to the Freedom Forum Institute.

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