Dream, Dare, Do: Journalism’s Lessons on Human Nature

The+2019+Attendees+of+the+Al+Neuharth+Free+Spirit+and+Journalism+Conference%2C+Courtesy+of+the+Freedom+Forum+Institute

Courtesy of the Freedom Forum Institute

Nick Urick, Editor-in-Chief

I was unsure what to expect as I stepped onto the train in my hometown of Wilmington, Delaware, and ventured to Washington D.C. for a week immersed in journalism. I was on my way to represent the state of Delaware at the 2019 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference, which has been held in the capital since 1999. The annual weeklong event is held to introduce young journalists to their equally inspired peers, predecessors, and believers in the distinct power of the first amendment – the fundamental principle that the program fervently honors. Frankly, in anticipation of the conference, I was unbelievably nervous. I had irrationally convinced myself that I was entering a wholly competitive environment, in which my peers would be constantly fighting over the title of ‘best journalist.’ However, the experience was quite the opposite. As I familiarized myself with the fifty other student-journalists, one from each state and the District of Columbia, I realized that I was amongst a group of incredibly intelligent and kind individuals. 

At its commencement in 1999, Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today, the Newseum, and the Freedom Forum, created the program to honor his legacy as a journalist and entrepreneur, as well as to cultivate the spirit of individuals who believed in the power of the press. The program took a keen focus on the First Amendment, which actively protects the principles that maintain Mr.Neuharth’s legacy. Throughout the program my peers and I followed an intense eleven page itinerary which guided us on exclusive tours through governmental buildings, news broadcast sets, museums, historical sites of D.C., and even the headquarters of  USA Today. In one way or another, each activity related to one of the five freedoms of the First Amendment: the freedoms of religion, press, and speech, as well as the rights to petition and assembly. I was amazed. We heard from prominent figures in the journalism industry, such as Chuck Todd, the host of ‘Meet the Press’ and Mary Pilon, an inspirational free-lance journalist. It felt like I was meeting a Pulitzer-Prize winner everyday – and oftentimes, I was. Attending the conference was like receiving an all access pass into the inner-workings of journalism and the minds of those who have dedicated their lives to it. It was an experience unmatched. 

Although our schedules were jam-packed, the conference itself was not based entirely on educating the attendees on journalism directly. Rather, we were able to learn how to serve the voice of the people in real world situations. It was as though my mind had become naturally inclined to think like a journalist. As I ventured from the capitol building, to an artful show by ‘Freedom sings,’ to a boating trip on the Potomac, all I could think of was how I could report on my experience. Who would I ask questions? How would I put my actions into words? Everything around me turned into the quintessential aspects of a proper news story. Not only had the conference taught me the metrics of journalism, but it also taught me how to think like a journalist. 

All of the educational aspects of the conference held unquestionable value. I was amazed by the amount of information that I could consume in just one week. Nevertheless, when asked to reflect on my experience at the conference, my mind instantly conjured the immaterial memories of the trip: the conversations that I had, the people I met, the laughs I shared, and the human ingenuity I experienced. While we prided ourselves on our educational pursuits at the conference, we similarly bonded through the little experiences we endured as a group. By the end of the week, I learned quite a bit about life across the US. From the student representing Washington DC, I learned about the battle for D.C. statehood. From South Carolina, I learned about life at a high school that was ten times the size of mine. From Texas, I learned about the art of making ‘true barbecue’ and tubing down the Texan rivers throughout the summer. From Alaska, I learned that the state wasn’t really that cold. While these lessons differed from those that I learned in the conference rooms, they were similar in terms of their educational value. They taught me about the value of truly understanding the perspective of others in their full depth, which has complimented my journalistic ability just as much as any lecture. All in all, whether they were taught by a New York Times reporter or one of my fellow student-journalists, the lessons I learned at the conference were truly invaluable.

I returned home to Delaware with twenty pages of notes, a week full of memories, and a new motto that all those at the conference enforced so effortlessly: Dream, Dare, Do. I learned to Dream from J. Scott Applewhite, a senior photojournalist from the Associated Press, who showed me the constructive change that a simple image can make. I learned to Dare from a Free Spirit alumnus, who told me to be bold and confident in my future journalistic pursuits. I learned to Do from David A. Farenthold,  a political journalist for the Washington Post, who taught me to be stubborn, organized, and value-oriented. All of these lessons became an amalgam of truth as my peers exhibited traits that affirmed their value, ultimately displaying that they could define benevolent human nature as a whole. 

The Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference was an experience unmatched. The conference, and the inspiration I gained from it, showed me that journalism protects the First Amendment and catalyses the truth. Everyday there is a story to uncover, a truth to be told, and change to be made. So, get out there, write that story, and dream, dare, do.