Free Spirit Conference teaches the importance of a free press

            Psychologists claim that humans do not have any instincts. However, there’s a natural occurrence onboard airplanes that could prove them wrong. Passengers shuffle onboard, stow their luggage into the overhead compartments, listen to the safety briefing, and then turn to the person next to them. As preschoolers, we’re taught that you only need to know the answer to two questions, “What is your name?” and “How old are you?” As adults, we have to know the answer to “Where are you going? Where are you from” and the infamous “So, what do you do?”

            There’s a look I’ve grown used to receiving when I tell others that I want to be a journalist. Sometimes they’ll joke about how that’s the last thing they’ll say for the rest of the flight. The truth is that the public simply doesn’t care for journalists, and that makes it really hard to say that you’re one.

            The Al Neuharth Free Spirit of Journalism Conference in Washington D.C. changed my life forever. It taught me that being a journalist is one of the most rewarding careers, and that being one holds great responsibility.

            I’ll always remember every moment of the conference, whether it be listening to Judy Woodruff speak on climbing to the top of a male dominated profession, the Freedom Riders telling of the challenges they faced, or laughing along with my fellow Free Spirits at Neuharth’s total lack of humility.

            But the conference didn’t just alert me to the joys of free speech and the responsibility of the press, it also made me realize the infringements on our rights that we encounter in our everyday lives. As much as I love arguing about why schools should fully embrace all aspects of the First Amendment, it’s hard to work around Hazelwood, as I learned in a court simulation of the case.

            As one presenter said, “After 12 years in a prison system, why would they care about politics and freedom?” Schools are laboratories for freedom and democracy, he said, and it made me realize that while high school students can’t vote for stay out past curfew, they still need to be aware. If student journalists don’t do their job in high school, then they are doing absolutely nothing to prepare their peers for when they make the leap into the real world.

            So while I’ll still get “the look” on airplanes, I’ve come to accept it as part of the job. And while the world of journalism may be changing, it’s certainly not dying off so long as the Free Spirits are around.