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To student journalists: The future is in your hands

By Annika Prom, Co-Editor-in-Chief

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With as much crushing anguish and genuine happiness it brought to me, I managed to keep it a secret from my family for months leading up to an email I received during spring break. I opened my phone notifications and grazed over the subject line, too shocked to fully process that I would represent Washington state in the 2018 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference.

I called my closest friends, editors and my adviser to deliver the same distorted news through tears. Then, I finally told my parents I applied for Free Spirit without their knowledge, because I couldn’t let them say no to this opportunity.

On June 16, I set off on my journey to Washington, D.C. to experience a lifetime’s worth of inspiration and knowledge. The conference, sponsored by the Freedom Forum and Newseum Institute, embodies USA Today founder Al Neuharth’s journalistic philosophy: “Dream, Dare, Do.”

As I dozed off in the Sea-Tac Airport, I caught a glimpse of someone wearing a powder blue t-shirt like mine and immediately exclaimed, “Wally!” Well, that revealed that I looked him up online prior to the conference, but at least the Oregon representative kept me company for the plane ride.

When I landed in D.C., I jumped right into the packed schedule as one of the last delegates to arrive, making small talk with the other Free Spirits about their homes and history with journalism along the way.

We headed to the Newseum for the first time, where the Free Spirits introduced themselves and played NewsMania, a news trivia game, in a TV studio. The outstanding number of Seattle-related questions made me feel welcome, knowing that I live in an area where news constantly happens.

Day 2, the Free Spirits attended a taping of “Meet the Press” at NBC Studios. We watched Kellyanne Conway, Counselor to the President, discuss separations of families at the border with host Chuck Todd. She impressed me with her ability to remain composed despite push back from the other commentators.

The excitement continued to escalate throughout the conference. During a social media session with digital journalist Val Hoeppner, she pulled The Hawkeye Twitter onto the screen as a good example, which I play a large role in running. Her two-part presentation allowed us to try virtual reality and learn to ride on “the fastest news cycle in history” with social media.

Our lunch breaks featured speakers, such as Freedom Riders Joan Mulholland and Ernest “Rip” Patton, former White House Press Secretary Mike McCurry and sports journalist Lesley Visser. They welcomed personal and nosy questions, so the Free Spirits didn’t hold back in pursuing the answers we wanted. And speaking of lunch, my mom often called to complain about how my brother had only received text updates about the amazing food I had.

I first discovered the Newseum in sophomore year and told my best friend that I would visit the Newseum with whoever I marry. Though I obviously didn’t walk in with a significant other, I undoubtedly fell in love anyways.

We had time to explore the Newseum on our own, and I could see the blueprints of history laid out across the four floors of journalism on display. I viewed exhibits from the powerful, hard hitting Pulitzer Prize Photographs Gallery to the sweet, lighthearted First Dogs panels.

Courtney Radsch, advocacy director for the Committee to Protect Journalists, led a session at the Journalists Memorial in the Newseum. There, she presented on the dangers of journalism and passed out a world map that marked countries with a notable number of journalist deaths in 2017. Upon unfolding the map, I saw Cambodia, my native country, marked with about five journalist deaths.

This particular activity took me back to why I completed the Free Spirit application behind my parents’ backs. They came to the U.S. as war refugees in the 1980s and have long since associated freedom of speech with punishment and peril. Since I became a journalist in seventh grade, my mom has warned me to stay safe when covering events and suggested I pursue a different career.

After attending the Free Spirit conference, the circumstances have changed for us both. As a Cambodian-American, my family sees me as an answer to disproving the fear of free speech held by other Cambodians, including themselves.

The world needs journalists and a democracy cannot function without the five rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. It is the responsibility of the press to inform the public, hold those in power accountable and write the rough draft of history. After experiencing influential journalists pass their knowledge down to us 51 motivated journalists, I have full faith that the future of journalism is in good hands.

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About the Writer
Annika Prom, Co-Editor-in-Chief

Annika Prom is the Co-Editor-in-Chief of the Hawkeye and a senior at MTHS. She joined the Hawkeye to further explore her love for getting to know people along with the ability to capture that in writing.

She hopes to inspire the Hawkeye staff to realize their full potential so every member can find their niche. She also hopes the publication can work more closely together to produce great work and inform the community of important matters. In her free time, Annika enjoys taking care of plants and is the co-president of the MTHS Eco Club.

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To student journalists: The future is in your hands