FREE SPIRIT DAY 4: Rights, Courts, and Sports


It seems like only yesterday that we were just getting to know each other and laughing over our mediocre Newsmania abilities. Now it’s Day 4, and we only have one more full day together. Such is life.

Our first session today was at the Newseum’s memorial area to those journalists who lost their lives doing their job. The plaque had been updated quite recently with the 2015 names, and I will say that it’s astounding just how many journalists have died over the years. Dr. Courtney Radsch of the Committee to Protect Journalists talked to us about her experiences with safety (she was a reporter in places like Lebanon and the United Arab Emirates, which aren’t too keen on the whole “free press” thing). She also talked to us about the value of self-advocacy in journalists and the role of international organizations. It was very inspiring.

We moved back upstairs to the classroom for the rest of our morning sessions, staring with a rousing talk from executive director of the Religious Freedom Center, Charles Haynes. He made some very good points about the First Amendment, and explained that while we may not always agree ideologically with certain religions, it’s important that we agree to stand up for their rights. He explained the need to teach all religions in schools, fully, and most importantly, correctly. There are often parents who will get mad if their child isn’t being taught that Islam is an evil religion, but schools need to get over that. I think he was definitely one of the best speakers we’ve heard. I should probably move on before this gets too soap boxy.

The next session was a crew of political reporters who came in to discuss the elephant in the room: this election cycle. Moderating was former Al Neuharth Journalism Award winner and former news anchor John Seigenthaler, and the panel consisted of USA Today Washington Bureau chief Susan Page, former Politico editor and current editor-at-large Bill Nichols, Washington Post staff writer Abby Phillip, and CNN Politics editor Juana Summers. We discussed everything from media bias to debates to the new political landscape to, of course, the rise of Trump. It was interesting to hear the writers’ accounts of Trump rallies and how, despite all the shade Trump throws at the media, he still has really good relations with them because he makes himself so accessible all the time. I couldn’t make this up; it’s crazy.

Over lunch, we had a Q/A session with this year’s Al Neuharth Journalism Award winner, Chris Berman. With my history of not watching ESPN, I must confess that I didn’t know the man before today, but everything I’ve heard assures me that he is most deserving of the award. He had a lot of really good advice for us as well, which I won’t go into.

After lunch, we all bussed down the block to the DC District Court, where we heard from Student Press Law Center attorney Adam Goldstein about how student journalists and journalists in general have a lot of responsibility. We then had an actual mock trial with federal judge Royce Lamberth. I am so happy I was selected to be a student attorney on the prosecution panel because it was such an awesome experience. I was super nervous at first, but then the old APPSE neurons started going and I went up there and made my case. I’m sure Schneck would be proud. In the end, my team won the case, so I guess we did a good job. Unfortunately, our phones were turned off for the time inside the courthouse, so check back later and I’ll have some photos from the official Free Spirit photographer.

We went promptly back to the Newseum for the awards dinner for Chris Berman. This included guests who were either VIPs of the Newseum or fellow Free Spirits from all the way back to 2000. I’m proud to say that my table did have a fellow Wisconsinite, so I wasn’t the only crazy cheese head around. The awards ceremony was far too fancy for the likes of me, and as such I was thoroughly tired by the time we returned to the hotel. One more day left! This conference is going by too quickly.


Here’s my fellow Wisconsinite. We look disturbingly similar.

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