The idea of placing 51 teenagers in a room together may sound unappealing or chaotic, but when the 51 teenagers are aspiring journalists in a room with accomplished writers and reporters, their professionalism and passion outweighs the disarray.
This past summer I traveled to Washington, D.C., and represented North Carolina at the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference. At the conference, 50 other “free spirits” and I got to meet some of the most notable names in journalism.
The conference was set over four days during which we engaged in discussions as well as visited areas such as the Capitol press gallery, USA Today and the Newseum.
Asking me to choose my favorite moment would result in neverending anecdotes followed by a viewing party of blurry monument pictures.
Asking for my most memorable moment is a different story.
When I received my itinerary in the mail I was ecstatic to learn who would be there. The names spanned everyone from Washington Post reporter David Fahrenthold to National Geographic editor Susan Goldberg.
However, the name that stood out to me most was Washington Post editor Marty Baron.
Being a fan of “Spotlight,” the Oscar-winning film that tells the true story of Mr. Baron and four of The Boston Globe’s investigative journalists uncovering molestation by priests in the Catholic church, I found myself eagerly awaiting Mr. Baron’s Q&A.
Given the climate surrounding American journalism, I attended the conference at an important time. The Washington Post, the publication for which Mr. Baron serves as editor, carries a slogan I went into the conference contemplating: “Democracy dies in darkness.”
The slogan can be interpreted in several ways. However, after Mr. Baron’s session I saw the slogan to be an indicator of just how important the media’s role is in maintaining a functioning democracy.
A government’s transparency is paramount to maintaining its legitimacy. The “darkness” in the slogan can be correlated to a lack of transparency in government. Lack of trust between a government and its citizens results in a failed democracy.
It is the role journalists play at all levels of government, the denouncing of the “darkness,” that shows our importance in modern politics. “If you want to make a difference I can’t think of a better field for a young person to go into,” Mr. Baron said. “If you want to be essential to our democracy [journalism] is the field that's essential to our democracy.”
While I went into the conference knowing that journalists played an important role as a linkage institution to the government, I left realizing just how big a role that is. I now hope to live up to the example set by the many journalists who have worked so hard to shine a light on the government’s darkness.
Grace Newton is a senior at Chapel Hill High School and the current editor-in-chief of the Proconian newspaper.