The students blogging on this site were given two assignments. First, post reviews for the sessions you attend. Second, pick one hot topic in journalism and get as much feedback as possible on that topic. While the first assignment was simple, I wondered how successful our group would be in the second assignment. What topics would we choose and would we get enough intelligent feedback to actually complete the required 10 page paper?
Now, as I review my notes, I'm astounded by the amount of information and the range of topics I learned about in just two days. My group of students was privileged to attend dinner with the panelists Saturday night and at my table I witnessed debates about victim's rights, Mary Mapes and Dan Rather, the future of online newspapers (what happens when the electricity goes off?), politics (Obama, all the way), and a myriad of other issues. I should point out that before dinner even started, I was fascinated by Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Eric Nalder's interview with our trolley driver (Nalder is always investigating) and I noticed other panelists showing genuine interest in the students, answering questions, and encouraging students to ask more. David Ryan's absolute love and enthusiasm for his online projects at LJWorld.com made all the students want to move to Kansas. Tom Robbins (Village Voice) made us all wish we had a New York accent and the guts to take on the mob. I strained to hear Maro Robbins (SA Express News) debate with Kym Fox and David Ryan regarding victim's rights. This was good stuff.
At one point in dinner, Karen (a fellow classmate), tapped my shoulder and told me to look around. The noise in our room was deafening and the reason, as Karen was pointing out, was that students and professionals were gleefully and hotly debating, discussing, and instructing at every table. I wasn't surprised to see journalists talking, but I was impressed with how patiently they listened to the students and how excited and interested the professionals were to the newcomer's views. It was a theme I saw repeated throughout the conference-an open sharing of ideas, a genuine interest shown not just in other professionals in their fields, but for high school students, college students, and educators as well.
On the way back to the hotel, we listened to Nalder interview two tourists (turns out they were from France!). At the hotel, we sat by the pool, students and professionals, and talked about all we had learned. Again, I was surprised to hear the professionals say they had learned something (I thought they knew it all) and it occurred to me that the reason I love journalism so much is that journalism is an evolving process. We are always learning, investigating, reporting, looking for another angle with a million different tools and voices available to help us tell a story in a million different ways.
Shawna Williams, a freshman from Anderson High School in Austin, summed it up when she said, "I was thinking about getting into journalism, but I wasn't sure. Now, after being here, I really want to be a journalist."