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Jarecke reflects on journalism conference and its future


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Jarecke reflects on journalism conference and its future
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Jarecke reflects on journalism conference and its future

This story originally appeared in the student newspaper Xchange, and was written by Amelia Jarecke.

“Now more than ever, we need young journalists.”  

Washington Post editor Marty Baron said these words to me. Granted, I was in a room with 50 other student journalists from around the country. But it felt like a personal call, telling me that my dream needs me to chase it.

In order to get to this point, the one where I’m sitting in the $450 million Newseum Institute, dining with Pulitzer-prize winners and ESPN commentators, I just had to take a gamble.  

Back in February, I applied to represent Nebraska at the 2017 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference. Though I felt extremely unqualified, I won the scholarship.

At the conference, I learned what it takes to be a good journalist in this time of fake news, an overflow of information, and a political scene where the media is constantly under attack.

Mary Pilon, author and sports writer for The New York Times, explained to me, in a personal interview, that when she attended the Free Spirit conference years ago, she felt a similar call.

“In 2004, when Bush was in office, they said there was no better time to be a journalist,” she explained. “They were right then, and they’re right now. The only constant is change in the news industry.”

The conference is essential in inspiring the next generation of journalists. Up until I attended the conference, I thought journalism was just something I had fun doing, not something I could make a career.

In the words of Al Neuharth, founder of USA Today and the Free Spirit conference, “Journalism is the most fun you can have and still get paid for.”

Months after I returned home from D.C., I saw some news that threatens the future of this conference that I enjoyed so thoroughly.

The president of the Newseum resigned amidst financial troubles.

“It has become obvious that the current model — where the Freedom Forum is the primary funder of the Newseum — cannot continue indefinitely at this level,” Jan Neuharth, the daughter of Al Neuharth and chairwoman of the Freedom Forum said in a statement. “Left unchecked, this deficit spending rate would eventually drain the Freedom Forum’s entire endowment, and the annual cash drain prevents us from allocating any new capital to First Amendment programs that are at the heart of our educational mission.”

The Free Spirit conference falls under one of the “First Amendment programs.”

In response to the threat of losing the program, Pilon said, “It would be devastating; maybe not over night, but years down the road we would see the fallout of this.”

Journalism is an underdog profession, due to economic and political disadvantages. But in order to hold our government accountable, we need freedom of the press.

“Anyone who cares about democracy should fund and support this because it is essential to democracy,” said Pilon, who has also covered politics at Politico.

As far as the future of journalism goes, it will be fine. We have more people reading information now than ever in the history of the world. Yes, print news is dying but that does not mean journalism is. It just takes new forms and adapts.

So I am not concerned for the future of the journalism industry. What I am concerned with is the future of the Conference. We need to inspire smart, young people to pursue careers as journalists. We need to put kids from small schools in Nebraska in a big room of accomplished people just to show them how big their dreams can be.  

Now more than ever, we need young, hungry journalists. The Free Spirit Conference finds them.

Pius X • 6000 A St. • Lincoln, NE 68510 • 402-488-0931 • Fax: 402-488-1061

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