4E Voices

An open letter to future student journalists

Megan Hays

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Dear Future Journalists,

I fell into journalism by accident. I liked to write, and I had an open hour. No other class has stressed me out more, but no other class has made me feel so invigorated.

My adviser encouraged me to apply to a journalism camp that was in Washington D.C., a camp I assumed I wouldn’t get in to. Every few weeks I wonder what exactly they saw in my application, but I was accepted.

I thought the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference would be a place where I would feel misplaced somehow due to the fact that I would be the only one not pursuing journalism as a career, but I was wrong. It was one of the best weeks I had ever experienced.

In that week I realized how much I hoped the journalists that would be coming up after I graduate would get to experience what I got to. Then I thought about the people who would be following those journalists and the ones I never would meet. That’s why I’m writing this article now. So to you future journalists, I hope you can take my advice.

You can’t be scared. Hopefully your adviser will teach you that. On the first day of the conference, I had to talk to 50 other people that I didn’t know. As much as I like to remain inside of my shell, I realized the only way for a non-journalist to have fun was to talk to other people. I realized that even though I felt so unlike them, we were actually a lot alike.

You have to take in everything you can. Though I’m not a journalist, I am a writer, and the only way to write is to observe and experience. I took every moment I could as another moment of experience I didn’t have before. When out on assignment you should take in as much as you can. You could find a new picture opportunity or a new point of view to add to a story.

Take risks. The biggest risk gave me the biggest reward. I’m not suggesting going and buying a lottery ticket, but getting on an airplane at 4 a.m. to a place where you’ve never been to meet with people you’ve never met is pretty risky. Of course, the conference I attended was reputable, but clicking submit on the application was a risk. A risk of disappointment or a risk of awkward social interaction with other student journalists. I’m glad it was the latter. By taking risks a student journalist can get more information for their articles or get better pictures. Ask that slightly awkward question–you might get a great quote. Take the picture that might not come out well because it might be the best one you take that day.

Never stop learning. Over the summer I went to three journalism camps and spent a day with a novelist to improve my skills because I can always improve. I can improve as a writer, a photographer, and I at least try to be a better designer. The people I met at Free Spirit make me want to work harder to not only be a better journalist, but a better person. They teach me something new every day, and I’m grateful to have met them. I can’t really teach you the need to keep learning, but I can hope you will.

For you, future journalist, I wish you the best of luck. And a little advice from Al Neuharth that I can pass onto you is simply: Dream, Dare, Do.

Editor’s Note: Senior Megan Hays was selected as the Oklahoma representative for the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference in Washington D.C. The annual conference selects 51 high school journalism students from each state and the District of Columbia. The program encourages and inspires the students to pursue a career in journalism.

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An open letter to future student journalists