By Lucia Ponader
Indiana University High School Journalism Institute- July 2016
A dim hum of excited energy. People talking all at once, yet nobody really saying anything. Quick glances here or there; silent judging of how the next week will progress. The atmosphere, thick with nerves and questions, filling the room. I was in the registration room to receive my dorm key with other students attending the same week long workshop I was attending, the Indiana University’s High School Journalism Institute workshop. I would be staying in a dorm for five days, going to classes to experience the world of journalism, receiving tips from my instructors, writing articles, interviewing locals, and meeting other kids who had the same passion as me.
At once, I fell in love. The five days I was there allowed me to be independent as I was able to explore my passion for words and writing. I was instructed by Tony Willis, who is the journalism advisor for Cathedral High School; I was also instructed by Gretchen Mills. All students were filed into a hall and were given the low-down about how the next few days were going to run. The air was filled with anticipation, excitement, nervousness. The schedule went like this: wake up early, go to breakfast at the dining hall. Then at 8:30 the entire student body would meet to hear a special guest or speaker. We then would break out into smaller groups. We had two small group sessions, and then lunch. After lunch was a second small group session, followed by another group meeting, dinner, and then bed.
My favorite speaker was Joshua Gillin, a staff writer at PolitiFact. He spoke to us about what he did and why it matters. He writes for PolitiFact, a non-biased site created to inform readers on the validity and accuracy of statements by politicians and powerful leaders. It was very interesting to be able to hear from a journalist who may actually have been impacting the election with the work he executes.
Staying in a dorm and waking up each day ready to pursue my passions was one of the most sensational experiences I have ever been granted. Being able to attend HSJI cemented my love of journalism, and made prominent my love of writing. Being able to experience my favorite thing in the world while in a college setting made it obvious to me that this is where I was supposed to be. Being able to attend mock classes allowed me to be comfortable with myself, especially having been new to the realm of journalism. I now know that I am going to pursue journalism and writing for the rest of my life. Although the workshop I took was just an introductory one, I feel as if it introduced me to the rest of my life. After attending the workshop for a little under a week, I left with tips and tricks, a better understanding of myself as a journalist, different ways to conduct a killer interview, and multiple story ideas for The U-Post or for any local newspapers.
One moment that I will never forget is my first interview, and my first investigative story. The assignment given to us by our teacher was to go out into a certain building at IU and find five interesting things- one of which you were supposed to write an article on. My friend and I decided to venture into the hotel section which had been standing for over 100 years. One member of the custodial staff was kind enough to talk to us. He had been working there since he was 15. When we asked him if there were any interesting or little known facts about the building he proceeded to tell us the story of a man who had committed suicide in one of the hotel rooms. He was just a young boy at the time, and his overseer Bill had walked into the room to find the man lying on the carpet with a pool of blood by his head. The man had been a professor at IU for a short time before his suicide. This particular custodial worker had been responsible for cleaning the room after the body was taken away. He directed us to talk to Bill, who was still working there, if we wanted to know more details of the story and if we wanted to take pictures of the room.
I felt giddy; excited. A tingle of energy was coursing through my veins as I wrote down all of the things I did not know, but wanted to unearth. That day I took my first rejection. My story was forced to be neglected, and new paths were taken. It was the first and most intriguing story I had ever tried to investigate, and within the same day it was shot down.
My colleagues and I ventured down into the underbelly of the building, weaving among corridors in the basement. This is where the maintenance operations came to life; people weaving in and out amongst must and old brooms, bins of tools, odds, and ends. We asked around for Bill, the mysterious man in the gray shirt who supposedly held all of the answers. During this, I felt like a true journalist. Here I was, in places my mother may not have approved, speaking with people I otherwise never would have spoken with. I felt as if I was on an adventure; the tantalizing taste of answers just minutes away. When we were finally led to Bill, my friend began to ask if we may please interview him regarding the death in room 201. My friend was silenced and cut off. He sharply stated he would not do the interview with us, turned on his heel, and walked away. While the rejection hurt, I did not feel defeated. The way his voice briskly spoke as if to usher us away from something important that was being guarded truly intrigued me more. We may never know what went down that night in room 201, but after the interview was denied, one cannot help but ponder what secrets may loom in that very room.
After experiencing the thrill of trying to find a noteworthy story to share with the public, and adventuring around for three hours trying to do so, I was hooked. From that moment on I knew in my heart that I wanted to be a journalist. HSJI truly amazed me in more ways than one, and I could not be more thankful. It showed me my passion, helped me grow in a multitude of ways, and taught me that sometimes it’s not about if you have a final product or not- it’s about the journey you experienced along the way.
JEA National High School Journalism Convention- November 2016
Noisy chatter punctuated by booming hellos and whispering giggles. The fragrance of coffee wafting from the nearest Starbucks, lingering just out of reach. Discussions of “whose editor is whose,” and “who got into Mizzou and Northwestern.” The scratching of pencils against a hopeful sheet that resides stiff with the anticipation of the knowledge yet to come. Open hearts and open minds. Calloused hands raised, showing the intensity with which these people love journalism. On Friday, November 11th, I had the honor of being able to attend the 2016 JEA National High School Journalism Convention in Indianapolis. I had been breathlessly waiting for the day to come. The 2016 JEA National High School Journalism Convention in Indianapolis is a place where all aspiring journalists go to exchange ideas, participate in journalistic discourse, and to burgeon as journalists.
I saw many familiar faces throughout the day, some from HSJI, and some faces from other schools. Attending the convention, I was able to view just how substantial my network already was. My fellow reporter friends from WTHR were there, as well as my connections from the Indy Star that I had been in contact with. Surrounding me was the world that I had longed to break into since the age of ten. Given the entire day, I decided that it was exactly what I would do. I spoke to many of my local role models, inquired about the strength of each journalism program at varying colleges, and above all, I cemented my fondness of and passion for journalism.
Being able to talk to professionals about my personal aspirations and ambitions was phenomenal. Not only did I receive many firm handshakes, welcoming smiles, and hopeful eyes; I received the most appreciable gift of them all: a solidification of my fervor, desire, and yearning, and a deep understanding of the virtuosity of this written art.
I came to the convention seeking yet another confirmation that this was my correct path, having received my first signs of confirmation over the summer at HSJI. While many students attended to get the basics stylistically or about interviewing, I went to corroborate my perceived passion. Like John Green says from The Fault in Our Stars, “I fell in love the way you fall asleep: slowly, and then all at once.” This reflects what my experience has been like over the past year and a half. By the time our group was bursting out of the doors, ready to travel home at the end of the day, my mind was filled, as was my heart. Although the day had ended and it was time to go home, in my head and in my heart it felt like I was already home.
I want to become a journalist not only because of my love of storytelling and discovery, but due to the impact and influence we have on others. Journalism is one of the most powerful things in the world. It transfigures history, divulges corruption, engenders compassion and understanding, and helps us progress as a nation. If I have learned one thing about journalism, it is that sometimes it’s not about if you have a final product or not- it’s about the journey you experience along the way. It’s about the people you influenced and brought to justice and all of the ramifications created while doing so. It’s about sparking a social movement, or answering an unanswered question. It’s about your self-growth as you help the nation flourish and learn. It’s about the journey you take to get to the story, not the final article. This idea was evident throughout multiple sessions. Every professional seemed to talk about the joy and experience that was gained when embarking upon a new story. They all talked about the significance of journalism and the many ways it reverberates and transcends culture, race, religion, and gender.
The 2016 JEA National High School Journalism Convention brought out people from all over the country. When walking through the convention center to get to my next place, I noticed the wide array of different genders, races, and states. As I looked around at the thousands of people around me, all of them different, I realized how unifying journalism was. People from all different walks of life, locations, and ethnicities were gathered around today in Indianapolis, Indiana for one simple thing: journalism. The connection and comradery I felt with the other students was only bound by our passion for the same thing. After first-handedly experiencing the effects of journalism and the unification it devises, I am proud to be a part of something this grand.