A trip to Washington D.C. inspires Robinson journalist to keep dreaming, daring and doing


Photo courtesy of the Newseum

During the conference, we toured the USAtoday headquarters and heard from their top editors.

Macy McClintock, Sports Editor

When I was six, I decided I wanted to be a journalist. While others dreamt of careers as princesses and Broadway stars, I envisioned myself on the sidelines as a sports reporter. I had grown up watching Erin Andrews and Leslie Visser, two influential female sports broadcasters who helped establish women’s voices in the world of sports broadcasting, and I knew I wanted to be just like them.

But I never imagined my passion to flourish as much as it has, and the immense opportunity that I would receive along with that.

This past June, I had the honor of representing Florida at the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference.

Neuharth, the founder of USAtoday, the Freedom Forum Institute and the Newseum, founded this conference for high school journalists in 1999. Since his passing in 2003, the program continues in his honor. Each year, the committee selects one rising high school journalist from each state and Washington D.C. who is interested in pursuing a career in journalism. Along with a $1,000 college scholarship, each winner is invited to a week-long conference in the nation’s capital.

I arrived at that conference nervous and skeptical; I wasn’t entirely sure what I was committing myself to for the next week. But I gave myself one challenge: I dared myself to branch out and take everything in.

And I am so glad that I did.

Over the course of the conference, I continued to gain hope for the future of journalism. We spoke to influential figures in the #MeToo movement, the recent social media trend that inspired women to speak up on issues of sexual assault, heard from Freedom Riders, civil rights activists who challenged the constitutionality of segregated buses in the 1960s and received advice from Chuck Todd, the moderator on Meet the Press.

Right before entering the taping of Meet the Press, an intern came out and greeted us. Grace King had been the 2015 Free Spirit scholar from Florida. She had seen the taping of Meet the Press as well and was inspired to be back on that set one day. She was hired as an intern just three years later.

We toured USAtoday, interviewed Mike McCurry, former press secretary to President Bill Clinton and learned photography techniques from Doug Mills, the highest-ranking photographer of the New York Times who has covered presidential inaugurations and just about every major sporting event there is. He had just returned from the North Korea- United States summit and was on his way with President Trump to Minnesota- but passed on the trip to come speak with us.

My favorite activity of the week was the Al Neuharth Award for Excellence in the Media ceremony. All alumni of the Free Spirit program, along with the previous winners were invited to this ceremony to honor an influential journalistic figure. In honor of Al Neuharth having lived in Florida, I got to sit at the front of the beautiful ballroom, surrounded by Al Neuharth’s close family and friends. To my left sat his grandson, who is now a sports editor for USAtoday that I found myself in several sports debates with and John Seigenthaler, a former correspondent for NBC and MSNBC.

While eating perhaps the fanciest food ever and trying not to embarrass myself as I cut my steak in front of journalism celebrities, I watched Leslie Visser accept the award for breaking the gender barrier in sports journalism. Afterwards, I had the opportunity to speak with her one-on-one about the next steps towards equality in the newsroom. It was inspiring; I got to speak with the woman who made it possible for women to be sports journalists and who sparked my passion in the field.

Each day was packed with speakers, rigorous journalism curriculum and excessive amounts of caffeine. But the highlight of the week came from the 50 other journalists that I had the opportunity to make a connection with. I think I may have met the future governor of New Hampshire and perhaps the first female president of the U.S., the empowered girl from Indiana. I am certain that we will all be watching Brodie from Oklahoma on NBC one day. I was fascinated by our differences as we came from every part of the country. As we all sat in a bus in rush-hour traffic on our last night, we had to explain to the journalist from Alaska the concept of “traffic.” I don’t think I’ve ever laughed harder than in that moment.

Five months after the conference, a day doesn’t go by where we don’t text or Facebook. I wake up some mornings with at least 500 texts from them, ranging from a debate in Canadian politics to a discussion over cargo shorts.

These 50 kids have reminded me why I love journalism so much and to keep at it. Although I didn’t think it was possible, this conference helped me discover an even larger passion for journalism. This conference inspired me to keep dreaming, keep daring and keep doing.

I find that interesting, as that was the basis of Al Neuharth’s philosophy: Dream. Dare. Do.

And the Free Spirit conference helped me to do just that.