Today I had the esteemed honor of attending the Alabama Press Association Journalism Summit! I’ve never been surrounded my so many journalists in my life, and I enjoyed every moment of it. Speakers who’ve gotten to travel all over the country and explore so many different topics reminded me once again why I joined the journalism community.
It helped that I knew a friend who works with me for the school newspaper, and together we were in absolute awe listening to this experienced reporters share their stories and their advice.
We started with speakers from the Tuscaloosa News, the local paper I intern for, and they spoke of winning the Pulitzer for their reporting during the tornado that hit the city back in 2011. When the power went out, they continued to get the word out to residents through Twitter, which is now an essential part of a journalist’s career. What surprised me even more was that I knew three of them by name, some I’d spoken to myself, others had visited my 100 classes freshman year.
I think the most impactful moments of the day had to be Hank Kilbanoff and Joey Bunch, Kilbanoff is a Pulitzer prize winner, and Bunch has been nominated five times and was a part of the staff that covered the 2012 Aurora shooting. Both had their own stories to tell, and both will stick with me for the rest of my life.
Kilbanoff spoke of his work with The Georgia Civil Rights Cold Cases Project at Emory University. He created a class for students that focused on racially motivated murders that became cold cases when the culprits actions went unpunished. The cases were focused from post WWII to the early 1970s and the examples he showed us were pretty astounding. It made me wonder if I would ever like to report on race and gender topics. Another student, after hearing his story, claimed she would be changing her major from Journalism to Law. Personally, I think I’ll stick with writing, but he did have me thinking about the amount of injustice there was back then, and still is today.
He won his Pulitzer for his book The Race Beat, I was so intrigued with his work that I was willing to pay right there for a copy of his book. I was fortunate enough to be a college student, and he provided six copies for free and signed them personally! I’ll be starting his book first thing tomorrow, and I know if it’s half as good as his lecture, I’ll enjoy it.
Bunch’s story was more personal, speaking about his experience traveling to Colorado after growing up in Alabama. As well as the Aurora shooting Bunch covered the Sandy Hook shooting months later in Newtown, Connecticut. He said the experiences caused him to believe that he didn’t want to continue living. Everyone in the room was completely silent, listening to a story that could very well be any one of us in the room. I always think about the luxuries of being a journalist, telling stories, meeting new people and learning new things, but I rarely think of the tragedies.
I think Bunch’s speech reminded me that I’m not only a journalist for me, but for other people. People want their stories told and I’m the medium for that. Covering tragedies and horrors will be a part of the job, but it will be necessary. Bunch explained that now he’s much better and he learned that you can’t run away when you’re hurt or afraid. The audience responded with many nods, agreeing that this is what we do.
The day ended with publishers giving the students advice, how to stand above the crowd in interviews, how to go above and beyond on your resume and why you shouldn’t be shy. “Interviews should be a conversation” I remember someone saying, and I took it to heart. I know I’m guilty of shyness during an interview, but I definitely want to get better.
Overall this was one of the greatest journalism experiences I’ve had so far, if anything I want to meet more people with amazing journalism experiences and start creating my own.