By Laura Chernikoff, Chicago 2008
My name is Laura Chernikoff and I am from Boulder, Colorado. I participated in J Camp in the summer of 2008 when it was held in Chicago, and had a thrilling, eye-opening, fast-paced, and wonderful experience. I have been on staff of my high school’s newspaper, the Royal Banner, since my freshman year and am currently Co-Editor-in-Chief. In this past February, I had the opportunity to take part in another exciting journalism experience, the Colorado High School Press Association Capitol Hill Press Conference.
This event was held in Denver’s Capitol Building, and was aimed at letting student journalists experience a real political press conference. Additionally, through a contest to write the best news story, which followed the event, we experienced writing under pressure and time-constraints. My Co-Editor-in-Chief Allison Langley and I joined a small group of students from all around Colorado in the old Supreme Court chambers of the gold-capped capitol building. Questions in hand, we were first introduced to two professional journalists, including one who was working at the Rocky Mountain News. The day of this event, February 27th, was the day the Rocky printed its last issue. Speaking to these journalists was interesting, to say the least.
Our first speaker, Nancy Mitchell was tasked with helping prepare us. She asked us to read the questions we had written for our main speaker, Colorado Lieutenant Governor Barbara O’Brien. She then quickly rejected many of our questions in a no-nonsense manner I have only ever seen long-time journalists use. My partner and I nervously posed our two favorite questions, getting the go-ahead on one and the need for revision on the other.
Next, we had the opportunity to speak with Sara Burnett, the reporter in charge of political coverage for the Rocky. This session was reminiscent of our J Camp seminars, and I found many of the questions I had posed to journalists in Chicago coming to mind again. Burnett shared with us her opinion of the current situation of print journalism, made particularly poignant by the Rocky’s closing. She believes the future of the business will be an increasing focus on detailed storytelling in print and interactive and in-depth online content, as well as the growth of local papers. “There’s always going to be a need for news and information,” she told us firmly. She encouraged the rapt audience before her to pursue a career in the field, if that was of interest to them, but to be aware of the tumultuous condition of print journalism, the field we were planning on joining.
Following Burnett, we were faced with the real deal, the press conference with Lieutenant Governor Barbara O’Brien. After a brief prepared statement which focused on the development of educational reforms in Colorado, O’Brien kindly took our questions, smiling as we all stood and did our best to look and sound like professional reporters. With all the questions posed by various students, we got a relatively vast picture of the Colorado government, particularly the plans dealing with education, which O’Brien has worked for throughout her years in office, and the economy, which was clearly on everyone’s mind.
Our final task after the press conference was to whip out a news story focusing on the day’s events. With an hour and a half to write, the room quickly transformed into scattered pairs hunched over clacking keyboards, whispers echoing off the high ceiling. My partner and I wrote quickly, focusing on the ways that the educational reforms O’Brien spoke of related to our school and student body.
We have not yet heard about the outcome of this contest, but simply attending was enough to make it a wonderful experience. The day reminded me of the hours spent scribbling notes in Loyola University’s auditorium, listening to professional journalists speak about all they had experienced. In all, the opportunity to flex my writing skills, to learn about the press conference format, and to speak with a journalist in the midst of all the field’s turmoil was memorable.
Laura and her partner won the contest for best news story.