The Traveling Editor: Students receive words of wisdom at journalism conference

By Paul Mullin

When someone mentions the word “conference,” two things generally pop into my head, largely thanks to the fact that I used to regularly tag along with my father to such affairs.

Free pens and really, really nice hotels.

The 2007 Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Conference in Washington, D.C., this past weekend was no exception, as I rode the train home at least eight writing implements richer, with images of the $499-a-night Hyatt still fresh in my mind.

But I also brought back something far more valuable — not that a hefty supply of good pens isn’t important — that will surely help shape the way I develop as a journalist.

What this conference really gave me was an inside look at the profession of my near future, via seminars by professionals, the explanation of tried-and-true techniques and above all else the inspiration to help make journalism, and the world, better.

Whether it was a speech about the importance of knowing the First Amendment and how to fight censorship at a college newspaper or a look at “backpack journalism” and what it takes to succeed in an increasingly technology-savvy and technology-dependent field, I spent my day at the conference finding out what happens and will happen soon out in the “real world.”

One of the more eye-opening sessions was the “backpack journalism” seminar, where the speaker offered us a view of what it means to be a one-man team. Mobile journalists, or MoJos, as they are called, carry the pens and paper of a standard reporter, but also are responsible for taking pictures and shooting video of an event they cover.

“Writers need to display openness to new techniques and a willingness to learn to use the technology,” said John Strauss, the presenter of the seminar.

Strauss, the news and multimedia editor for IndyStar.com, said that even new writers could be responsible for shooting and editing video, often on a moment’s notice.

This was news to me, considering I have been training in good old-fashioned print reporting in my two-plus years here at Rider. It was also a clear notice that my perception of what a journalist is supposed to be has changed and will continue to change right along with the technology we use to do our jobs.

But without a doubt the most exciting moment of the day came at the very end, when, during a speech by USA Today editor Ken Paulson, two of the most important names in modern journalism appeared on stage. They helped break perhaps the biggest sports story of our lifetime: the BALCO steroids scandal, most notably involving Barry Bonds.

Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, investigative reporters for the San Francisco Chronicle, first broke the BALCO story and wrote the exposé Game of Shadows, thanks in part to leaked courtroom testimony and the release of confidential documents by unnamed sources. Their refusal to relinquish the identities of those sources to the Supreme Court almost led them to serious jail time.

Now free men, the two journalists serve as testaments to the ethics that every reporter should uphold as well as the importance of journalism in serving as the public’s watchdog, not just over the government but also over all major organizations.

To top it all off, a former member of The Rider News staff received recognition from the SPJ. Leo D. Rommel, former sports editor, won first place nationally for the Mark of Excellence Award in sports column writing, an accomplishment of epic proportions. Pretty decent way to spend a Friday.

In April, The Rider News won first place at the regional SPJ contests for the 2006 Best All-Around Non-Daily Student Newspaper in the northeast region.

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