In early 2008, I got a box full of awesome.
The box was from the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Program and filled with a variety of autographed books and an iterinary for the few days I would be spending in Washington D.C. as the male high school journalist representing Michigan.
That March, 102 high school journalists went to D.C. and had an amazing week of speakers and experiences. We toured the Newseum before it was open. We saw Cathie Black, Betty Baye, Ken Paulson, Tim Russert, Al Neuharth and more speak on journalism.
The inspiration was amazing for a group of young students trying to decide whether or not journalism was a viable option for our futures.
Just a few months later, Tim Russert died. That was hard on me. He’s still my favorite person I’ve had the chance to shake hands* with. He was one of the first true reasons I decided that a career in writing and media could be what I wanted to do.
But on April 19, 2013, Al Neuharth died from injuries suffered from a fall. He was 89. He did a lot of amazing things in his career, and his autobiography, Confessions of an S.O.B., is a great read. Prior to the program, I didn’t know all that much about him. But after that, he became a true mentor for me, whether he knew it or not. So often is news and writing thought of as stuck in the old ways. Even as technology is hugely changing the industry, the basics should be standard. But Neuharth showed me that an entrepreneurial spirit can be a route in the journalism world, you don’t have to settle for the norm.
So while the two that played the most into shaping me as the young writer I am are now gone, I’m still left with the lessons they gave me.
It was all about “Dream. Dare. Do.” And that’s the way I’m living so far, and it’s going well.
But more importantly their spirit lives on with all my fellow scholars who I still follow on Twitter and see on Facebook. We all pretty much are doing amazing things in one form or another. Whether it’s writing about beer in a great beer city and a book with a former NFL player like me, or working for a presidential campaign or the Los Angeles Times or any number of publications across the nation, or doing cool things for your hometown, it’s all amazing.
And for a lot of what we’ve done, we have Neuharth to thank.
*And I’ve shaken the hands of quite a lot of people, from President Barack Obama to many of my youth sports heroes.