Metheny gets opportunity of a lifetime at the Newseum


Photo provided

Camden Metheny lines up to ask a question at one of the conference’s many speaker sessions.

Camden Metheny, Editor


The odds of me being chosen were slim. With past delegates from schools like Bryant, Fort Smith, and Little Rock, I knew it was a long shot. But I was a first. I was the first Free Spirit from Arkansas to come from a high school with 200 students.

The Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference was created by the man it was named after. Neuharth was a journalist from South Dakota who founded the newspaper USA Today and The Newseum. Fifty-one rising seniors, one from each state and the District of Columbia, attend this annual conference hosted by The Newseum and Freedom Forum, which were also created by Neuharth. In addition to attending the Washington, D.C., conference completely free, students that are chosen also receive a $1,000 scholarship to the school of their choice.

I found out about this conference last November when my journalism staff attended the Journalism Education Association convention in D.C. I applied for the conference a few months later, hopeful. After two long months of waiting, I never got an answer. I assumed I didn’t win, but I was okay with that.  Then, on April 9, I got my email. The first thing I did was rush from my English class to show my email to Mrs. Tracey Yates, my adviser. Then I told everyone else. There was just no way I could wait until my eighth hour journalism class.

For the next two months, I received emails from Karen Catone and Ashlie Hampton, the brains behind the conference. They made everything possible. I also received multiple books. Two of them were written by Al Neuharth, another was by former president Gerald Ford’s Press Secretary Ron Nessen, and the third was by Chuck Todd, the host of NBC’s Meet The Press,both of whom were conference speakers. 

The day finally came to leave for the nation’s capital. I didn’t get any sleep that night, mainly in anticipation for the following day, but also because I didn’t want to oversleep. I met up with delegates from Wisconsin and Mississippi at the Atlanta International Airport  and later met with a few more Free Spirits at Reagan International in Washington, D.C. We arrived at our hotel shortly after and met with the rest of our class.


Once everyone arrived at the hotel, we spent nearly two hours at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, which was just a block away. Later that evening, we had a Night at the Newseum,, where we had an introduction and played a trivia game, in which my team won. Afterwards, we returned to our hotel, since it was getting late and we had many long days ahead.

The following week was packed with workshops, panels, events, and all-around fun times. We watched a live taping of Meet The Press, had a mock trial in the Federal Courthouse, visited the Capitol, toured the offices and newsrooms of the USA Today offices, and much more. We did your typical tourist stuff, too, such as visiting the monuments and even had a river boat cruise along the Potomac River.

The last day of the conference was a bittersweet day. We had made life-long friendships and we were proud to say that we were Free Spirits, and we just didn’t want it to end. That meant going back to our normal lives, and there was no telling when we’d be able to see each other after the conference. We made sure to make our final night together last. We made memories in those five short days that we’ll always share. Sadly, I didn’t get to see most of my new family off, since I accidentally slept through my alarm. There were still a few in the lobby, but most of the group had early flights back home.

I aspire to be like Walter Cronkite. I aspire to be like Bob Woodward. But most importantly, I aspire to be myself.

— Camden Metheny

This conference has made an impact on my life as a student journalist, and it’s a way of getting one foot in the door that was opened for me.

With this being my senior year, I want to make an impression. I want to be among the greats. I aspire to be like Walter Cronkite. I aspire to be like Bob Woodward. But most importantly, I aspire to be myself.

Al Neuharth said that “there’s a little S.O.B. in all of us,” and this S.O.B. is going to go far in the journalism world.