Anna Christoph, shown above in front of the White House, attended the Washington Journalism and Media Conference July 7 to 12 this past summer with over 200 other high school juniors and seniors. They participated in activities designed to refine their journalistic skills and attended lectures held by professionals in the news industry.   SUBMITTED PHOTO
Anna Christoph, shown above in front of the White House, attended the Washington Journalism and Media Conference July 7 to 12 this past summer with over 200 other high school juniors and seniors. They participated in activities designed to refine their journalistic skills and attended lectures held by professionals in the news industry. SUBMITTED PHOTO
One letter made all the difference for Anna Christoph's summer break. She had the privilege of attending the Washington Journalism and Media Conference (WJMC) at George Mason University near Washington, D.C., from July 7 through 12. Due to the impact WJMC made on her, Anna is now considering a career path in the journalism industry. As an incoming junior at Fillmore Central High School, Anna is only a few years from capitalizing on those experiences and opportunities. "I hope I won't forget it," she stated.

Anna got the mail during the early winter of 2012 and found something she wasn't expecting. It was a letter from WJMC notifying her that an anonymous person had nominated her to attend the conference and she would have an opportunity to be selected to attend. In order to express her interest in attending, Anna was required to send in an essay that couldn't be longer than one page.

"I thought it would be really cool, meeting people my age," she said. It was that feeling that prompted her to try to see if she would be accepted. She decided to look back at essays she had already written and sent one off to the WJMC in December after making a few revisions.

By mid-January, a reply letter was sent congratulating her on being accepted with approximately 236 of her peers from throughout the nation. Then, all Anna needed to do was to wait for July to roll around.

Since the conference was in Fairfax, Va., which is close to Washington, D.C., Anna, her younger sister and grandfather made a family vacation out of the trip eastward. They left a few days early for the conference and returned a few days later.

During conference for young writers, Anna stayed on the campus of George Mason University with the other attendees, most of whom were not from Minnesota. In fact, Anna was sure she was the only person from southern Minnesota to make the conference. This made interacting with non-Midwesterners interesting as they started to ask her about her accent. But she soon found that she could fit right in.

"After you got past the first day, it was amazing," she explained.

All conference attendees received a press badge upon arrival and were directed to set up a blog to chronicle their experiences. Throughout the next several days, the hours would be packed with speeches from professional journalists, group activities and tours of Washington, D.C.

Things started off right away on the second day when the group visited the Newseum, a museum dedicated to sharing the history of news. Anna and her group put together a skit based on the 9/11 exhibit in the museum. According to her, their topic was the most difficult one to give a presentation on because of its sensitivity.

On the third day, sports journalists from ESPN set up a panel discussion. "There were a lot of guys that were drooling over them," shared Anna, who said she didn't get into the sports like others did. However, she admitted that, "the sports journalists were funny and the hams."

Later that day, however, NBC's Today co-host and news anchor Hoda Kotb visited the conference when everyone was at the National Press Club. Anna enjoyed listening to her and her stories of many failures, yet ultimate successes.

"We heard over and over that the field will be challenging," described Anna.

Not all of the speakers appealed to Anna like Kotb did. The next day she saw a photojournalist "cry the entire time" while describing her life's problems and difficulty of her work.

Professionals from C-SPAN held another panel discussion later that day.

Other group activities had the students put together a mock press conference for a star athlete embroiled in a drug scandal. In addition to holding the press conference, the groups also needed to generate a newspaper article for the story.

"We were really getting into it. The group projects were fun," said Anna.

Working together as a group helped Anna see that everyone was at a different skill level regarding journalism. Some had little journalistic experience, but loved writing, while others had already started working for their local newspapers.

Anna got to put some of her skills to the test when she visited U.S. Representative Tim Walz's office and interviewed Walz's press secretary.

"At first it was nerve wracking and even the building was intimidating, but I had to remind myself that she was a normal person," explained Anna.

Anna asked questions about hot-button issues such as abortion and gay marriage and gained confidence as she did. "I can go up and talk to people and be more confident in myself," she stated.

Other skills she realized she could work on while still in high school related to becoming more neutral in her reporting.

As a writer, Anna likes to do it for fun, but she also writes for her high school's newspaper. With the WJMC experience, she realized that giving the facts and not persuading people to one side or the other is important.

She pointed out, however that many news networks today, "have to make it sound glorified."

"I'm going to attempt to be more neutral in my reporting," Anna stated.

She also said she will try to take on more stories, ideas, and overall write more often. "I know I want to write stuff whether it is free writing or in newspapers," she explained. "I don't want to let that go."

Anna will have to balance her writing with being a part of band, choir, the spring play/musical and photography club, which she wants to join this year because of what she learned during her experiences at WJMC.

There will be other opportunities and learning experiences Anna expects will come from having attended the WJMC.

"I could go back next year and be in a leadership role," she considered. Even if she doesn't, Anna has already discovered the importance of journalism in her life now and very possibly in the future.