A Master Class in Reporting: Bear Facts Attends Byram Hills Journalism Conference

Editors Noelle Castro, Emma Castellano, and Valerie Simpri absorb the wisdom of professionals at the Byram Hils Journalism Conference.

Kyle DeSantis

In December, the Bear Facts newspaper staff, along with its two advisors, attended a journalism conference at Byram Hills High School. Professional journalists hosted a variety of workshops there.

This was Byram Hill’s first time hosting the journalism conference. Via theexaminernews.com, student editors Ali Brocato and Zachary Milewicz came up with the idea for the event after attending the annual Columbia News Conference last year, which attracted students from hundreds of schools around the United States. That conference presented workshops as varied as learning how to interview to the best ways for student publications to move to digital platforms.

With the help of Byram Hills English teacher Catherine Eshoo, the students put together a full day for schools. Students learned various ways to advance their current journalism skills and networked with one another to share their best practices in regard to their schools’ individual publications.

The featured speaker was John Berman, a news anchor for CNN and former news anchor for ABC News. Berman delivered a keynote address to students and supervisors in attendance. In Berman’s address, he spoke about his career from starting off at ABC as a desk assistant working the overnight shift in 1995, to becoming a regular contributor to ABC’s broadcasts including World News with Diane Sawyer, Good Morning America, Nightline, 20/20, as well as being a major contributor to ABCNews.com. Berman covered the 2000 George W. Bush campaign where he “logged more hours with then-candidate Bush than nearly any other reporter, following Bush to 45 states from his early fundraisers through his first months in the White House” (cnn.com). Berman also discussed his coverage of stories “ranging from the war in Iraq to the best way to catch catfish barehanded.”

Additionally, Berman told the audience the story of Mexican journalist Javier Valdez Cardenas, a crusading reporter who fearlessly reported on the drug cartels in his native country (theexaminernews.com). Strongly dedicated to revealing the truth, Valdez was ultimately gunned down in the streets of Mexico as a result of his journalistic exposure of the Mexican drug trade.

To a crowd that included five surrounding high school newspaper staffs, Berman discussed the role of journalists, citing the responsibility that they have to report the truth and shed light on issues that have been ignored and require the spotlight. He finished his keynote with a Q&A session where students and teachers were able to pick his brain on the trade and seek advice for their futures.

Afterwards, there were three workshops that the students could choose to attend. Each was led by a different speaker: Trisha Blackmar, a journalist for Sports Illustrated with 20+ years of experience; Betsy Lombardi, who works as a journalist for lohud.com; and Ali Rosen, a journalist for FiOS 1 News. All were attended by various Bear Facts staff, with this reporter choosing to attend Trisha Blackmar’s workshop, partially because of my interest in going into the sports journalism field in the future, along with Sports Illustrated being an iconic name in sports journalism.

In each speaker’s workshop, there were different talking points. Blackmar’s workshop was about breaking into the sports reporting industry, citing her past experience as example. Lohud’s Betsy Lombardi’s discussed how social media can promote a newspaper’s profile, while Ali Rosen talked about the role of the local reporter and the audience’s need to get into the story through the use of eyewitness reports and man-on-the-street interviews.

Afterwards, the students were treated to a catered lunch and given time where they shared their individual publications with other schools. The Bear Facts staff had the pleasure of giving every attendee a copy of our latest issue, giving us the ability to share what is “news” in Brewster, as well as to reach beyond the boundaries of our community.

Overall, the 1st Byram Hills Journalism Conference was an informative experience that the attendees will remember over time, one that we hope to repeatedly attend in the coming years.