Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Founded 1901

Royal Purple

Scholastic journalism program celebrates 50 years of educating youth

Keynote speaker Dann Gire speaks to the room about the importance of truth in journalism.

“American journalism represents one of the noblest professions in our nation,” Chicago Daily Herald film critic Dann Gire said during his keynote speech at the 2023 Kettle Moraine Press Association (KEMPA) Fall Scholastic Journalism Conference. This year’s event celebrated the 50th anniversary of the organization, which aims to educate and support students in their media endeavors – whether that be in newspaper, yearbook, online, magazine, broadcasting and more. 

Current and former members of the Kettle Moraine Press Association pose for a group photo celebrating 50 years of programming Friday, Oct. 6 in the University Center.

Over 215 students and advisers from high schools across Wisconsin and Illinois attended the Oct. 6 conference held in the University Center. Special sessions reviewed the history of KEMPA and the noon annual meeting featured cake and a group photo of past KEMPA members. 

Gire’s keynote speech fascinated students, using humor and pop culture references so that it was easy to follow along. Gire started with a game of “fill in the blank,” using lyrics from “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a quote from Jack Nicholson in “A Few Good Men” and a quote from the Bible to emphasize the importance of truth in journalism. 

“Did you know that we journalists share something in common with police detectives, philosophers, researchers and attorneys?” Gire asked his audience. “We see that elusive seemingly amorphous entity we call truth. So what is truth? How does it apply to working journalists and why is it important? Washington Post reporter Carl Bernstein, who along with Bob Woodward, uncovered the Watergate scandal which led to the resignation of President Richard Milhouse Nixon. He observed that what we do as a professional American journalist every day is to quote the best obtainable version of the truth we can. Now a lot of people claim that they’ve got the truth, and it is our mission as journalists to sort through those claims. Now all we need are some people who trust us to our jobs fairly, objectively and accurately.”

Gire explained his various assignments he had reported on early in his career and even walked students through various ethical challenges he has faced. 

“When you leave this convention, be dedicated to the daunting task of obtaining and reporting the best version of the truth you can muster,” Gire said. “But understand one thing. Taking a stand is not the same thing as taking a side. Good people may not be on both sides of an issue, if the issue itself is not good. The truth is not neutral.”

Nearing the end of Gire’s speech, he connected his earlier thoughts to the game he played with his audience earlier.

“I think true journalists are superheroes,” Gire said. “The constitutionally protected defenders of our society, dedicated to protecting the press. You can be a superhero, too. But always remember that the truth will set you free.”

The audience roared, chanting, “the truth will set you free” alongside Gire. When the speech ended, students and advisors left the room with smiles on their faces and pages full of notes to take back with them to implement in their own reporting. 

Despite the conference being only four hours long, 22 individual sessions were held for both advisers and students ranging from photojournalism, ethics and controversial issues. Gire held an individual session titled, “Interviews! How to Conduct and Write Them.” 

“The conference is really interesting,” Arrow Schilling, a junior at Lodi High School, said. “I went to ‘dropping the journalistic f-bomb’ by Stan Zoller, and I learned more about how to report more on professional reports and press releases. I plan on going to college to study journalism, as well. I would definitely recommend this conference to other student journalists. It gives a lot more insight from professional journalists, and it’s very helpful.” 

While the conference was aimed towards the students, advisers had the option of attending individual sessions, as well. 

“I’ve been attending these conferences for 12 years now,” said Kendra Cox, yearbook and newspaper adviser at Durant High School. “I brought my entire staff of eight this year, and they love it. It’s great for the kids to get to see a college campus, since we live in a pretty rural area. It’s also nice to hear the information presented by somebody else, and I can apply it to what we do in the classroom. It’s a pretty great conference, and I think that there’s a lot of value to it.”

Upcoming KEMPA journalism programming includes a Winter Advisers Retreat to be held Feb. 2 and 3 at UW-Whitewater. In the summer, KEMPA will also host a journalism camp July 28-31. Next year’s Fall Scholastic Journalism Conference is set for Friday, Oct. 18. Students and advisers alike have a lot to look forward to from KEMPA throughout this special year of celebrating the organization’s success. 

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