Our Experience at Nationals

PLD Lamplighter attended the National Scholastic Press Association’s annual conference in Washington, D.C. from Nov. 20-24

Throughout the course of our five-day stay, we dove deep into the purpose of student journalism and discussed the best ways to reach and appeal to our audiences. We met with professionals, met a First Amendment hero, attended break-out sessions with top advisers across the nation, and met other student journalists who are as passionate as we are.


During the opening ceremony, we heard from Chuck Todd who discussed his perspective on what it’s like to be part of the press. He emphasized that journalists (and everyone else in the public eye) are humans, too. We have an individual voice. As well as giving facts and reporting what we see, we also have our own opinions that matter just as much as anyone else’s. He said it’s important to separate the two but to recognize that it’s OK to be a human with opinions.

Todd touched on the fact that mainstream and national media have superseded what the news is supposed to be. He encouraged us to cover a new angle and be an information source that is unique. He encouraged us to focus on our own issues and concerns and to report on topics that no one else addresses.

Like our adviser, Mrs. Turner, always says, “You can’t do better than professionals covering national news, but remember that they can’t do better than you at reporting on issues important to teens.”

This was a crucial reminder about proximity: issues and events in our communities need to be highlighted. Journalism is about bringing news to the people and as soon as we forget our audience and put more focus on our subject, we have lost our craft. The most important thing is to not separate the press from the people. Todd reminded us to write stories that matter to our audience.


In a breakout session focused on social media, we discussed the power of social media platforms and why people are so infatuated with them. No matter what platform, social media has become a way for people to document all they do and share it with people all over the world. 

Our social media is really important as a student news source. We have Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. We learned that our audience’s navigation is important. It needs to be eye-catching and specific. People like to recognize themselves in a photo and love to be mentioned in posts. We learned the importance of building a connection with our audience because it will expand our reach. 

While staying professional it is also imperative that some things be light-hearted and relatable. These are social networks that people use so they can meet and hear from other people. Being interactive on these sites is a way to keep an audience and make them want to follow your page. In turn, this will get them to read the issues and events you are reporting on as well. In this session, we were reminded that oftentimes the first thing people read when they wake up, and the last thing they look at before they go to bed. It’s important to stay on top of our social media game.


As a photojournalist being amidst the mayhem is the sweet spot for candid shots. The golden moments come when you find the calm in the chaos. However, photography is not solely dependent on capturing tragedy and dysfunction, but also moments of joy. A picture can illustrate what words sometimes cannot; they can tell a story on their own because of how powerfully they capture human emotion and realism.

We heard professionals discuss how caring should be the heart of journalism, and how the best photos come from compassion, empathy and honesty.


Guest speaker Mary Beth Tinker led a session on speaking out on the issues you are passionate about and changing society to be more open-minded and collaborative. 

It is the 50th anniversary of the Tinker v. Des Moines ruling that helped protect students’ right to free speech and expression under the First Amendment. She pushed us all to think about the stories that we would write if no one was stopping us.

Since 1969 our country has made leaps in the right direction and has made a standard that school officials cannot censor speech unless it invades the rights of others. It was inspiring to hear her story, and how she has continued to fight for student voice.

“You can have just a little bit of courage and still make a difference,” she said. 


We hope to bring everything we learned back to Dunbar to improve our craft, and therefore our product. As passionate student journalists, we are ready to continue to serve our community by producing PLD Lamplighter.