You’ve heard all the stereotypes. Students are apathetic, complacent and unaware of the world around them.
There’s a grain of truth to that statement. But a whole lot of falsity. Just ask the 1,000 student journalists and activists who converged on Washington early this week from every single state for the third annual Campus Progress conference.
On Monday The Nation co-sponsored a journalism training day at the Center for American Progress with over 150 student journalists, featuring speeches by Katrina vanden Heuvel and two of America’s best muckraking journalists, Barbara Ehrenreich and Eric Schlosser, panels on covering corruption and the courts, featuring the likes of Helen Thomas, Dahlia Lithwick, David Corn, John Nichols and yours truly, and workshops on culture, blogging, investigative journalism and reporting beyond the Beltway.
In her lunchtime address, Ehrenreich implored students to focus on issues like race and inequality that are so often excluded from mainstream media. She told a story about how an indifferent editor in a posh Manhattan restaurant agreed to let her do a piece on poverty as long she "made it upscale." Yet by ignored these petty dictates and immersing herself in the lives of her subjects, Ehrenreich has been able to produce such memorable and lasting work as her book, Nickel & Dimed.
Schlosser, the author of the best-selling Fast Food Nation, also spoke of spending years chronicling stories of struggle and injustice: undocumented migrant strawberry pickers in California, workers fighting to unionize for better pay, horrific conditions for employees at massive hog farms, and most recently, for an upcoming book, the millions of Americans incarcerated in prisons. This kind of work isn’t easy, Schlosser said. But it is more necessary than ever.
Excerpts of the journalism conference will soon be available on The Nation‘s website and broadcast in the coming weeks on Radio Nation with Laura Flanders on Air America Radio.
At day-two of the conference on Tuesday, hundreds of activists joined their journalist counterparts. Prominent speakers like legendary investigative reporter Seymour Hersh and Minnesota Congressman Keith Ellison moved beyond cliché by articulating not just the unprecedented challenges faced by college-age Americans, but also the unique assets their generation might bring to politics and the world.
"We’ve completely screwed you guys," Hersh told a room of more thanone thousand. "You’re going to have to do so much better than we did."
But Hersh deviated from a relentless attack on American foreign policyto give his observations on current college students and add a bit of hope.