by Jesse Overholser ’15
Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist Signe Wilkinson was the keynote speaker at Germantown Friends School’s Fourth High School Journalism Conference on April 9, delivering career wisdom to the aspiring journalists in attendance, including the message that as journalists, they must be brave and relentless – but, overall, they must be honest.
This year’s conference, sponsored by GFS’s student newspaper, Earthquake, drew more than 175 students from 18 Philadelphia area schools, including SCH and Penn Charter, and Wilkinson spoke on the power of cartooning, and, in particular, where her limits are in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
“For our conference, we looked to the wealth of journalism resources in Philadelphia and beyond, including GFS grads and parents who are top notch in their fields,” said English teacher Anne Gerbner, who is one of the faculty advisors to Earthquake. “Equally important to our mission is the idea that students talk to one another about the issues they face in publishing student news.”
The conference hosted a diverse range of professional journalists, all with some connection to the school, and each hosted at least one student workshop session. Karen Heller, formerly of The Philadelphia Inquirer and current feature writer at The Washington Post, taught the art of the profile, with the students reading and dissecting profiles. Dr. Erica Dunbar, GFS Class of ’90, delivered a talk on writing about race, and Philadelphia Inquirer reporter Allison Steele, GFS Class of ’98, held a workshop on crime reporting. During lunch, students chose between roundtable discussions with the visiting journalists and a student group to share best practices.
Closing out the conference, Vanity Fair and The Atlantic contributor Jeff Stern, GFS Class of ’04, who held two workshops earlier in the day, delivered a talk on the ethics of journalism. He shared two specific ethical dilemmas he had to face in his own job, and asked students to share what they thought he should have done.
“Many school newspapers are written and produced between sports practices, choir and homework assignments,” Gerbner said. “We want [our conference] to encourage and inspire student writers to work on their writing, to be trained in the art of long-form, well-researched investigative journalism, and to reflect on ethical issues.”