MC Excalibur faculty advisor highlights staff experience at MediaFest22

An Associated Press White House correspondent and two other high-flying female journalists of color had just finished their keynote address to nearly 2,000 student and professional journalists in a plush convention center ballroom in Washington, D.C.

“We’re going to try to interview the speakers,” proclaimed two Excalibur photographers, weaving their way toward the front of the crowd as if they had done this for years.

Kaitlin Beckford and Jada Hoffman had been journalists on the Takoma Park/Silver Spring campus for less than a year – and before the conference, I might have described them as shy or reserved. Their newfound confidence emerged at the Society of Professional Journalists’ MediaFest 2022 in October, co-sponsored with the College Media Association and Associated Collegiate Press and held at the Grand Hyatt hotel.

For three days, seven Excalibur journalists and I – the newspaper’s advisor – soaked in information about topics from new digital tools to copyright to design, from spotting disinformation to getting a job. As the students became more sophisticated consumers and producers of news, they started to view themselves more confidently as journalists.

Excalibur photographer Diego Larin was the first to arrive every morning and stayed late each evening, sporting a suit, tie and professional demeanor that impressed his newsroom colleagues. Larin recorded a brief interview with ABC News Correspondent John Quinones on the first day of the convention; when he ran into Quinones the next day, the celebrity remembered Larin’s name. It turns out Quinones’ own early life story was similar to that of Larin. Impressive, indeed.

(left to right) John Quinones, host of the show “What Would You Do?”, and MC Excalibur photographer Diego Larin pose at the SPJ conference. (Photo credit, Diego Larin)

Larin hopes to become a lawyer and said he especially enjoyed the media law sessions such as Privacy 101. Photographer Leslie Quinonez said she learned to think differently about photography thanks to a session on photojournalism ethics. She hadn’t considered the ethical implications of staging or cropping photos prior to this convention.

Inspired by an “AP Style Smackdown,” Samantha Miranda, our assistant editor, has become the newspaper’s AP Style guru. Editor-in-Chief Jonathan Spires relished swapping ideas for recruiting reporters and increasing readership with his colleagues at four-year institutions.

Then there’s Vimbainashe Mabvaru, who had been in the U.S. for just 12 weeks when she joined the Excalibur. A last-minute substitute, Mabvaru said she was most inspired by the keynote speakers who urged students to be unwilling to back down, which she termed an important reminder to students to keep chasing their dreams.

Less than six months later, Mabvaru is following that advice. She has been named the Excalibur’s next editor-in-chief.

The conference was about more than improving Excalibur staffers’ skills as journalists. I could see their “imposter syndrome” fade away as they felt accepted and embraced in this real-world setting.

That first day of the convention, Beckford and Hoffman got their interview. The next day, they wanted to photograph keynote speakers Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. Instead of hanging back in the aisles to shoot photos, Beckford, Hoffman and Larin crouched on the floor down front with a handful of others, just a few feet from journalism royalty. They were right where they belonged.