The Excalibur staff takes advantage of MediaFest22 candid moments

I never thought I’d attend a conference on journalism during my college years. To stand in a ballroom full of students, advisors, professionals, and a few celebrities was even more of a surreal experience. I felt gratitude when I realized that the major players of the MC Excalibur staff were with me at the MediaFest22 conference in Washington, DC during the fall of 2022.

The conference was hosted by several journalism organizations including the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), College Media Association (CMA), and the Associated Collegiate Press (CMA). According to SPJ’s report announcing MediaFest22, it was the “first time SPJ, CMA, and ACP hosted a national conference together.”

Each of those organizations brought their members, 6,000 of them from SPJ, to facilitate and attend sessions on various new reporting topics. I could tell from the plethora of journalists, photographers, freelance writers, recruiters, and advisors that this occasion would be full of opportunities.

People from across the nation were taking pictures, seeking career advice, and waiting for the chance to see the famous reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward. The two captivated up and coming photographers eager to get the perfect shot of the two men who reported on the 1970s Watergate scandal that exposed former president Richard Nixon.

Being all thumbs when it comes to pictures, I encouraged Jada Hoffman, photography editor at the time, and the other Excalibur photographers present to be bold even in the massive crowd.

I was proud to see these photographers act with confidence in such a busy event. Our school was one of many that showed up to learn more about working for the newspaper. However, the Excalibur staff was not shy about capturing key people and moments. One big win was the picture of John Quinones captured by Excalibur photographer Diego Larin. Quinones is known for hosting the show “What Would You Do.”


(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)

Another proud moment was seeing the appreciation in the staff members. I recognized the opportunity as a training period for us, and I saw the same understanding in members like Vimbanashe Mabvaru, incoming editor-in-chief, who attended the conference despite logistical challenges. Some of our newspaper counterparts from the Rockville campus opted not to go, which presented the space for Mabvaru to join us at the Hyatt.

We arrived each morning dressed as professional journalists, rushed from session to session, and timed our arrivals for keynote speakers so we’d have a chance to claim seats. In the breakout rooms, we took notes and participated in discussions that made the event even more personal. In an instance time stood still and I realized I was an editor-in-chief in a roundtable discussion with other editor-in-chiefs from colleges more populous than Montgomery College.

I attended a session exclusively for editor-in-chiefs from schools around the country. Present but feeling somewhat out of place, I heard leaders from other colleges seek guidance from seasoned reporters of the Associated Press, NBC, and other news outlets. Some editors spoke of the challenges of not having enough staff to write or publish stories. Another editor-in-chief asked for possible solutions as he had to work year-round without the support of the school staff or resources.

Vimbainashe Mabvaru, incoming editor-in-chief, stands on the roof of the Martin Luther King, Jr. library. The Excalibur team found seats to enjoy lunch a few blocks away from the MediaFest host hotel, the Hyatt. Photo credit, Diego Larin

For the Excalibur, being members of the school student-run newspaper includes having an advisor that supports and teaches us based on her extensive journalism background. I learned at the conference that at other schools, having a student-run newspaper means just that; the students, sometimes alone, run the newspaper. We have been fortunate to have the supervision of our published and awarded media advisor.

Before the conference, our media advisor, Professor Lisa Nevans Locke, was our main guide for developing the standard of news writing. In fact, it was the professor who secured the funds from the college so the seven of us students go to the conference.

The professor advised us on strategic approaches to attending conferences such as MediaFest which normally last several days. She explained the newspaper language we heard and needed to learn. We now refer to our club room as the newsroom and recognize the elements of the news story according to the AP stylebook.

(left to right) Vimbainashe Mabvaru, Professor Lisa Nevans Locke, Leslie Quinonez, Jada Hoffman, Diego Larin, Samantha Miranda, Kaitlin Beckford, and Jonathan Spires gather for a group photo at the SPJ conference.

I pursued the editor position to improve my writing. My time at the SPJ conference improved not only my writing, but my perspective on presenting information and managing a newsroom team. More importantly, after attending the SPJ conference the Excalibur team has developed a system that maintains information integrity, includes source attribution, and uses communication to overcome challenges in the copy-flow process.

The incoming editors are familiar with their roles and the needs of the newspaper. Excalibur stories follow the same writing structure seen on other news platforms. We’ve had workshops to formulate captions, discussions on copyright law, and have increased our visibility in the MC community.

Conferences like the SPJ conference happen every year. SPJ has already begun marketing for MediaFest23, which is scheduled to be in Las Vegas during the last week of Sep. 2023. If I could, I would attend the conference every year. As parting editor-in-chief, I would recommend any writer or photographer to make the trip if possible.