The Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference brings high school seniors together to focus on and learn about different industry aspects like investigative and international journalism. The prestigious event was founded by Al Neuharth, most well-known for establishing USA Today.
Only one senior journalism student per state is chosen to represent at the annual conference. This year, Xavier Prep’s Layla Torres was selected to represent Arizona.
“The main purpose of the conference is to inspire students to pursue journalism and to let them see how inclusive it’s become throughout history, partly because of Al Neuharth,” Torres said. “His main objective in making his newspaper was to implement inclusivity for all people and the hundreds of other factors that make us diverse and unique.”
According to Layla, Neuharth’s motto was ‘dream, dare, do,’ and this conference aims to help young, aspiring journalists realize their potential.
Layla was editor-in-chief of Xavier’s online newspaper, XPress, for the 2021-2022 school year. She learned about the conference from her journalism advisor Brian Mostoller.
Along with an initial application, Layla had to submit copies of previous articles, write two essays and provide transcripts and letters of recommendation to be considered for the delegate position. Layla received a scholarship from the foundation after attending the conference.
Layla said that during the event, it was her responsibility to provide insight from her school about how they publish stories.
“Although our newspaper only has about 15 students, we’ve come a long way this year, especially in obtaining a difficult award from a platform used by journalism groups in the country and beyond,” she said.
This year, XPress won a national first-place award for design and writing by the American Scholastic Press Association.
Each school is evaluated by multiple factors using a point system, and that first place schools score between 850-1000: content coverage, page design, consistency and organization, art, photos, editing and creativity are each worth a certain amount.
“This was a trailblazing year for XPress. We struggled, but through all the struggles, I am very happy and honored to showcase our award-winning site and what I consider our best newspaper cycle yet,” Torres added. “In representing Arizona at the conference, I represent our newspaper, a small website that reached great heights this year.”
“I am so proud of our staff for working so hard,” Mostoller said. “These young women have become insightful interviewers and writers and are well on their way to becoming fine journalists in college and beyond.”