Voices of the Clarion: Absence makes job fun

Conference in D.C. shows how exciting, important position can be

Posted: Sunday, October 30, 2005

I love being at home, but sometimes you just have to experience a little adventure.

When I found out last summer that I was chosen to go to a newspaper seminar in Virginia, I was definitely looking forward to some adventure. And, despite my fear of flying, I was quite excited. Normally, just flying to Anchorage makes me panic-stricken. But for some reason, I actually wanted to go.

The trip was set for September, just days after a dog agility trial — where dogs run an obstacle course and handlers frantically try to keep up with them, all the while trying to appear that they're in control.

I've been to lots of agility trials in the last few years, but this was my first time chairing one. Let's just say it was the first time I didn't get all stressed out about running with my dogs — I didn't have time.

The chance to go to the seminar — even though it meant getting on that plane — was a welcome one.

As the trip neared, however, I began to have my doubts. What-ifs started to creep into my thoughts, and I was starting to regret my decision to go.

By the time I got on the plane, though, I was so tired from worrying about the trip that I nearly slept the entire nine hours. OK, two hours — I said nearly.

When I arrived in Reston, Va., I was exhausted, yet sort of exhilarated. For one thing, the weather was so much warmer than Kenai. For another, for the first time I could recall, I had an entire hotel room to myself — no husband, no dogs. I had to keep telling myself, "This is for work; this is only for work."

There were other representatives there from Morris Communications. In fact, it was interesting to go all the way to Virginia to meet the editor of the Juneau Empire.

It also was great to commiserate with so many in my position. There were 24 of us from across the United States and Panama, Puerto Rico, Edmonton and Nova Scotia.

We spent a week listening to speakers, taking lots of notes, exchanging ideas, creating new ideas and solving a lot of the mysteries that surround our jobs.

OK, so we really didn't solve the mysteries, but the rest of it is true.

Still, no matter how much I learned — and I dare say I believe I learned more than anyone there — nothing impressed me more than the Freedom Forum. The forum is a nonpartisan foundation dedicated to free press, free speech and free spirit for all people. The foundation focuses on the Newseum (a museum for the history of news), the First Amendment and newsroom diversity.

I thought when we entered the room that day to hear all about the forum, that I was finally going to catch up on my sleep. Boy was I wrong. John Seigenthaler and Ken Paulson, both on the board of trustees, made quite an impression on us with their clever quiz to find out how much we actually knew about the First Amendment.

Let's just say I know a lot more now than I ever expected to. Like, do you know what John Lennon, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra and the song, "Louie, Louie," have in common? They all have files with the FBI. This, I'm certain, will come in handy during a Trivial Pursuit game.

One thing is for sure, I won't soon forget the valuable lessons they taught me about the role the Clarion plays in those freedoms, and how important my job is.

After our quiz, we were free to venture on our own for the first time, and since we were just across the river from Washington, D.C., some of us decided to play tourist.

I had never been to D.C., so the opportunity was exciting. We took the Metro to the station closest to the White House. Emerging from the subway, the Washington Monument towered above us as we hiked toward the president's home.

Then, three helicopters flew overhead. President Bush was returning from the U.N.

Unfortunately, as he landed, security backed us up so far we couldn't even see the lawn. We settled for a long hike to the back of the White House in 90-degree muggy heat. The picture someone snapped of us says it all: sweaty, red-faced and forced smiles.

From there we explored the Lincoln Memorial and tributes to Vietnam and World War II veterans. You could feel a sense of awe and respect as silence fell over those who were there. It was so peaceful. So powerful.

I can tell you that no matter what your political preference, it is hard not to get caught up in all of the history that has taken place to shape our nation. It is an incredible feeling of pride to stand where so many role models, movers and shakers and heroes have stood.

When we had hiked until we could no longer feel our legs, we decided it was time to catch a cab into Georgetown for a good meal.

The group split into two, and four of us hopped into a PT Cruiser. The driver started what I assume was his usual line of conversation.

"Where you guys from?"

We rattled off our states.

"New Jersey."

"Missouri."

"Alaska."

"Alaska? Ever heard of Cooper Landing?" he asked.

Thousands of miles away from home, I managed to step into the cab of a man from Cooper Landing.

As you might expect with a group of newsgathering fanatics, the next morning at the seminar I was greeted with, "So, I heard about your cab driver last night."

News does, indeed, travel fast.

I'd like to tell you I slept all the way home, but a trip such as this one inspired and rejuvenated me like no other. I couldn't wait to get home and share my experiences — the lessons, the ideas, the plans and the stories.

I had the best time. I learned so much more than I ever expected. But aside from all of the lessons, advice and memories I experienced, I couldn't wait to get back home.

It was the best plane ride I ever had.

Dori Lynn Anderson is the managing editor for the Clarion.



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