Pandemonium at the Washington Journalism Conference meant 300 young reporters fighting to get the use of 50 typewriters.
To 16-year-old Jennifer Zaniewski of Millersville, the frenzy was the closest thing to real-life journalism she'd encountered. She filed her story, then wandered through the National Press Club in Washington keeping an eye out for reporters from the Post or CNN.
The young woman, a junior at Archbishop Spalding High School, returned last week from the conference. She was one of 300 high school students from across the country selected to attend the five-day event.
Of the 11 students from Maryland at the conference, three were from Severna Park. Along with Jennifer, Alexis Gardner of Severn School and Kim Thies of Severna Park High School met congressmen, press secretaries and prominent journalists, and learned how press pools work.
The teen-agers observed a press panel with David Broder of the Washington Post and Helen Thomas of UPI. They listened to the Rev. Jesse Jackson talk about his Rainbow Coalition, and Jennifer stayed to chat with Jackson and give him a hug.
Students wrote stories on deadline and attended lectures about foreign affairs and government funding for the arts.
On one afternoon, Jennifer was among those who visited the Mexican embassy. The students were given information packets about the country and then had the chance to ask questions.
"Weinterviewed the guy at the Mexican embassy, and not everybody said, 'Do you have tacos?' " says Jennifer, laughing. "We asked hard questions about gaps in border control and U.S. teens getting arrested without their parents being notified."
Another day, the reporters-in-training experienced a crisis simulation at the Press Club. They were told about a disaster in Haiti, then assembled for a "press conference" with "representatives" of the Red Cross and other international groups.
After the press conference, the students had 15 minutes to write a lead paragraph for a story about the disaster, and their stories were later critiqued by journalists participating in the program.
Barbara Harris, chairman of the Youth Journalism Committee of the National Press Club, which helped sponsor the event, said the conference, in its seventh year, gives young journalists "a real hands-on experience in the news industry. They . . . become part of the Washington press corps -- covering stories, interviewing news-makers."
Jennifer, who had planned to major in journalism in college with the goal of becoming a broadcast journalist, learned from the professionals at the conference that she should major instead in a more specific field of interest.
"I'm going to look into studying foreign affairs at American University or George Washington University," she said.
She also plans to start a newspaper at her high school.
"People have tried in the past, and it never gets off the ground," she said. "I have one more year to make it work."
This wasn't the teen-ager'sfirst introduction to the media, however. She routinely fills in as an "anchor" on her high school's morning TV show, which is aired daily. Every classroom at Archbishop Spalding has a TV monitor, and the program, called "Spalding A.M.," offers news and announcements every morning.
While hard news isn't part of her school beat, Jennifer says, she is learning about television reporting. The school's media consultant, Janet Distasio, reviews the segments with the young journalists, pointing out when they fail to watch the camera or speak too quickly.
"Other teen-agers are really critical, too," says Jennifer."They'll come up and tell you if they think the way you said something was stupid."
Advice from professionals at the journalism conference was more tactful, but the young journalists picked up helpful tips about their writing.
"I learned how to handle attribution and that I need to work on wordiness," says Jennifer, who stayed at the National 4-H Center in Washington. "We were so busy I didn't get much sleep, but the whole experience was fantastic."