Why are we here?

(in which UM J School grade Madelyn Beck ponders the meaning of her existence while competing at the Hearst Journalism Award finals in SF).

Here on day No. 2 in San Francisco for the Hearst Competition, I found out why we’re here.

No, not why human beings exist on planet Earth. I mean, why the Hearst organization spent so much to put journalism students and recents grads in a super-fancy hotel and feed us beautiful, catered food with an open bar. I mean, why fly over 20 of us from across the US to compete for more of their money?

The answer starts with breakfast. I went out with some photojournalists and television reporters to a random, really beautiful place on the other side of San Francisco. I suggested we just walk to the bakery next door, but others insisted this far-away place would be better.

And then sent out an Uber request.

Uber is a ride-share thing where you pay a stranger come pick you up in their personal car. Kind of like a taxi service without the hassle of accreditation. Sketchy aspects aside, the service is generally a good way to get drunk people home and a way to earn money while enjoying long car rides and meeting new people. However, I’d never used it and was skeptical.

Upon our safe Uber delivery, I realized that venturing out was a good choice. And then I bit into my Thai curry-flavored apricot and coconut scone. I then decided it was a great choice.

That night, the entire crew of print and broadcast contestants came together for dinner. There, we were told why each individual was selected from a total pool of over a thousand applicants. From exposing rampant heroine abuse to photographing tears in the eyes of Michael Brown’s mother in Ferguson, we simply told stories in extraordinary ways.

That was when I realized why we needed to be there. Yes, our work deserves recognition, but that’s not why. We needed to be there because by seeing the best of the best and realizing that we’re so similar in age and ability, we challenge each other to do even better.

From taking a new angle on old issues to dragging each other out on exciting Uber explorations, us great journalists expand each other’s worlds and inspire change.

For me, they’ve shown me the best, and I intend to use it to tell great stories.

Well, that and get occasional delicious scones.

Madelyn Beck

How I almost missed the plane that could take me to my first big break in journalism…

(Recent UM J School grad Madelyn Beck is on her way to the national finals of the Hearst Journalism Awards.  Here’s an update on her travels to the San Francisco event.  She shows true journalistic ingenuity as she overcomes obstacles at the airport.)

 There’s a point in every great journey, just after taking off, when any sane person looks around and thinks: “What the hell have I done?”

Breaking into a cold sweat, the realization comes that you’re too far to go back. For me, it came shortly after the plane took off from the Bozeman airport.

The day had started with a bang after I nearly missed my first flight. Apparently, printing a boarding pass for Alaskan Airlines is actually impossible within 45 minutes of boarding time. It’s not like I over-slept. If anything I under-slept as I got up at 3 a.m. after tossing and turning most of the night as the drunk people upstairs kept pumping music and arguing over dumb things.

In my ignorance, I had merely decided to let my sister sleep until 5:15 before forcing her to drive me to the airport for my 6:10 a.m. flight.

One woman from the United Airlines told me that since I missed the time limits and hadn’t checked my large bag, I was out of options and would have to wait. I asked if there was anything at all I could do. Anything. At all. She said no, and if it was with her airlines, she’d make me wait. So, I fought the man and ran upstairs to security.

Once upstairs, I pulled some technological magic. I used my phone to take a picture of a PDF of the ticket I had saved on my laptop’s desktop. Then, using my phone’s picture of the barcode, I was somehow able to scan in.

But what about the massive bag? Well, luck and kindness helped there. I threw out my shampoo and conditioner, acted really panicked, and they just let it slide (though I did end up having to pay a checking fee at the gate…it was a really big bag).

And then the plane took off, and I was faced with the fact that I was going to San Francisco by myself to compete as a radio broadcaster for a possible $5000 prize. All the stupid mistakes I had ever made popped into my head and I thought: “Man, why am I here? These guys who are rooting for me are going to be so disappointed when I fail. I couldn’t even make it to the airport on time!”

But, once I actually got into the city and had to work out the subway system and the hotel room and finding food completely on my own, I realized that I had as good a chance as anyone else. And hey, if nothing else, it’s a free trip to San Francisco.