(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

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