Thousands of high school students poured into a giant ballroom at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel Thursday night to hear a journalism legend.
Bob Woodward was about to give the keynote address at the National High School Journalism Convention, a conference sponsored by the Journalism Education Association and the National Scholastic Press Association.
His speech didn’t disappoint. He asked students how they report for their school publications and related it to his assignments as a reporter at The Washington Post.
I was fascinated as he discussed breaking the Watergate scandal with Carl Bernstein, co-writing the bestselling book “All the President’s Men” and sitting down with President Barack Obama in the Oval Office.
As I walked into the hotel’s bathroom at the end of the event, a girl about 15 or 16 years old turned to me and said, “I felt like he would never stop talking.”
I was bewildered. How is it possible to be a young person interested in journalism and not care about what Bob Woodward – a journalism hero if there ever was one – had to say about investigative reporting?
Still, this wasn’t indicative of the response of the crowd. Most of the students around me listened raptly and asked insightful questions during the Q&A that followed his 35-minute talk. He answered questions about social media, telling students that he thinks reporting Watergate would be more or less the same today.
He warned against getting too comfortable using technology for interviews, telling students that too much reporting today is done via email.
“There’s always a scene to go to,” he said.
But it was interesting to see how a select number of students reacted to his presentation. The students behind me whispered throughout the end of the presentation, comparing the Watergate scandal to “Scandal,” the hit ABC TV show. Some teenagers kept their cellphones out throughout the talk.
My kneejerk reaction was to blame this response on teenagers being shallow and uninterested – when I was 16 years old, I probably wouldn’t have cared much for Bob Woodward, either. I don’t think it’s that simple, though.
Based on the sheer number of tweets related to the convention, a good number of students were using social media to interact in their own way during Woodward’s speech. And the line of students waiting to meet Woodward and get his autograph was quite impressive.