Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference


The annual Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference for high school juniors returns to the nation’s capital June 24-29, 2023.

After three years of online meetings, the Freedom Forum is pleased to welcome students again to in-person activities including remarks from top journalists and visits to the U.S. Capitol and other landmarks in Washington, D.C.

Students selected for the program receive an all-expenses-paid trip and a $1,000 scholarship to the college of their choice.

The application period for the 2023 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference is now closed. However, we still are accepting applications from current high school juniors from South Carolina and Louisiana.

The program was established in 1999 to honor Al Neuharth, founder of The Freedom Forum and USA TODAY. The conference is designed to inspire and encourage students to pursue journalism. Today there are more than 1,400 “Free Spirits” including journalists working for The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Baltimore Sun, ESPN and network-affiliated TV stations.

Free Spirits have been described as people who “dream, dare, do.” Those are words that conference participants demonstrate each day, and they are the program’s motto. 

“A free spirit can also be a risk-taker, a visionary, an innovative leader, or a courageous achiever who accomplishes great things beyond his or her circumstances,” said Neuharth, who died in 2013.


Joon Lee, class of 2012, MA

“The Freedom Forum and the Free Spirit program confirmed to me that working in media was what I wanted to do with my life. Through the experiences provided by Free Spirit, I began to see a bigger world beyond my community and visiting places like the White House and meeting a civil rights hero like John Lewis made me realize that the heroes that we like to put on pedestals were in fact human beings too. The Free Spirit program not only poured gasoline on my passion for media and journalism, but made me dream bigger.”

Joon Lee, staff writer at ESPN and Free Spirit (2012) representing Massachusetts

Joon Lee, class of 2012, MA
Angel Brock, classs of 2011, DC

“Participating in the Al Neuharth Free Spirit program taught me the importance of freedom as a journalist and how the First Amendment helps enforce and protect that ability. I take every lesson, every skill and every message taught through this program with me every day as I continue to excel in my journalism career.”

Angel Brock, news producer, WBNS 10TV in Columbus, Ohio and Free Spirit (2011) representing the District of Columbia 

Angel Brock, classs of 2011, DC
Mary Pilon, class of 2004, OR (Phillip Van Nostrand)

“The Freedom Forum's scholarship and program changed my life. Being exposed to what journalism could be in high school let me know what was possible and enabled me to continue to pursue it at college and beyond my wildest dreams professionally. I simply wouldn't be doing what I do for a living and loving it if it weren't for the Freedom Forum and their early support.”

Mary Pilon, author, freelance journalist and Free Spirit (2004) representing Oregon (Photo credit: Phillip Van Nostrand)

Mary Pilon, class of 2004, OR (Phillip Van Nostrand)
David Wolfe Bender, class of 2019, IN

“Any student interested in journalism, communications, policy, or law will return home from this conference with new insights and ideas that will make them better reporters, editors, students, and world citizens. The Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference propelled me into my college coursework and into covering politics as a reporter. I am forever grateful for everything I gained from the experience.”

David Wolfe Bender, Indiana University Class of 2024 and Free Spirit (2019) representing Indiana

David Wolfe Bender, class of 2019, IN

How to Apply

To apply for the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference, you’ll complete the online application form (including information about you, your school and your academic, student media and extracurricular activities) and upload the required materials. Submitting application materials through the online portal is preferred.

Required materials such as letters of recommendation may also be emailed to [email protected] if you are unable to upload them. Materials that are emailed must be attached as PDFs or Word documents. Do not send Google document links.

All applicants will be notified by mid-May whether or not they have been selected for the program.

The Freedom Forum makes all determinations without regard to race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, or any other protected classification.


Contact [email protected] with any additional questions.

Free Spirits Answer Al Neuharth’s Call to ‘Dream. Dare. Do.’

Al Neuharth, founder of USA TODAY and the Freedom Forum, had a powerful call to action for young journalists: Dream, Dare and Do.

It’s the motto of the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference, an annual program that each June brings top high school journalists from across the United States together for a week of programming focused on journalism and the First Amendment.

From having a big impact in a small town, to landing jobs at some of the top newspapers and media brands in the country, to launching something new, Free Spirit alumni continue to Dream, Dare and Do in ways that foster First Amendment freedoms for all.

Previous Scholars