Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference

Applications for the 2024 Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference are no longer being accepted.

Information about the 2025 conference will be posted in October. Contact us at [email protected] if you would like to be notified.


The annual Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference for high school juniors returns to the nation’s capital June 22-27, 2024. The Freedom Forum is pleased to welcome students to a week of activities including panels with 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 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 1,500 “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.


Taylor McGraw

Taylor McGraw – Class of 2008
Executive Director and Co-Founder of The Bell

“I'm not exaggerating to say that the Free Spirit conference changed the trajectory of my life. It led to my first professional journalism internship and, even more importantly, taught me the importance of young people from different backgrounds coming together to share their stories. It's no coincidence that I now lead a nonprofit that trains and supports high school journalists.”

Taylor McGraw
Abha Bhattarai

Abha Bhattarai – Class of 2004
Economics Correspondent at The Washington Post

"The Free Spirit conference showed me what was possible in journalism. It was my first glimpse into the world of real-life reporters and confirmed that my passions — uncovering stories, talking with people, and writing — could become a career. The week in Washington, D.C. was exhilarating, and I left feeling certain that I wanted to be a journalist.”

Abha Bhattarai
Derrell Bouknight

Derrell Bouknight – Class of 2014
Associate News Producer at CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network

"The Free Spirit conference was a transformative experience, one that laid the foundation for my life as a broadcast journalist. Al Neuharth's mantra of “dream, dare, do” has encouraged me to take risks while propelling my storytelling in a way that highlights individuals from different walks of life throughout the country. The conference, and the 50 friends I made along the way, remains an integral part of my life.”

Derrell Bouknight
Aimee Cho

Aimee Cho – Class of 2012
General assignment reporter at NBC Washington

“The Free Spirit program was truly an incredible, life changing experience. I met so many wonderful friends and speakers, and it confirmed for me that I wanted to pursue journalism.”

Aimee Cho

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. ALL application materials are required to be uploaded in the online application.

All supplemental application materials (transcripts, essays, etc) must be uploaded directly to your online application as preferably PDFs. (Word Documents are also permissible.) Do not send Google document links.

All applicants will be notified by mid-May whether 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.

Al Neuharth in His Own Words

From Al Neuharth, Founder of the Freedom Forum, USA TODAY and the Free Spirit and Journalism Conference:

“Free press, free speech and free spirit.

The first two are easy to grasp:

Free Press: The freedom to print or broadcast without censorship.

Free Speech: The freedom to speak without compromise.

Free Spirit is harder to define.

Free spirits dream, dare and do. A free spirit can also be a risk-taker, a visionary, an innovative leader, an entrepreneur or a courageous achiever who accomplishes great things beyond his or her normal circumstances.

The Freedom Forum is committed to nurturing freedom across the USA. We hope the information on this website will inspire you to join in our mission to promote free press, free speech and free spirit for all people.”

Free Spirit Essays

Previous Scholars