Looking ahead, Michael Geheren says he sees himself as the producer of a network news show. To get there the Huntley High School senior will need a little luck and – here’s the easy part – be as good of a producer as he has been recently. Beginning with the 2011 blizzard, during which Geheren started a project that sparked a change in the high school’s journalism program, Geheren’s dogged determination and why-not-try approaches have produced attention-getting results.
The most recent yield is a $1,000 college scholarship from the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference, which awards scholarships annually to high school seniors interested in pursuing a career in journalism. One student per state, plus the District of Columbia, is selected with winning students also receiving an all-expense-paid trip to the Al Neuharth Free Spirit and Journalism Conference held at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
“I really applied not thinking I was going to win it, ” Geheren confessed. “I just thought it would cool if I did, but I’m not as qualified as some of the other people.”
Geheren, a Huntley resident who worked for the Huntley Patch previously, leaves for the five-day conference this weekend and will be blogging about his experience at geherenmedia.tumblr.com.
“I’m so excited I haven’t even started packing,” said Geheren, who, with other winners, will watch a July 15th taping of NBC’s “Meet the Press” followed by a Q&A session with moderator David Gregory. The group also will tour Newseum, a 250,000 square foot museum of news and history, and meet with Al Neuharth, founder and publisher of the USA Today, the Freedom Forum and the Newseum.
“(The Newsuem) is the best museum I’ve ever been to,” said Geheren, who visited the attraction in 2008. “And not just because I like journalism, but because it’s just so fascinating. For example, they have pieces of the Berlin Wall and just some other amazing things.”
Among the other activities planned for the attending students are a meeting with Bob Schaeffer, host of CBS’ Sunday morning staple “Face The Nation”, and a tour of the White House, the U.S. Capitol, the 9-11 Memorial, and the Decatur House as well as attend educational seminars and a mock trial at a U.S. District Court.
Geheren, 17, says he doesn’t recall how he learned about the Al Neuharth scholarship, but he does remember spending several days filling out the application and writing the two requested essays, one of which had to focus on the characteristics that make him a “free spirit”. As an example, Geheren cited February 1, 2011, the day a blizzard hammered the Chicago area. Homebound, Geheren, the then Design Editor for the Huntley High School newspaper The Voice, went to work setting up the first online version of the publication and even purchased the “Huntley Voice” domain name.
“I was going to buy ‘The Voice.com’, and I had feeling it was going to be gone, but I went to ‘The Voice.com’ and it was the first promotion for the NBC (reality) show ‘The Voice’”, Geheren said. “So when the show exploded later that summer, I had heard about (the show) because I had been trying to buy ‘The Voice.com’”.
With the Huntley Voice site online, Geheren says Huntley journalism instructor Dennis Brown began to incorporate it into the curriculum. This isn’t to say, though, that everything went as planned.
“We launched the web site (in September 2011) and it was kind of a train wreck the first semester,” Geheren said. “I mean, it worked. The content was there.”
But a system in which editors and writers could efficiently work wasn’t. As a result, the staff created a new system and transitioned to it in December 2011. Then a funny thing happened. The online version for The Huntley Voice was nominated for a National Scholastic Press Association (NSPA) Online Pacemaker award, which it won last April.
Geheren says winning the award was truly a team effort and emphasized the hard work put in by Managing Online Editor Joe Cristo and Associate Online Editors Yazmin Dominguez, Holly Baldacci and Kierra Renwick.
“I just created (the site),” Geheren said. “They pushed the content. If it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have won. The editors, last year, were excellent at what they did so it wasn’t just me. It was our whole staff. Somehow Huntley – in the middle of nowhere – has this amazing journalism program.”
Geheren also demonstrated a free spirit upon entering Huntley High School, convincing Brown that the practice of disallowing freshman from participating in the student newspaper because of the forthcoming workload was one that Brown should re-examine.
“He let me (into the program); I don’t know why,” Geheren said. “And it was tough.”
In addition to the Al Neuharth scholarship and the (NSPA) Online Pacemaker award, Geheren’s banner year got another boost last month when he was named to the
Illinois Journalism Education Association 2012 All-State team. Also, at Media Now STL, a high school digital media workshop held at Lindenwood University, in St. Charles, Missouri, Geheren won the Best Staff Resource award for a training program he created to educate Huntley students who are new to the school’s online publication.
During the school year Geheren works for the The Mash, the Chicago Tribune’s publication for high school teens, and blogs for the Huffington Post’s teen section. He is also a member of the Huntley Community Radio production staff and serves as a web and graphic designer.
Late this summer Geheren and other members of the Huntley Voice will travel to Iowa to participate in the Iowa High School Press Association Journalism Workshops.