- The Washington Times - Friday, March 21, 2008

There were enough ebullient spirits at Freedom Forum’s Free Spirit Awards ceremony in the Newseum Wednesday night to almost lift the prestigious new Pennsylvania Avenue building off the ground.

Not with hot air, but with pride.

The forum is the chief funder of operations inside the hulking interactive glass museum dedicated to newsmaking, which opens to the public April 11. Among the nonpartisan foundation’s other projects is an annual four-day spring journalism conference that culminates with $1,000 scholarship awards to Free Spirit Journalism Scholars — two outstanding high school seniors, a boy and a girl, from each state — and a Free Spirit of the Year award to a person of accomplishment in public life. Past recipients have included C-SPAN founder Brian Lamb and newsman Bob Schieffer.

In addition, two of the seniors are selected for $50,000 college scholarships, known as top scholar awards.

The event is a heady one for young people, who come dressed formally for the concluding ceremony, which took place for the first time in the Newseum’s cavernous atrium under a two-story-high viewing screen and a helicopter somewhat incongruously suspended skyward. Larger-than-life video and film played throughout the speech-filled evening, attended by some 350 young people, patrons and guests.

Encomiums abounded. More than ever, the night belonged to Al Neuharth, founder of both the forum and USA Today, present in his signature white jacket and ever ready to spread the project’s theme motto of “Dream Dare Do” — what the chosen Free Spirits are meant to represent.

“Absolutely, be a rebel and absolutely break a few rules. But you have to know the ones to break,” cautioned this year’s Free Spirit of the Year award winner, Cathie Black, a graduate of Washington’s Trinity College who is president of Hearst Magazines and a past president-publisher of USA Today. “It’s not about being bad but about being … good. It’s about caring for what you do and never taking no for an answer.”

Ms. Black’s forte was the advertising and sales end of the publishing business, where she broke many a glass ceiling. March being Women’s History Month, she named as “risk takers and truth tellers” such feminist icons as Gloria Steinem, Helen Gurley Brown and Oprah Winfrey and hailed “the next generation of media moxie … with us tonight.”

They included Kevin Koo, a 2003 Free Spirit top scholar who is on a fellowship at the University of Cambridge and bound for Yale Medical School in the fall. The forum calendar’s daily inspirational sayings have kept him going through many a personal and professional challenge, he said. Catherine Cheney, a Yale sophomore and 2006 top scholar, produced the videos for this year’s conference.

Looking on with appropriate sanguinity were historian Allen Weinstein, archivist of the United States, and Brent Glass, director of the National Museum of American History, both of whose buildings are neighbors for the $240 million Newseum; noted journalists Judy Woodruff, Bill Plante and Bernard Kalb; Orage Quarles III, president and publisher of the News and Observer in Raleigh, N.C.; and author Bette Bao Lord.

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