Fall Symposium 2009

JAWS CAMP 2009 l

JAWS 25th Anniversary: 2009 Conference

By Katy June-Friesen

From Mexico, the Philippines, sub-Saharan Africa and all corners of the United States, 135 women trekked to Utah’s Wasatch Mountains and the Snowbird Ski Resort for the JAWS 25th Anniversary Camp. By the weekend’s end, some attendees were nearly stranded in the snow, and the altitude—more than 8,000 feet—defeated a few. Yet most drove back down the mountain replete with what Camp has reliably provided for a quarter-century—relaxation, rejuvenation and inspiration for various media pursuits.

At panel sessions and workshops, we heard about women’s experiences reporting from danger zones, took in advice from veterans about how to get published, honed our multimedia skills and discussed how to use our journalistic talents in new ways. You’ll find stories, written by our talented fellows, about these sessions and our speakers elsewhere in the newsletter.

Longtime campers noted that more women than ever identified themselves as freelancers, entrepreneurs or jugglers of multiple ventures. Some came to Camp a day early for career coaching with Ed and Cindy Miller, and others met with the coaching team individually throughout the weekend.

On Saturday morning, we remembered JAWS’ founders and recognized former presidents. The older generation reminisced about the first gathering at the Missouri School of Journalism to discuss women in journalism and the first formal JAWS organizational meeting at a beach house in Galveston—complete with hot tub, barbecue and lots of Blue Bell ice cream. We also celebrated JAWS members’ historic victories, such as sex discrimination lawsuits brought against the New York Times and the Associated Press by Betsy Wade, Peggy Simpson and others who helped open up newsrooms for all of us.

Our new president, Megan Kamerick, pointed to JAWS’ growth over the years and addressed the younger generation: “I want all the new young members to stay with us and help us understand what we need to do to stay relevant.”

Throughout the weekend, we remembered JAWS women who have passed on, including Fran Lewine, Christy Bulkeley and Kerri Smith.

Befitting the milestone occasion, several staples of the Camp experience were grander than usual.

Mother Nature dropped an early blanket of snow on the Wasatch Mountains. On Sunday afternoon, when campers traditionally go hiking or shopping, many chose instead to hit the spa or sit in the hot tub on the roof of the Cliff Lodge, surrounded by snowy peaks as the huge wet flakes came down. By Sunday night, the road to the resort was open only to those with snow tires or chains. Several groups of campers who had ventured out to shop in Park City or hike to some nearby caves were stranded at the bottom of the mountain, where they left their cars and boarded the resort’s “rescue” shuttle. The weary travelers arrived late to dinner, to much applause. After dinner, we decamped to the balcony, where Wii “American Idol,” bowling and tennis generated much merriment – and Jodi Enda won the Wii to take home.

Auction sales totaled more than $8,000—the average is usually around $6,000. Among the items snatched up were dozens—maybe hundreds—of earrings that Michele Weldon and Linda La Fleur collected for the occasion. Also for sale were political collectibles, including 2008 election memorabilia. But the star of the auction was Betsy “Ross” Wade’s hand-sewn JAWS quilt, made from years of JAWS T-shirts. Susy Schultz bought the quilt for $2,000 and announced plans to make it a traveling quilt—something like a big JAWS hug to be sent to members who need an extra dose of warmth and friendship.

The talent show featured more actual talent that anyone could remember seeing in recent years. Veronica Villafañe, journalist and media consultant in Glendale, Calif., sang an aria from Puccini’s La Bohème. Fellow Beth Schwartzpfel, a freelance writer in Brooklyn, N.Y., led a sing-a-long of Dolly Parton’s “Touch Your Woman.” Peggy Engel, executive director of the Alicia Patterson Foundation, read from “Red Hot Patriot: The Kick-Ass Wit of Molly Ivins,” a new play she co-wrote with her twin sister Allison Engel Silver. Tyra Banks (Arnesa Howell, freelance writer in Washington, D.C.) presided over “America’s Next Top Writer,” with contestants Alexis Hauk, a freelance writer and graduate student at Emerson College in Boston; and fellow Ashlee Clark, criminal justice reporter for the Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader, who won the contest. Irene Liu’s vocal solo “Cry Me a River” won her The Betsy! Award, named for Betsy Wade and presented for the first time by the “Academy of JAWdesses, Arts & Sciences.” Liu is a political reporter and blogger for the Albany Times Union.

Michele Weldon summed up the weekend—and all 25 years of JAWS—when she told attendees, “In the rest of my life I have work friends and fun friends. My JAWS friends understand both sides of that.”