More than 120 journalism students, their professors and working journalists from around Florida and the Southeast came to the Nicholson School of Communication on March 19-20 for a weekend of workshops, networking and professional development.

The Society of Professional Journalists Southeast Regional Conference was hosted by the UCF chapter of SPJ. Journalism Area Coordinator and SPJ Chapter Adviser Rick Brunson worked for a year with a team of students to put on the conference. The team, known as the “blue shirts’’ for their spiffy conference attire, included SPJ chapter President Robyn Sidersky, Vice President Kari Wilberg, Treasurer Jessica Sunday and Secretary/Web Master Bianca Fortis.

“So many journalism conferences these days seem to feature irrelevant workshops that are led by neurotics who talk about the glory days or who have bought into the fiction that journalism is a dying profession,’’ said Brunson. “Journalism isn’t dying – it’s changing. We wanted to put on a conference that focused on students and their future in a dynamic, honorable and necessary profession.’’

The conference theme was “Your Stage – Your Time’’ and featured workshops on blogging, deploying social media in reporting, freelancing, producing digital magazines and transitioning from college to professional life. Among the 23 featured speakers were Lynn Hoppes, senior director of; Etan Horowitz, digital media producer at CNN; Mike Connelly, executive editor of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune; and Julie Anderson, vice president of content and integration for Tribune Interactive. The keynote address was delivered by incoming SPJ national President Hagit Limor.

A highlight of the conference was the annual Mark of Excellence Awards banquet on Friday night at the Holiday Inn/UCF. The awards, presented by SPJ and judged by professional journalists, spotlight the best work in collegiate journalism in the Southeast. UCF’s Central Florida Future won five awards, including Best All-Around Non-Daily Student Newspaper; Best Affiliated Web Site; first place in Feature Writing (Brian Murphy); first place in Sports Writing (Brian Murphy); and first place in Online Sports Reporting for coverage of the St. Pete Bowl (Ryan Bass, Ashley Carnifax, William Perry and Jeffrey Riley).

The conference drew positive reviews from participants, including University of Alabama journalism Professor George Daniels, who attended the conference with his students and blogged live from it.

“It’s a combination of good, timely industry panels AND professional training with hands-on instruction that made the UCF-sponsored event a success,’’ Daniels wrote. “If I count a brief appearance at an SPJ Regional more than 10 years ago in Birmingham, this was my sixth SPJ Regional. It ranks among the best, most memorable for me. SPJ Regional Directors, who are charged with organizing these events around the country, need to look at what Brunson and Sidersky did here in Orlando. From the corporate sponsorships to the return of T-shirts to an SPJ Conference (We used to have those at national convention) to the plethora of cookies/snack breaks and networking opportunities built into the schedule, this is definitely the WAY TO DO IT!’’