I nearly blew my shot at being a Chipster.
Jack Willis, my student newspaper adviser at the University of Oklahoma, encouraged me in the fall of 1998 to apply for an internship with the Chips Quinn Scholars Program. Lacking a certain degree of self confidence at 21, I didn’t. He asked me about it again after the deadline passed and I confessed. He frowned, left to make a call and soon returned with what would be career-changing news.
Karen Catone, the person in charge of the program, would still accept my application if I hustled. (To this day, I thank Jack and Karen for this most every time I see them.)
I went on to The Wichita Eagle as a Chips copy editing intern the next summer and learned I could do this for a living, that it could take me beyond Oklahoma and that journalism was a lot of fun. Those experiences, lessons and connections the Quinn family afforded me and more than 1,300 other young people lucky enough to call ourselves Chipsters are still paying off as the program celebrates its 25th anniversary in 2016.
Now nearing 40, I have committed myself to doing in my small way what Chips himself did until his death at 34 in 1990: Helping other young people get their start in journalism. And in that pursuit one great lasting symbol of my Chips experience stands out.
It happened in the aftermath of the 2000 election night, my first as a professional, when I worked alongside a colleague at The Oregonian who told me his first election night was FDR’s last, in 1944. After the “STOP THE PRESSES!” drama of Gore vs. Bush, I rushed off an excited 3:30 a.m. email to a few of my journalism mentors, including the late Dick Thien, a Chips career coach who helped found USA Today and was in my mind the curmudgeonly saint of aspiring copy editors.
I still have his reply, forwarded on all these years across so many email accounts into a world he might never have imagined, to a profession markedly different in many ways yet unchanged and as essential as ever in others.
“It is magic,” he had changed the subject line to read, before a master editor’s simple yet perfect reply:
“I hope this business will always be such fun!” you wrote.
Seth: That’s strictly up to you. If you keep the magic going for those who follow you, it will be. Your call, guy.
Thank you, Dick. And thank you, Chips family.
May each of us pay it forward in our own ways.