Wise Words From A Wise Man About The Work We Do

“Attempts to restrict press freedom are becoming, for some, a national sport, but the real battle begins at home — on the local beat with aggressive reporting, progressive editing and united defending of the First Amendment.”

John C. Quinn; Jan. 8, 1973

Wednesday at the Newseum, journalists who worked with John Quinn remembered USA Today’s first editor. He died last month, at the age of 91.

If you were with Gannett in the ’70s, ’80s or ’90s, you knew Quinn — or knew of him. He was the conscience of the newsroom; the editor who set standards and pushed everyone to do their best.

And if you’re among the 1,400 or so journalists who have passed through the Chips Quinn Scholars Program for Diversity in Journalism (named for Quinn’s son), you probably can’t say enough good things about him.

This obituary posted by the Newseum explains his impact.

At Wednesday’s gathering, retired Gannett executive Phil Currie read from some of Quinn’s “Wire Watch” weekly notes that went to all Gannett journalists, not just those at USA Today. The quote at the top of this post is from those notes. It’s as relevant today as it was in 1973; as are the others below. Quinn was talking about newspapers, but the advice applies to all types of news operations:

- “A newspaper must be factual, and the true fact is that our readers face an indulged and difficult life.  Like a parent, we must not placate; we must educate.  We must reach them by giving them what they need to know in a form they can accept and what they want to know in a manner they can appreciate.  We must help them realize that this is all part of our duty to them.” Dec. 3, 1973

- “Responsible news people have come out of the closet with their corrections and clarifications, and they showcase their sins to be as effective as possible in setting the record straight. The best efforts to right a wrong, however, still run a very poor second to avoiding the error in the first place, a goal that no news staffer dares to forget.” April 9, 1978

- “If newspapers cover their entire communities and deal with all of the concerns fully and fairly, then their readers will be reminded that they are indeed fortunate to have a free press, that it is an important part of their freedom, and they will join in the fight for its life. If, on the other hand, newspapers fail to deliver a free press which reflects all quarters of their communities, then they shall forfeit their claims to free press status and shall lose the support of those they should serve. Gannett newspapers and all in their communities must prove to each other daily that we are lucky to have each other.” March 25, 1979

We could change just a couple words, put new dates on those quotes and send them out today.

(“Memmos;” Aug. 10, 2017)


August 10, 2017

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