USA TODAY International Edition


John Quinn embraced values more relevant than ever: accuracy, integrity and fairness.

- Ken Paulson Ken Paulson is the dean of the College of Media and Entertainm­ent at Middle Tennessee State University, president of the First Amendment Center at the Newseum and a member of USA TODAY’s Board of Contributo­rs.

Iwish that those who sneer at “the mainstream media” could have spent just a few minutes with John Quinn. John, who died at age 91 on Tuesday, was a founder of USA TODAY, the paper’s second editor and as mainstream as they come. He embraced mainstream values like accuracy, integrity and fairness, and was committed to serving readers, mainstream or otherwise.

I was a 25- year- old rookie reporter at the Fort Myers News

Press in Florida in the late ‘ 70s with a vague notion that I would like to be a newspaper editor someday. But no one taught that in journalism school.

And then one day, I spotted Wire Watch on a bulletin board. It was a weekly memo from Quinn, who was the chief news executive of the Gannett Company, which owned the News- Press. It would always begin with his thoughts on good newspaperi­ng, and was engaging, sometimes entertaini­ng and always wise. So each week I would dutifully make a copy of Quinn’s insights and put them in a three- ring binder. The binder — and my knowledge — grew.

Among John’s still- timely insights:

uIn response to angry supporters of President Nixon who accused the press of overplayin­g events surroundin­g Watergate: “Responsibl­e editors cannot afford to be influenced ( by the partisan criticism). Profession­al editing is an especially demanding job these days, but anything short of that is as threatenin­g to the Republic as the story we are covering. No cop outs, please.”

uEditors “should look today at whether they are treating their readers as one of ‘ us’ or one of ‘ them.’ And make certain ‘ they’ are invited in.”

That binder was my operating manual and it went with me when I went on to edit newspapers in Green Bay, Wis., Florida and New York, and it was close at hand almost three decades later when I became the sixth editor of USA TODAY in 2004. The news media world had changed, but John’s words remained an inspiratio­n for me and hundreds of journalist­s he mentored directly or by example. It would not be an exaggerati­on to note that at one point a majority of America’s daily newspapers included editors whose core beliefs about journalism integrity were shaped in part by John.

There’s a chance you might not even be reading this today if not for John. He was the right- hand man to Al Neuharth, CEO of the Gannett Company, who was determined to launch a daily newspaper despite skepticism from company financial experts. Neuharth, ever the showman and entreprene­ur, derided the critics as “bean counters” and instead turned to Quinn. “Quinn was for ( USA TODAY) no matter what the research showed,” Neuharth recalled.

“For all of Quinn’s reputation as a hard- nosed traditiona­list, there was no stronger advocate for USA TODAY’s brash new approach to journalism: short, tothe- point stories, plenty of graphics, ‘ news you can use,’ ” recalls David Colton, former executive editor of the paper.

In the first year of the newspaper’s publicatio­n, Colton said he went to Quinn with a proposed “Washington/ World page jammed with seven or eight stories, along with photos, charts and a full set of news briefs.”


It was not a traditiona­l newspaper page and Colton hesitantly asked, “Is this really what we want?”

“Quinn took a quick glimpse, then peered up over his halfglasse­s. ‘ Looks damn newsy,’ he said.”

Remarkably, John’s greatest achievemen­t may have come after he retired from daily journal- ism. After the tragic death of his son Chips Quinn in an automobile accident, he and his wife Loie honored the second- generation newspaper editor with a program that has helped more than 1,400 young journalist­s of color get a foothold in the news business.

The Chips Quinn Scholars Program for Diversity in Journalism was supported by the Freedom Forum, where Quinn was a vice- chairman. It has changed lives and made newsrooms nationwide more reflective of the communitie­s they serve. Today there are journalist­s all over the country, young, old and remarkably diverse, who remember the man who taught them that journalism done well is an important and noble profession.

Karen Catone, who oversees the program, notes with affection that John’s close to a conversati­on or letter was often “Cheers! Onward and Upward.”

That would be the classy way to close this column. But I have another favorite Quinn- ism: “Journalism is the most fun you can have with your clothes on.”

Wise to the end.

 ?? LESLIE SMITH JR., USA TODAY ?? USA TODAY founders Al Neuharth and John Quinn.
LESLIE SMITH JR., USA TODAY USA TODAY founders Al Neuharth and John Quinn.

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