CQS 25th Anniversary Tribute: Jamesetta Miller Walker

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Jamesetta Walker (Summer 1993)
Features Editor and Columnist
The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

I sit here at my desk mid-afternoon, pulling my hair through my fingers and making a mess of it as deadline pressure mounts. It’s the same nervous habit I’d developed 23 years ago, during my first “real” job as a reporter at a daily newspaper, an internship position I’d landed as a Chips Quinn Scholar in 1993. It’s a wonder I have any hair left, having held a half-dozen positions and still weathering the sea change that print journalism is undergoing, all while trying to help those whom I supervise to hold steady on a bobbing ship.

Not a day goes by that I am not grateful for the footing that the Chips Quinn Scholars program has given me. I remember the question posed to the 24 interns during orientation by then-CQS Program Director Alice Bonner: “What are your goals?”

When my turn came around the huge U-shaped table, I replied, “To own my own newspaper!”

Well, I haven’t yet done that and don’t feel particularly inclined to pursue it anymore. It has been all too fulfilling to write stories and columns that strike people’s emotions and prompt action, like one recent piece about a woman born without arms and legs, yet who works full time, lives alone and struggles to find care following the death of her mother. Readers responded by donating tens of thousands of dollars.

I also look back in astonishment at how I held my emotions together enough to work through the disaster of Hurricane Katrina while my family’s own well-being was impacted. I thought about words that veteran editor Merv Aubespin shared during CQS orientation about the merits of pushing yourself and taking on assignments no one else would want. His words had resonated years earlier when, as an intern, I happened upon an accident involving an overturned tanker in a waterway – after I had already put in a full day’s work. Should I alert my editor to send someone and keep heading home? Or do I suck it up, rise to the occasion and report the story myself? You betcha. I got out of that car and landed my first front-page package of breaking news stories.

I smile wide when I receive a note, phone call or email from young CQS alums who have been in training sessions I was privileged to conduct. I grin every time I remember talking to a trio of college students during an airport train ride who, coincidentally, were on their way to a CQS orientation. I gave them a crash course on what to expect. I hope they are still in the business.

As I write this, several of us in my newsroom are frustrated about tasks we will have to perform as our news organization aims to make production of the digital and print products more streamlined. But I’m also reminded of advice from industry legends shared during CQS orientation that we should all make ourselves eternal students of the craft. By doing so, we can always find a place in this business; we will always be needed. The newsroom is not a democracy.

I take a break and look back at official group photos from the earliest years of CQS. I cry in silence. I notice a note beside a peer’s name saying he’s deceased. I see a few of the pioneers whose names still pop up in the industry. I see one of the first students I taught as an adjunct professor who became a Chipster. He and I talk weekly; he has taught me so much. As I keep going through the years, I see Chipsters I supervised as interns. I see younger Chipsters who eventually became my colleagues.

And thus, I am still in the game. So many of us are still in the game, enjoying careers in traditional journalism and new media. This is most significant. And so will be the day I ever leave a newsroom with my hair as kempt as it was when it arrived.

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