‘Chipsterism is a lifelong deal’
By Andrew Ba Tran
Her official signature on her emails said “Mary Ann Hogan, Writing Coach” but she’d always sign off with a simple “ma.”
Years of exchanges.
Looking through them, I noticed my emails to her often started out simply with “Hey ma.”
“Hey ma. Do you have any tips for my interview?”
“Hey ma. Could you look this draft over?”
“Hey ma. I was laid off today.”
She was “ma” to hundreds of young journalists who were part of the Chips Quinn Scholars Program. She was their guide to what was often their first newspaper internship.
Ma coached us to go beyond what was asked of us in newsrooms. She gave us tools on how to truly stand out and succeed in an internship setting. How to be proactive and pitch our own stories. Or bring our own voice and ideas to an assignment. How to add narrative elements into a story while on deadline.
“Dearest Chipsters,” she’d write to us during our internships, to make sure we were doing all right. These are among my earliest emails from her, and the replies became a sort of group therapy for everyone in my cohort. We were not yet jaded journalists. Experiences that would eventually become common were new and electrifying and sometimes soul-crushing.
Some of their insights:
“Yesterday was a reminder of why I love this job. I covered an immigration march and what a sight it was to see tens of thousands of people; the energy was amazing.”
“After one of my phone interviews, I turned to the veteran reporter in my office, wiped the tears from my eyes and asked, ‘Is it unprofessional to cry?’”
“He answered, ‘It’s never unprofessional to feel.’”
I was one of the lucky few who got to keep working with Ma after my time as a Chips Quinn scholar. I was the first local Metpro fellow at the South Florida Sun Sentinel and for six months I met with her once a week to work on improving my reporting and writing skills.
Dressed often with a bohemian flair, in layers of scarves and handmade necklaces and earrings, she demanded I use active sentence construction. Passive voice was allowed in rare moments if justified. She pushed for me to keep digging to “put more teeth” into a story if it was too light. When I had to work Christmas break, she invited me to dinner at her home, where I got to meet her wonderful husband and boys. Ma made and served delicious tamales with salsa verde.
When I was laid off she offered words of solace.
“Chipsterism is a lifelong deal. Never forget it.”
“As Coriolanus said, ‘There is a world elsewhere.’”
Ma helped me figure out my next move and was a reference for my next job.
Going through my emails, I couldn’t find the one where I told her I had been offered a job and that I had accepted. A job that led to another, then another, and another.
Surviving after being laid off from my first job was a trying experience. When I moved away from Florida, I closed off that part of my life. I didn’t want to think about it. Ever.
The timestamps in my email archive show that Ma and I emailed back and forth often over a period of five years, from my first internship through my early career, and then we stopped.
More accurately, I stopped. She would email but I never replied. Eventually, she stopped, too.
Time passed, life got busier, and it felt easier to keep moving forward than acknowledge the years of silence in between. I assumed there was plenty of time to reach out again. And now suddenly there isn’t.
I tried to look up her old writing columns: Freedomforumdiversity.org redirects to a 404 Not Found. Wholestory.com is expired. Web servers are as impermanent as life.
There is a world elsewhere.
Ma’s teachings are still a part of us, her Chipsters, and so many others who she has mentored, coached, and looked after. “Because Chipsterism is a lifelong deal. Don’t you forget it.”
I was scrolling through her Facebook feed today, seeking her words, catching up much too late on what I’d missed. Posts doting on her family, bragging on her mentees as much as her children.
A link to a New York Times article she posted nearly a year ago caught my eye:
“You Should Actually Send That Thank You Note You’ve Been Meaning to Write”
The story said researchers had found note writers underestimated the positive feelings a thank-you card brought to a recipient and overestimated the degree of awkwardness.
So, here goes:
“Thank you for your kindness. For your wisdom. For believing in me.
“Thank you for being there for me when I needed you.
“Thank you for being there for me when I didn’t.
“Thank you for helping me become the journalist I am today.
“Thank you. Thank you.
Andrew Ba Tran (Spring 2006) is a Pulitzer Prize-winning data reporter for The Washington Post.