Thanks to Baylor and Bess

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How much can one person accomplish 
in a decade of professional activity? Well, with a Baylor University education and Bess Whitehead Scott Journalism Scholarship, a lot. Since graduating in 2001, I have taken my degree to places far and wide in the world of sports. From Houston to Birmingham and countless cities in between, I’ve met such interesting people!

Imagine a journalism major working at the highest level of college athletics as a sport administrator for the Southeastern Conference (SEC). More than that, picture her talking to reporters from USA Today to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution to CBSSportsline.com about the National Letter of Intent (i.e., the document high school players sign when they commit to play sports in college) as the program’s director.

My career in sports did not begin with these two unconventional positions. Ten years ago, I was Director of Media Relations for the Southland Conference after spending a summer interning in media relations for the Houston Astros, both noble pursuits for a wannabe sportscaster. But now and with full disclosure, I admit sports journalism is no longer the goal. Today, my aim is survival in an intense, multi-billion dollar industry.

Of course, the last 10 years would not have been possible without Baylor and Bess. The two laid a foundation that crosses nearly all professional lines. And, who would know better than I, the journalism major with a telecommunication minor who now spends her days talking to coaches instead of reporters and planning championship events instead of story angles?

 

Torie Johnson, talejohnson@hotmail.com

Driving Miss Bess

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When Bess Whitehead Scott was 102, I drove her from Austin to Waco to do an interview for a story she was writing for
Texas Highways magazine. That was my excuse, anyway. I enjoyed her company, and we both liked to stop for pie and coffee.

 Bess always asked for coffee “as hot as it comes,” raising her right index finger in front of her smiling face to make the point. Five years later, I would visit her in the hospital where some “minor problem” (her phrase) had interrupted her latest project, and she insisted that I get her a cup of coffee — “as hot as it comes.”

 But on this beautiful March day in 1992, we drove north on I-35, admiring the bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush that were just beginning to show blue and orange by the roadside. Bess had an appointment with Calvin Smith, Director of the Strecker Museum at Baylor University, where she had graduated 80 years before. The newest addition to the museum was the Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village, consisting of 15 wood-framed buildings that had been donated and relocated to 13 acres on the north side of the Baylor campus. The village would give visitors an accurate view of life in Texas from the late 1800s to the early 1900s, which just happened to coincide with the first several decades of Bess’s life. That made Bess just the right person to get this story, and to get it right.

 I was not prepared for the edge she still had as she peppered the interviewee with questions, pen poised above a yellow legal pad. “Exactly where was that?” she asked. “How do you spell that?” “How many?” “Do you know anything about . . .”, etc. Occasionally, Smith was rewarded for a good answer with “Yes, I see.” Still, Bess continued to press for better, more detailed answers.

 I took several pictures of Bess at work. But even without the photos, I remember very well her doing the work she loved, and doing it at a very high level.

 (Bess W. Scott’s story about the Gov. Bill and Vara Daniel Historic Village appeared in Texas Highways on April 3, 1994, p. 50. Daniel was a former governor of Guam and served in the Texas House of Representatives.)

Elaine Davenport 

Meeting Bess

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Upon meeting Bess Whitehead Scott, she first thing she told me was: “They took my car.”

I had just arrived at her tiny 8th-floor apartment in a downtown senior residential center. The purpose of the visit was to interview Bess for the Houston Post, but she wanted to talk about the loss of her beloved Dodge Charger.

Bess had used the car to see friends and conduct interviews for her still active freelance writing career. But someone, perhaps a relative, had declared that driving around growing Austin was no longer a good idea for a 94 year old.

It was spring of 1985, and the Houston Post was preparing to celebrate its centennial with a special section on the paper’s history. As a reporter in the Post’s Austin bureau, I was assigned to track down a “Mrs. Scott,” who had earned the distinction of being the first woman at the Post to cover hard news (as opposed to working in “Soc,” or the society section).

To get Bess off the car topic, I motioned to an upright manual typewriter and asked what she was working on. “My life story,” she replied, matter of factly.

With that, Bess began to recount her decades as journalist, screenwriter, teacher, ad agency manager and mother of two. The whole story would come out in her book, You Meet Such Interesting People, published by Texas A&M University Press. 

Iwas lucky to hear all those fascinating stories in person, with Bess recalling the heady days of talking a crusty editor into giving her a crack at a reporting job, an encounter with Clark Gable after she panned him in a theater review, and the move to Hollywood to write for silent movies.

Eventually I would learn that she was absolutely right. As a reporter, you do meet such interesting people—people like Bess.

Jorjanna Price, jprice67@austin.rr.com

Celebrating Scholarships for Scribes

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Celebrating Scholarships for Scribes,  October 1, 2011

Planning for the October 1 event "Celebrating Scholarship For Scribes", left to right Angero Holt, Kent Cummins, Elaine Davenport, Jorjanna Price and Taylor Skaar

Twenty years ago, the Bess Whitehead Scott Scholarship Fund awarded its first scholarship. Since 1991, the Fund has issued a total of $44,000 to 41 aspiring journalists and writers.

For its 20th anniversary, the BWS Fund will hold an anniversary party Oct.1, 2011, and toast all the previous scholarship winners, as well as the many volunteers who helped with fundraising.

The party will be held at St. Edward’s University in Austin. For information and ticket prices, go to http://writersleague.org/scholarships/fundraiser.htm.

Meanwhile, some of the participants in the scholarship program have been looking back and remembering how the program started and the extraordinary woman for whom the scholarships are named: Bess Whitehead Scott.

The BWS Scholarship Fund now operates under the auspices of the Austin Community Foundation, 4315 Guadalupe Ste. 300, Austin, Texas 78751.  You may also purchase tickets for the event through our new website at www.austincf.org/bwsfund.  Please feel free to contact us: BWSevent@yahoo.com

– Jorjanna Price

Scholarships for scribes? Who cares?

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Reporters on the go

Bess Whitehead Scott was a newspaper reporter, editor, publicist and writer in early 20th century Texas, one of the first women to work in a Texas newsroom.

Her legacy as a pioneer journalist lives on with the Bess Whitehead Scott scholarships awarded each year: one to an upper-level college student enrolled in journalism or a related field, and another to a writer 40 years or older pursuing the study of journalism, writing or a related field.

Which raises the question: 

Should we be helping to train more reporters at a time when newspapers continue to chop new staffs by 50 percent or more, file for bankruptcy and/or simply fold?

Do we need more journalists in a time when the Web and ‘the Cloud’ seem to trump the profession of gathering, uncovering, distilling, organizing, vetting, writing and spreading the news? Do we need broadcast and cable TV reporters when the networks are being upstaged by status updates, tweets, news aggregator sites and fingertip searches on smart phones?

Do we need them at a time when TV “reporting” feels more like partisan commentary and pandering to the masses with 24-7 “coverage” of celebrities and murder trials?

The answer: Of course we do. We need them more than ever.

They may come to work in the ‘new’ media, under new models of business and distribution (along with those traditional models that won’t disappear.) But we’ll have them, somehow. 

Because without them we’re a vulnerable society (and we know we are.)

Because we all know, at some level, that journalists work to keep our democracy healthy for us. They spot the abuses (abuses of power usually hidden from us) and tell us about them. And so they protect us from our government, our institutions and each other.

They do it with words and stories, discussions started, information and realities grasped. Nobody else is trained to do this for us.

And while these journalists are looking out for us, they’re bringing to light and to clarity the increasingly complex and opaque world around us.

More accurately than other media and mediums, they’re our mirror, reflecting our society back to us.

On its good days, journalism is good liberal arts—a quest for truth for its own sake. Education without agenda.

The press is the best instrument for enlightening the mind of man, and improving him as a rational, moral and social being.” 

      Thomas Jefferson 

And so we need our scribes, not only watch-dogging our leaders and powers-that-be, but shining the light of observation on every field, endeavor and industry.  

And here’s the special thing to keep in mind as we celebrate Scholarships for Scribes. We’re at a time in history when—rather suddenly—the power and glory of “the media” has been given to every person with access to an Internet connection.

The Web makes everyone who wants to be a reporter, columnist, publisher and broadcaster. Blogs, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus and other social media confer news mogul status to anyone who wants to use these tools. 

So perhaps more than ever, in this era of the “citizen journalist,” we need the craft (and tenets) of journalism to be taught as part of every college education. 

Over the past 20 years, volunteers in association with the Writers’ League of Texas gathered to gift-wrap books at bookstores all over Austin, Texas. That’s where elves go to wrap books for causes and donations—in our case, to the Bess Whitehead Scott Scholarship Fund.

Christmas shoppers have grown used to seeing us at the chain and independent bookstores. We’re as much a staple of the season as the Salvation Army Santa ringing bells around the malls. 

Most of us are writers—published and unpublished—who understand intimately the importance of a free press in our lives. We know that journalism is an industry not in ruins, but in transition.

And we’re excited to be able to assist two students each year on this path however changing (however challenging) of keeping the flame of freedom alive.

Let the people know the facts, and the country will be safe.” 

  Abraham Lincoln                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           –Mark Mitchell

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