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March 25, 2002

Women journalists share experiences

By Stephanie Sonnenfeld


Racism. Gender bias. Sexism. Discrimination. These words dominate stories and headlines in yesterday’s and today’s news, and they also dominate newsroom politics, said a group top women journalists at Emory last week.

Catherine Manegold, Cox Professor of Journalism, moderated the panel discussion, “Struggling for a Voice: Women Journalists in the South,” in Woodruff Library’s Jones Room on Tuesday, March 19, at 7 p.m. Panelists included M. Alexis Scott, publisher and editor of the Atlanta Daily World, a 74-year-old black newspaper; Melissa Fay Greene, author of the award-winning nonfiction works Praying for Sheetrock and The Temple Bombing; and Cynthia Tucker, editorial page editor of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and syndicated columnist.

Beginning their careers in the early 1970s, all four women shared stories of how they were among a small number of women reporting in a white-male-dominated industry—something that is still prevalent in today’s news industry.

“At The New York Times today, every major desk but one—the national desk—is run by men,” said Manegold, a former reporter with the Times who won a Pulitzer as part of the team that covered the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. “Two years ago, anyone meeting with the executive editor, the managing editor, the national editor, the metro editor, the cultures editor and the foreign editor—all the editors with the power to hire, fire, shape the news—would have met only with men.”

Citing statistics from industry studies, Manegold said women reporters make up 43 percent of all international journalists, which seems impressive at first glance. However, she said, 79 percent of these women “crowd the bottom” of the industry, holding part-time jobs with no benefits and a lack of promotions.

While the numbers look bleak, this is an improvement from when Scott began her career as an education reporter at the AJC. Her goal was to cover City Hall, which she eventually did. Scott rose through the ranks at the paper, staying 22 years in various reporting and executive positions with the paper and at Cox Enterprises. In 1997, she became publisher and chief executive officer of the Daily World, a paper founded by her grandfather, W.A. Scott II.

Reared in a journalism household, Scott said she even encountered sexism from her own family. When she asked her uncle (who ran the paper for more than 60 years) why he never taught his daughter the ropes of running the business, he looked at her and said, “Ain’t no woman running this paper.”

When Tucker first began reporting at the AJC—fresh out of Auburn University in 1976—there was a small group of about five women reporting outside of the features section, one being Scott. Tucker said she was telling younger reporters at the paper the other day about how she admired an early co-worker who covered the mayoral beat for the paper.

“I admired her because she was a woman—a young woman!” said Tucker, adding that was a sight unseen in the early 1970s. The reporters she told the story to were unfazed because they were used to seeing women reporters in such roles, she said.

However, women still have a long way to go in finding equity in the newsroom, she added. As a member of the Association of Newspaper Editors (ASNE), Tucker said she is one of fewer than 100 females who belong to this group of 800. At a recent ASNE conference, she invited a reporter to join her at a presentation. With the prospect of a large ballroom of unfamiliar faces, the reporter asked Tucker how she would find her.

“‘No problem, I’ll stand up,’” Tucker told the reporter. “Sure enough, she had no problems finding me in this huge ballroom. That describes something about the profession still for women and for African Americans.”

Greene’s experience in news reporting is slightly different from her fellow panelists, but she still faced the same obstacles as Tucker and Scott. While working in Savannah for Georgia Legal Aid in the early 1970s, she heard stories of an archaic political machine running nearby McIntosh County. Civil rights were unknown to the county’s impoverished blacks, as documented in Praying for Sheetrock. Being a Jewish, white female from the North presented its problems when writing the book, Greene said, but being something else wouldn’t have allowed her to write it differently.

“One of the most alluring things about journalism and nonfiction reporting is the opportunity to shed your skin and enter other worlds,” she said. “First you enter [the interview process] as the person you are—male or female, gay or straight, white or black or brown, Christian, Muslim or Jewish. If you do your job right, you aspire to lose the definition of yourself, free your mind to make contact with and enter and learn the world of another person.”

A related exhibition of selections from Special Collections will be on display in Woodruff Library through May 31.