American women journalists: their thoughts and writings

September 08, 1991|By Zofia Smardz




Edited by Sherry Ricchiardi

and Virginia Young.

Iowa State University.

201 pages. $25.95.

For several decades, American journalism has been a field in which talented women have had little trouble breaking through to the front pages of national newspapers and rising to the top of the reportorial ranks. Ask any of the subjects of "Women on Deadline."

According to them, the path to success, blazed by the pioneers of the '40, '50s and '60s and paved by the women's movement, stands open to any female with a nose for news and a flair for words.

Given this perception, and the fact that 66 percent of all journalism school graduates are women, it's interesting to note, as did editors Sherry Ricchiardi and Virginia Young, that women remain woefully underrepresented (seven out of 50) among the winners of journalism's in-house American Society of Newspaper Editors competition and in most journalism texts. It was to redress this imbalance that Ms. Ricchiardi and Ms. Young conceived "Women on Deadline," a compilation of articles by and interviews with nine top women journalists at work in today's newsrooms.

The women represented here are some of print journalism's brightest stars, including The Sun's Pulitzer Prize-winning Alice Steinbach, New York Times columnist Anna Quindlen and the St. Petersburg Times' Lucy Morgan, whose much-publicized 1973 imprisonment for refusing to reveal confidential sources made her a legend in freedom-of-the-press annals.

Predictably for a text designed as a tribute, the lengthy interviews conducted with each woman lean toward puffiness. They are full of such questions as "How did you get your start in journalism?" and "How do you organize your material?", and dwell overly much on the how-does-being-a-woman-affect-you-as-a-re- porter" theme.

Fortunately, the subjects made short shrift of the interviewers' starry-eyed approach and the notion that their sex can be easily classified as either asset or liability on the job. To the question: "Does being a wom

an affect the subject matter you write about?", Ms. Steinbach, echoed by most of the others, responds: "The person I am affects the subject matter I write about."

But the women are universally thoughtful and candid about the ways in which journalism is an especially difficult profession to reconcile with a woman's personal aspirations, it being somewhat tricky to combine, say, a foreign correspondent's career with motherhood.

"Start thinking about how family's going to work with it," says the Washington Post's Cynthia Gorney when asked to give advice to women entering the field. "The ways in which you're expected to grow up as a reporter are not ways that are conducive to having a family."

In many cases, the writing samples live up to the editors' description of "superb," but since they were submitted by the writers themselves, there's an occasional subjective mistake. I found a column on the Vietnam War Memorial by Dallas Times Herald columnist Molly Ivins exceedingly sentimental. Ms. Quindlen's piece about parents' power over their children, while finely written, was rather a cliche.

There are, of course, many female journalists besides the nine herein who are worthy of inclusion in a "collection of American's best," and the editors concede their intention of making the collection a series, to be updated "as new female stars emerge." We shouldn't have to wait very long for a collection of America's finest newspaper writing that gives equal weight to women and men.

Ms. Smardz is a former writer for Newsweek. She lives in Orlando, Fla.

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