Friday, April 9, 2010
We've Come a Long Way
by Jean Henry Mead
Women reporters have come a long way since the early days of journalism. Fresh out of college, I began working as a news reporter for a California daily newspaper. At that time, manual typewriters were the only means of getting our stories to press. Never a great typist, I bought an Olivetti electric which I hauled back and forth to work. It wasn’t long before everyone in the news room had one.
Computers were a God send and I bought my first in 1981. When newspapers finally discovered their versatility, they were called video display terminals or VDTs. By then I was freelancing and editing an instate magazine.
Before the 1960s, women news reporters were mainly confined to the society pages or as copy editors. Later, those of us “lucky” enough to be on the police beat--which meant chasing ambulances and investigating train wrecks--were not allowed to dress casually. Even slacks were prohibited and certainly not tennis shoes or jeans. I remember arriving at a horrific train wreck with box cars piled on top of one another, wearing a dress, nylons and heels. I returned to the office looking as though I had been in the train wreck.
Police officers ignored my questions because women weren’t supposed to report on accidents and robberies. The same was true at city hall. So when the mayor was suspected of illegal practices, I went after him in print with every bit of evidence I could gather. He was subsequently relieved of his duties.
One of my aticles helped the F.B.I. capture a bank robber, but my accomplishments pale compared to those of a broadcast journalist that I admire. Hank Phillippi Ryan (pictured above) works for Boston’s NBC affiliate, 7News. Her investigative reporting has resulted in new laws enacted, people sent to prison, homes removed from foreclosures and millions of dollars paid in restitution.
Hank has won an astounding 26 Emmys, ten Edward R. Murrow Awards and dozens of other journalistic kudos. She began her career as a political reporter in 1975 in Indianapolis, and was later assigned to beats such as medical, movie critic and on-the-road feature reporter in Atlanta, where every Monday morning she would close her eyes and point to a map. That’s where she’d go to find a feature story, or what reporters call a “kicker.”
She said, “They called me ‘something out of nothing productions’ because I could find a story anywhere.” In 1988 she was assigned to write the long-form “think pieces” for presidential conventions. From that time on, she was an investigative reporter.
“Over the past thirty years I’ve wired myself with hidden cameras, chased down criminals and confronted corrupt politicians—and had many a door slammed in my face. But the idea that I can change lives and even change laws is so gratifying. It’s a big responsibility, which I take very seriously. But when a tough story comes through and changes are made as a result—the rewards are immense.”
Hank has also found time to write four mystery novels. Her Prme Time book won the Agatha Award for first novel and Air Time has been nominated for another Agatha.