McGuire on Media

Women in Media Cronkite School event

Four dynamic women intrigued me, and absolutely mesmerized a largely female student audience Monday night on the Arizona State campus at the second annual Paul J. Schatt Memorial Lecture Feb. 11.

The lecture, “Breaking the Barriers: Women Leaders in News,” featured this panel: Catherine Anaya, nightly news anchor at KPHO-TV in Phoenix; Susan Green of the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication and former managing editor at KNXV-TV in Phoenix; Ellen Soeteber, the Edith Kinney Gaylord Visiting Professor of Journalism Ethics at the Cronkite School and former editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch; and Julia Wallace, editor of the Atlanta Journal Constitution and former managing editor of The Arizona Republic. Kristin Gilger, assistant dean of the Cronkite School moderated the panel.

The first thing I read this morning was a note from one of my students written late last night: “The lecture tonight was amazing!” Nicole Griggs’ enthusiasm and the repeated bursts of applause and shouts of support from the student women in the audience was a vivid reminder that the struggle for an equal shot in the workplace is not over. It should also have been a warm affirmation for the four panelists that their pioneering efforts are genuinely appreciated.

The mood of the panelists was pleasantly reflective. I whispered to my colleague here at ASU and former colleague in the newspaper business, Jim Crutchfield, that the panel behaved far differently than a panel of men or even a mixed panel. It was obvious, and touching, that the subject of the discussion provoked sweet and not-so-sweet memories. The panel seemed intent on putting their thoughts in exactly the right perspective for the students. Their efforts were rewarded with what I saw as a remarkable, and rare, bond between the female audience and the panel.  I can’t remember the last time I sensed such a palpable connection.

It was not a panel of complainers. The sense of optimism that marks successful people of any gender was obvious. Still, the struggles the four women experienced were clear and on the table. Catherine Anaya was particularly forceful in advising students to pick battles carefully but to fight those battles when necessary. Her telling story of a recent slight was pointed and poignant.  Anaya also pleaded with women to “remember where they came from” and to look out for other struggling women in the profession.

Sue Green, a hilarious storyteller, argued Title IX was her ticket to the belief that she could do anything she wanted to do and she never had to feel like “the little woman.” Green related her triumphs in playing boys Little League baseball despite her harassing coach who made his young female catcher wear a protective cup. Green’s narrative cannot be well served with my words, but she cleverly turned the story of a mean-spirited coach into a memorable parable about playing by any rules required to get in the game.

Ellen Soeteber’s story was blunt and full of impact. “I worked my behind off.” She also acknowledged that the era forced her to fit in by “drinking and swearing as much as the guys.” She wisely observed that she had made herself indispensable in the newsroom by learning lots of different jobs.

Julia Wallace, said flatly, “I always knew I deserved whatever I got.” That self-assured certainty was impressive and had to be inspiring to the female students. ” Julia also authored perhaps the most genuine moment of the night when Kristin Gilger asked the inevitable “can you have it all, family and career” question. Julia said, “I have to say I am pretty fulfilled in that regard, and I know I have a lot more flexibility in my life than the mother who has to work three jobs to get by.”

That comment seemed to be a microcosm of the panel member’s deep appreciation for their gifts, for their struggles and for the opportunity to mentor a hungry and hopeful audience of aspiring female journalists.

Attentive men in the audience should also have appreciated the night’s wisdom. 

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