Wordsanctuary Revisited

Musings of a writer-teacher-counselor.

My Photo
Location: Cleveland, Ohio, United States

I am inquisitive and have worked in writing, editing, and teaching. I am a citizen of the USA and also concerned about the world. This is an addendum to my original blog, Wordsanctuary. That's at www.wordsanctuary.blogspot.com Please check out my column at www.insidehighered.com, "A Kinder Campus." Click on Career Advice to find it. Thanks for stopping by.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Nostalgia Rules at SPJ-Cleveland's Third Nostalgia Night

Thanks to the friendly and persistent invitation of Kathleen Shaw, I went to my first Society of Professional Journalists' Nostalgia night last year at about this time. Kathy asked once: I said no. She asked again, I said maybe. And then I went. Friends who are true friends do not give up!

And based on the insights I acquired last year – and the fun I had listening to genuine storytellers tell their stories-behind-the-stories -- wild horses could not keep me away from “When Women Crashed the Newsroom,” SPJ’s third nostalgia night (but only my second) on Thursday, June 28, 2012.

As I wound my way to Cleveland State University in rush hour traffic, a sprinking of raindrops on my windshield suggested in this dry heat, have hope. This is the same hope I will hold for the future of media despite the signs that many traditional markets are drying up. With the fading of these markets should not come the fading of memory or the art and craft of journalism, we hope.

I already knew – from last year’s event in the CSU library and some other professional contact with him – that host Bill Barrow, special collections librarian, is smart and witty. He is guardian of the The Cleveland Memory Project, whose sanctum of electronic corridors really is an intricate portal into the past.

If you missed Bill’s recent letter to the editor in the Plain Dealer, check it out here.

Mary Beadle, chair of the Tim Russert Department of Communication & Theatre Arts at John Carroll University, spoke first. She had an engaging slide show I won’t attempt to summarize – but the names of many of the great women she mentioned, I can alphabetize. From Cleveland and from beyond, here goes: Nelly Bly and Margaret Bourke-White – “her work started here in Cleveland” … and Betty Cope and Pauline Frederick and Dorothy Fuldheim and Doris O’Donnell and Ishbell Ross and Marlene Sanders and Helen Thomas and Barbara Walters and Alice Weston.

TV legend Dorothy Fuldheim was named “most admired woman” in the 1956 Gallup Poll. (And in my household growing up, we all hushed to listen when she came on the news to do commentaries.) Yet, an American Association of University Women study found in 1974 that 0.3% -- that is zero point three percent – of space in newspapers was used for “hard news about women,” as Beadle put it. The times were not-yet-a-changin’ that much.

(I had links to great bios for all these women, which Blogger "ate" as I copied my Word document. That's ok. The energetic might prefer to do their own searching!)

For a long stretch, women reporters were expected to cover softer stories, Beadle explained – often society pages and some features and maybe stunts for attention -- but along the way many nonetheless ploughed through to break barriers. These included pushing the margins of social justice through their stories. Even when some women reporters were literally “walled off” in the newsroom, hard as that may be to imagine, they persevered.

The feisty group of listeners (SPJ members? guests?) in attendance began asking questions (as one might expect professional questioners to do) mid-presentation and offering additional anecdotes. Both Beadle and the second speaker, longtime food reporter Janet Beigle French, took those in stride, welcoming the collective conversation. Nostalgia breeds nostalgia, and the web of memory works that way.

When Beigle French decided to take a job at the Plain Dealer in 1963 (and where she worked until 1998), she recalls thinking: “This is a great city with all of the ethnic people from all over the world.” (And of course their respective cuisines.) Daughter of a home economist who wanted her daughters to also have steady career options -- and that meant, simply, home economics -- Janet was steered by her mom to do course work at three different colleges. But as graduation approached, she did not have enough credits to become an extension instructor or a dietician after all. No problem. Her true dream was to write, and as it turned out, University of Wisconsin had a writing training opportunity available. She fused her twin passions.

I was sincerely starstruck to see Beigle French in person. I liked the PD’s food pages from early childhood, having taken an early interest in cooking for my family. She told me after her talk that she always appreciated the chance to learn both “the art and the science” of home economics. She is assembling her scrapbooks and sharing them with Bill Barrow for archival purposes. As speaker, Beigle French stood in for Doris O’Donnell and offered a perspective, including the (maybe not-so-obvious) fact that grocery store advertising was a big revenue-generator for the paper. She added that journalism must include stories of ordinary people.

Although O’Donnell could not attend she was quoted/paraphrased by some attendees. Among bits of wisdom I gathered was that she said that she had been trained “to write in inches” in her career but got a larger vista in her mind in a fiction course she took later in life. At 91, she still writes, and her memoir Front Page Girl spans 259 pages.

Personal digression: In my formative years, I was not only tethered to the Plain Dealer in the morning and the Cleveland Press in the afternoon, I was primed to learn to read at a tender age by my dad who would share the comics with me as I sat on his lap. He would sound them out in German, English, and even bits of Yiddish as he struggled to adjust to the U.S. In my immigrant family, the newspaper connected us with the world. Reporters on paper wrote for us and on TV spoke to us, it seemed. We needed that window on the world, and they seemed to take great care with every single word.

We’ve all heard the George Santayana adage: "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Here’s my bumpy twist on that: “Those who can't remember the steep path of media history might not work hard enough to ensure a media future.”

Don’t let good reporting die.

# # #