Reunion at the Colmubia Journalism School

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(Host) Recently commentator Madeleine Kunin went to her forty-fifth reunion at Columbia Graduate School of Journalism. As the luncheon speaker, she reminisced about how life was in 1957 for a new young reporter.

(Kunin) The most dramatic change between then and now is the role of women in the press. The only woman on TV was an occasional weather girl, and she was a girl, not a woman. The only female by-line was on the ‘woman’s page’ and it was the woman’s page, not the style or living section.

When I went for an interview at the Providence Journal, I remember sitting in front of the editor’s desk, and as he was talking to me about a job, he paused, looked out the window, and said, “The last woman we hired was raped in the parking lot.” I remember feeling responsible for that woman, almost accepting his conclusion that reporting was not a safe job for a woman.

Like any eager journalist, I thought the plum of assignments was a job at the Washington post. I had had a good interview there and felt I might make it. A few days later, I received a phone call from the Post and was told that I was amongst the top three candidates. They would call me back that afternoon. They did. The only words I recall were, “We decided to give the job to a man.” Today, I would have immediately called my lawyer. Then, it didn’t occur to me to protest. After I told that story at the reunion, one of the men in our class came up to me and confided, “I was the man who got the job."

The story comparing women reporters then and now does not end there. When I was governor, I was invited to meet with the New York Times editorial board. I was asked to come in a side door where security would meet me and my state trooper, Jim Dimmick. He was wearing civilian clothes instead of his uniform. He was then a young man in his mid thirties. The door opened and there was the security guard. He stretched out his hand to the trooper, and said, “Welcome to the New York Times, governor.” I admit I certainly broke the ice when I told that story to the staid editorial board on the top floor.

When I was watching the Jim Lehrer show the other night, four editors of major newspapers were being interviewed three out of four were women. Has it made a difference? Yes, it’s brought a fresh perspective to the news, and made new subjects newsworthy, like women and work, breast cancer and childcare.

Where did I get my first job after graduation from Columbia? I had an interview with a small town Vermont newspaper – the Burlington Vermont Free Press. They offered me what no one else did. A general reporting assignment. I would cover news. Should I leave New York for rural Vermont? My big brother advised me and said, “Work at the Free Press for a year or two and then you can get a job at the New York Times.”

That was my goal, but I never succeeded. Instead, I got married, had four children, and eventually, became governor of Vermont.

Madeleine Kunin is a former governor of Vermont.

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