[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Ritchie: We talked a little bit last time about your selection of college—the fact that you had applied to both Northwestern and Missouri, and that you knew what you wanted to do.
Bulkeley: To the extent that I knew I wanted to do journalism and newspaper journalism. I don't know when I decided that I was going to fix how the Midwest was covered from the East, when I got interested in government and politics, whether it was in high school or during the Kennedy-Nixon campaign that fall when I started college, or it was an accumulation of things. My guess is, it was an accumulation because of my mother's political stuff and going with her to political things. Paul Douglas* was one of the U.S. senators from Illinois, and I remember reading one of his books, and then going to the next little town when he opened a post office there, and getting the book autographed, even though my parents were a far cry from Democrats. They described the University of Chicago, which was his academic base, as "that pinko school in Chicago." But somewhere in that period, the whole notion of government and political reporting and doing a proper Midwest perspective from Washington evolved as what I set out to do in those days.
Ritchie: You had this idea very early in your college years?
Bulkeley: In high school or college, an evolution during that period. I know from the beginning so I took lots of government/political science courses, most of my non-journalism, as much as I could get away with, given the requirements. I took a ton of political science, history and economics. I took more than I was supposed to, but I managed to get away with it.
Ritchie: Were there many females in the journalism program?
Bulkeley: There were enough that I didn't notice that there were people who had different expectations for us. I got that distinct impression at Northwestern that summer I was there, that they thought there were limits on what girls/women could do and had to offer. But I never had any sense of that at Missouri. Years later, as people started reconstructing when the shift happened in journalism to more than half women, and started monitoring to see if that was creating a new pink-collar ghetto, I remember being a little surprised that we were only probably 30 to 35 percent. I don't know whether that's precise for Missouri or whether that was for the schools that were monitored, but a third would have been well over a critical mass, certainly, and it wasn't a question of being the only one in the room or one of the few in a big room or anything like that. That only happened later.
Ritchie: What about the professors you had? Did you have any female professors?
Bulkeley: Nope. One French course. I mean, all the way through college, I had one.
* Paul H. Douglas (1892-1976). (D-IL). U.S. senator, 1949-67.
Ritchie: Not just journalism.
Bulkeley: In an advanced French course. Again, I didn't think of that. Coming from a little town where we had seen everybody doing everything—not everything, but a fairly wide range of things, from owning the newspaper and the flower shop and partnering the grocery stores, at least the visible part of grocery stores, we saw the husband and wife both work where they owned them, and the kids. The farms where women, as often as not, did some of the field work as well as putting massive meals on the table and had their own parts of the livestock responsibility, from all of that stuff, I really didn't know that the world thought women had less to offer until I got into my first paid job.
I thought that was an aberration that I ran into at Northwestern. So it never really registered that the only women on the faculty were the ones who did the women's section and backed up the advertising sales for The [Columbia] Missourian, the daily newspaper that the journalism school publishes at Missouri. Because women were the teaching assistants and student assistants at least in proportion to their number in the student body—maybe even more. Those things are hard to go back and reconstruct, because teaching assistants and things just don't show on transcripts. But I know that we were there, because I was one, too. My senior year, for one semester, I was a teaching assistant for the news labs.
Ritchie: What did you do in that job?
Bulkeley: In those days, the journalism school was only about a third of today's size—a few hundred instead of 1,500 or whatever. So everybody, whatever intended major, one of the first courses in the fall of junior year, the first semester of junior year, was a course called Introduction to News, a two-credit-hour course that had two lectures a week plus a two-hour lab in which you wrote, practiced, whatever the exercise was from that week's lecture—writing obits or routine copy news or whatever. Teaching assistants managed those labs, led the discussion, presented whatever the story was or the situation to be covered, graded the papers, and did follow-up with the grading. Some of those were graduate students, some of them were people considered the better undergraduates. As a senior, I was one of those teaching assistants, and could have done teaching assistant again either in that or in copy editing, which had a similar kind of arrangement for headline-writing and things, but I didn't do it.
I had the down payment for the car, which is what I set out to do it for, because my dad had said, since it was my time and my choice of how to use my time at college, I could keep the money, so I did. Mother and I kept it for me to buy a car with, only he didn't know that's what I was doing. Dad always said we couldn't buy cars till we'd graduated and knew what we needed for our first job.
Ritchie: In terms of where you'd be located?
Bulkeley: In terms of where we'd be located, if the job would have vehicle demands or not, and the stuff you're supposed to think about before you buy a car, not just what you'd like to have or how much can you afford to have. So I saved my $75 a month, which was pretty good pay for the amount of work involved. It was probably one of the best-paying jobs on campus, and had a third of the price of a Chevy II, so I ordered a car at semester break. I picked it up and paid for it at Easter. Dad ultimately paid for the other two-thirds of it, because my older brother, Peter, was doing a master's degree, an M.B.A., that Dad was helping pay for, and he said, "Since you're not going to do graduate work right now, I'll put the cash into your car so you don't have payments to worry about, but then you'll have to pay that much of any graduate work you do."
Ritchie: In the future.
Bulkeley: So that seemed reasonable.
Ritchie: And here you are doing it now.
Bulkeley: Here I am doing it nearly thirty years later, instead of having it done, doing it piecemeal when I had a job that would have paid tuition or split the tuition. C'est la vie.
Ritchie: What were some of the courses that you enjoyed in college?
Bulkeley: Most of the political science. I lucked into a required intro to government course. I lucked into a lab instructor, a graduate student. Again, state university—we had big lectures and little discussion labs. "Little" in that term meant forty, fifty, sixty in the discussion lab, several hundred in the lecture.
John Ramsey taught political science from looking for where the options are laid out and the decisions are made—where is the control that narrows the choices, where the decisions are made that affect how the money is gathered from whom and how it's spent. So in the early sixties, in the federal government, for instance, that meant knowing what was then the Bureau of the Budget inside out, because that truly is where the executive options were laid out and then narrowed down to what went into the final plan. No matter what a president's political philosophy and operating philosophy, there still are many choices to be made. The Bureau of the Budget was the control point on those. But the rest of it, he taught—the outlines and the theory—as simply a yardstick against which to measure, so you'd have some way of evaluating and looking at the effectiveness of government.
Ritchie: On whatever level.
Bulkeley: At whatever level. And [he] taught connections vertically and horizontally. I got a lot more of that later. I took probably twenty hours of political science, and I had John—Mr. Ramsey—for two more courses. I picked my political science courses based on his discussion labs, to the extent I could.
We did Advise and Consent, Alan Drury's first big novel, published that year, and for one of my papers I did a review of that book. I had read the condensed version, so I read the whole one and did a review. He'd start discussion with questions like, "Which United States president was the greatest dictator?" And everybody would say, "Roosevelt," all those Southern Democrats, and city Republicans or country Republicans would say, "Franklin Delano Roosevelt." Then he'd go back and show us what Lincoln did in his first hundred days. He'd ask who'd had experience with socialized medicine. Well, we all did. The campus had a clinic, and access to medical help was part of what our tuition paid for in those days. By the second time he asked those questions, I knew the answers. [Laughter] But it was that kind of pragmatic and use of theory to make sense out of the world rather than theory for theory's sake. So the political science courses I found quite useful.
We had to take an Intro to Economics course. All of my sorority sisters said, "Oh, you're going to have a wonderful semester. That's five hours of an easy C, because we've got all the tests in the files." Well, with my upbringing, saying that kind of thing to me is daring me to do better. So I led the curve in my lab and got an A in that five hours of economics by spending the requisite two hours a day, and it was great fun.
Our big professor there was Pinkney Walker, who was off and on a member of the Democratic administration and frequently on advisory boards and things. I don't remember the discussion leaders. But then I took a bunch of economics courses. One of them, until recently, was the only course I ever flunked a midterm on—an economic theory course that absolutely made no sense to me, because it was abstractions. I had gotten through the required Intro to Philosophy by memorizing, because I couldn't deal with abstractions in those days. I was having a terrible time with this economics course, flunked the midterm. Three credit hours, I did a minimum of two hours a day, seven days a week, wrote the only perfect final, had checked it so many times I could have recited the whole test and all the answers, and still left the room ahead of everybody. I really knew it. Got a C in the course, because the graduate assistant gave straight average of the midterm and the final—the only two things he had to grade on.
Ritchie: Nothing else?
Bulkeley: Nothing else. No discussion; the classroom was too big. No little quizzes. No anything else. And to do a straight average, rather than recognizing that while it hadn't made sense at all at the midterm, I either knew it or I grossly cheated at the end, and give people the benefit of the doubt. And I called him on it when I ran into him in the hallway, and he allowed as how I probably was entitled to a better grade, but he always graded on averages and he never changed grades under any circumstances after they were posted. I said, "You're really lucky, because nobody I know will darken the door of your classroom."
Ritchie: So that was that.
Bulkeley: And that was the end of that course. But generally, I thought economic stuff was fine.
History I took a bunch of and tried to cover some of the gaps in my own background, because we had done history and geography—only western hemisphere; history—only United States, basically; geography—both continents. But by memorizing grains and topography and stuff. So I did some European history—modern, not ancient—and some international relations and diplomatic history and stuff like that. But it never plugged into me as well as economics and political science did. Those were my lower grades.
Ritchie: The history.
Bulkeley: The history. The journalism stuff was all fine. The degree was 25 percent journalism and 75 percent the rest of the university. Within that thirty hours in journalism, I did about half of it on the Missourian or practice-related courses, and the other half classroom, like international press, communications law, some of those things.
Ritchie: So you were actually working on the Missourian?
Bulkeley: Yes. The Missourian is a daily newspaper. There's a regular commercial daily also in that town. So we covered the whole city, and while new sources were used to having students cover, and the professional reporters at the other paper were used to having us competing with them, it still was useful to see where we could beat them on stories or on understanding of what was going on. I did three semesters of reporting—two daytime, with a shift out of several at the county courthouse, which in Missouri is also the governance. They had the commission form of county government, with three county judges as the commission. But we covered courts—civil and judicial government. The last semester I did nightside reporting, which could be anything—concert reviews, lectures, city council, other government meetings.
Ritchie: So you were doing this for class credit?
Bulkeley: Writing for class credit and for publication in the Missourian.
Ritchie: So you would hand in your story to an editor?
Bulkeley: An editor. Most of the editors in those days came with professional credentials, not academic.
Ritchie: They weren't students?
Bulkeley: No, they were real—real!—newsmen. One of our favorites was a guy named Tom Duffy, who had been the editor of the Metro East Journal, the East St. Louis newspaper, in the days when organized crime managed East St. Louis. So he had wonderful stories to tell about relationships with news sources who happened to be part of the organized crime, how he'd first met them and how he learned to deal with all of that as a reporter and then later as manager of the newspaper.
The head of the copy desk had always been running that copy desk, but was as demanding and as pragmatic as anybody you'd ever encounter, some of his assistants would absolutely not bend the rules of headline-writing, for instance. [Bill] Bickley knew how long you should fight with the rules and when you should bend them, because there was no other kind of headline that was going to work, for instance, or page make-up or whatever.
There were some others that were good, but those were probably the two best. Today that whole faculty is Ph.D., as most journalism schools are, to gain acceptance and keep their share of the money at universities. The people I know on the Missouri faculty—and it's far bigger than it was—but of the people that I know, they all have had pretty good experience out in the profession on newspapers and other media.
Ritchie: Have you ever thought of teaching?
Bulkeley: I've been encouraged a number of times to teach, but without a master's degree, with only a bachelor's degree, even endowed chairs that bring experienced professionals in, generally expect a master's degree. I've also been short-listed on some administration—some dean searches where they're a little more able to deal with professional equivalence. But in the last one, at a school that used to have maybe half Ph.D.s, and where I used to have a standing offer of appointment to the faculty in chairs that were endowed for professionals, even without a master's, the time had changed and the demands had changed enough that while they had me in on the short list for the dean's search, a list of five, that was their next-to-last list, because they could only send three to the president for final appointment.
They had me in basically to enrich the discussion, because they really weren't ready to deal with a new university president, with somebody without a master's degree. The whole faculty is Ph.D. We had some pretty good discussions about the challenges that face this school. Can you deal with the lack of academic credentials when, in fact, I'm the only candidate who has done all of the things you say the next dean needs to do?
Ritchie: Because of your experience.
Bulkeley: Because I've had that experience—overhauling buildings, long-range planning in all kinds of settings and in all kinds of names and contexts, and living with the consequences of that planning, which is critically important. To just do the planning and walk away from it, you don't learn a whole lot.
So while I had done all of that, the new president was out of a hard science—physics, I think—but also known as an executive who made change or created change, facilitated change. What I said to that search committee and that faculty was, "Let him decide. I know from your own conversations since I've been here, that there are two Ph.D.s out of the five that you're not interested in at all. Okay. That leaves you room to send in two Ph.D.s you could live with, and me. Let him decide whether he's going to go for the experience and thus tell you all he's ready to help you make these changes and take these steps that you say are necessary. Let him make that choice, but stand up for the professional experience." Well, they weren't ready to do it. They sent up the two Ph.D.s only.
Ritchie: So he didn't have to make that decision?
Bulkeley: Nope. The search committee sent only the two Ph.D.s, and the person they hired has done a fine job. Her executive and administrative experience was light, but her potential was big. She walked into this job, which was much bigger than her last one, and from everything I hear, is doing a fine job. That's okay. They knew what they needed to look for and made a quite acceptable choice.
I used to do a lot of classroom journalism school visiting. I was on the National Accrediting Council for three years, and the committee that did the visiting and the first decision-making. Between that and being the first female publisher in Gannett for a long time, and the Women in Communications activity, I had enough invitations a year to keep me in touch with what was happening in the academy, in journalism, and to recharge batteries. A lot of times that's the best place to pick up the new ideas or the cutting-edge theory or get a sense of what's going on around the country, as the best journalism schools have a good mix of students, not just your own territory. The little journalism schools give you a good sense of regionalism, and that it's still alive and well in this country, regardless of homogenizing forces.
So for all of those reasons, I tried to do at least two campus visits of several days a year when the agenda was whatever they wanted to hear from me, but also to give me a good chance to listen and hear what they were about. I haven't had those opportunities as much in recent years. But from all of that, people like the way I handle classrooms. I don't know whether I could sustain a classroom over a semester or not. I would have to work at it. A couple of times I could have taken one-year appointments, but was right in the middle of something and chose not to interrupt—right in the middle of switching a newspaper from all-white to 20 percent other, or some of those kinds of things that would have not progressed and might have, in fact, disappeared had I not stayed with them.
So it just never worked. That doesn't mean it can't, or won't, sometime, depending on how people look at this theology degree I'm working on. I think it's a critically important way to get at multiculturalism, and is interdisciplinary. That fills some of the gaps that I left by focusing so much on history and political science and economics. I never took a sociology course. Well, to do sociology of religion at the seminary, I had to do some heavy-duty sociology reading.
Bulkeley: To have the background to do "of religion" piece reasonably well. To do understanding of scripture and interpretation of scripture, you've got to know what scripture came from. You've got to know everything anybody can know about that whole Mideastern chunk of the country for as far back as it's known or speculated. Then in order to validate that information, you've got to know a little bit about how they got it. You've got to know archeology and anthropology and all of those things that go into reconstructing the past and understanding it.
So it's been a wonderful interdisciplinary fill-the-gap/build-on/validate process, but I don't know that my journalism friends are going to understand that, except some of the most forward-thinking.
Ritchie: Well, you explain it very well. It makes sense.
Bulkeley: But some of them say, "But you could have in nine months done a master's degree documenting what you've already learned." I said, "Well, what I've learned is documented, so I don't see any point in paying tuition." I would be bored.
Ritchie: You wouldn't really learn anything.
Bulkeley: Well, I might—about academic format and structure and some of that, and it would have been a lot faster, certainly. But I think in terms of enriching me and who I am and what I have to offer, the degree I'm doing is far more valuable than any journalism degree I've ever heard of in twenty-five or thirty campuses and all my friends in and out of journalism schools who've done master's and Ph.D.s and things.
Ritchie: How did you decide on theology?
Bulkeley: We were in Rochester with the Gannett Foundation. We got involved with the downtown Catholic parish—David's Catholic connections. In weekly discussions about what the lectionary scriptures had to say that might be of use to whoever was preaching the next Sunday, I started doing the backgrounding and homework, and discovered I couldn't learn religion and theology fast enough on my own, that I was going to have to go to school to do it. But my job didn't give me enough calendar control to go part time.
Ritchie: Because your schedule was—
Bulkeley: I didn't control it. With speaking trips and meeting trips and all of that stuff, there's no way I could be sure I could be in town Tuesday nights or weekends or whatever, to do justice to seminary work. Rochester has seminaries. But I kept feeling the need to go do it, so when we had the opportunity down here to cut out of the work force and a variety of seminaries, particularly Wesley, with its classic Methodist pragmatism and its own recognition of the special nature of public policy and religion and theology, it just was a natural fit as if I were called to be there.
So it's quite fun and far more satisfying than any of my other schooling has ever been. But I'm not sure I knew my other schooling was voluntary. As we talked the other day, from the time I knew numbers, I knew I had sixteen years of school. The question was, what could I do to reduce the work and gain some enjoyment out of it.
Ritchie: Did you enjoy your college years?
Bulkeley: Probably. I say that, because I'm still not really sure. I only occasionally have any contact with anybody from those years, but there are bunches of people I'd like to see again if anybody knew where they were. I've got half a dozen sorority sisters that nobody has an address for, that I'd dearly love to see and visit with, and think I could pick up the phone and pick up conversations with.
Ritchie: Was this a journalism sorority?
Bulkeley: No, this is social sorority [Alpha Phi]. I have a couple of friends, classmates, down here that I worked on the student newspaper with—one in Congress and one running a public policy/public relations consulting company, who simply are too busy because of their jobs to set time aside for somebody who's not connected with what they're paid to do, although we tried when we first came to town, the three of us tried to get together, and I know if I needed them for something, I could pick up the phone and get to them.
But I'm not sure really that if I had it to do over again, I'd do it over again. I'd stay at this seminary for three or four more years if I could afford it, because there are so many things there I want to do. I'm not sure I left anything undone or left any pieces unfinished at undergraduate work. I think some of that goes back to the whole being there not by choice. Some of it goes back to a lot of the stuff we didn't learn in Abingdon. We talked about knowing how to find and make and keep friends, and what are the responsibilities in friendship—not even on some subconscious level having any of that. I think a lot of those things that I was having to learn in college—having to learn how to study, that I just hadn't learned. Now, we had learned a lot of stuff about decision-making and value judgments and making value-based decisions, but not the kind that help you plug into a group that you keep in touch with constantly forever.
So, I guess, on the whole, I probably was satisfied and content, or maybe even only marginally content, and I probably was not what anybody called joyful. I would guess that my propensity to being sardonic and sarcastic probably grew more there than got reduced, and those are some of the years when that stuff, if it surfaced at all, ought to start getting back into proportion.
Ritchie: Was it hard for you to go away from home?
Ritchie: You were ready?
Bulkeley: Yep. We were all ready—ten cousins out of thirteen, half or three-quarters of my classmates. There's hardly anybody from my class even left in that little town now. But besides half that went on to other kinds of things, a lot of them took off within a few years.
Some of that's my own native curiosity. Once it was clear to me that there were regional differences—I went from conservative rural Republican—Ev Dirksen territory—to Southern Democrat. Boone County, Missouri, was still called Little Dixie. Segregation was still in place in public accommodations. I remember the African students being incensed to think that they were treated as if they were American blacks, and that they thought they were entitled to better treatment than that because they were guests in this country. I remember the movies peacefully desegregating, but they were segregated when I got there, in Columbia, Missouri, starting in 1960. The whole stadium stood up when they played "Dixie." That didn't stop till sometime in the seventies. I was in the marching band one year. Of course, the whole university was still mostly white.
The Missouri system had black schools, Lincoln University in Jefferson City being the main one. There were a couple of black fraternities, a couple of Jewish fraternities.
Ritchie: But for the most part, it was predominantly a white school?
Bulkeley: Yes. It was only the beginning of Asians coming. The journalism school had had connections with China from its own beginnings early in this century, and had maintained connections with Taiwan. It also was among the early ones back into China after Nixon opened China. So we occasionally would have Asians, and we would have Taiwanese in the journalism school. I remember one Hawaiian girl went through rush, social sorority rush, one year that I was there.
Ritchie: She was the only one?
Bulkeley: She was the only one. But the people who were different were that easy to spot. We had big fights. We wanted to invite her to membership, and our alumnae said no. That doesn't happen today. You can look at my social sorority magazine and see as good a mix as at the few integrated churches in this town, for instance. But again that's changing times. The women in my sorority from the cities came from the suburbs that were all homogenized, and their schools were still homogenized, generally, although they were a lot more demanding than mine.
My placement tests put me in advanced-standing classes, but I hadn't had the content. I never had any literature. We read a couple of Shakespeare plays in senior English. When the teacher got behind grading papers, we'd read Shakespeare out loud until she got caught up again. That was my exposure to Shakespeare. I did a junior English paper on Jane Austen, and that was my exposure to the English novel or to classic literature, until I had to take it in college.
Ritchie: So your preparation was perhaps somewhat behind some of the other students?
Bulkeley: It had big gaps in it compared with those from the cities—not compared with those from the countryside.
Ritchie: And, of course, you had the mix there.
Bulkeley: We had the mix, because in those days the Missouri system, the state university, was only the two campuses—the university and the School of Mines and Metallurgy. The university long since bought a school in St. Louis and one in Kansas City, and made them part of the university as a whole. All of the teacher colleges, as in most states, have upgraded to be full-blown Ph.D. practical universities. The Columbia campus is still the research university.
Ritchie: What other outside activities did you take part in? You mentioned you were in the marching band.
Bulkeley: I did that only one year, and I got to the Orange Bowl, and that was enough payback. Marching was two to three hours three days a week, and took all of Saturday when there were home games, plus a couple of weekends. I also marched in a gubernatorial inaugural right after the Orange Bowl. So there wasn't a whole lot more to get out of marching band. The concert band had to go to basketball games and do some other stuff in the spring, and there just wasn't enough reason to keep taking band since I wasn't a music major.
So what else did I do? I did campus politics. I did social sorority stuff. I was our Panhellenic delegate for two years, and campus rush chairman one year.
Ritchie: What sorority?
Bulkeley: Alpha Phi. I was Student Union research chairman one year, and that involved working with a committee doing some rudimentary so-called market research—early sixties, remember; pre-computer—on what people were interested in at the union. There was a new building to be built, so we did a little bit of poking around for planning purposes on how that space ought to be used.
What else did I do? I don't remember that I did a whole lot of other activities. We had sorority meetings every Monday night, and the stuff the sorority does.
Ritchie: That kept you busy.
Bulkeley: Because that was one chunk of evening activities, one evening lost mostly to study, although the weekends were there. Went to church a lot—I mean, every Sunday. I didn't do other things.
Ritchie: Still the Methodist Church?
Bulkeley: Yes, Methodist Church. I did Maneater, campus newspaper, for two years.
Ritchie: In addition to the Missourian?
Bulkeley: There was a campus weekly called the Maneater. Missouri Tigers is the sports nickname. The campus weekly was separate from the journalism school. Those of us in journalism who worked on it had to be a little careful that our journalism people didn't think we were pulling away from our journalism studies to do the campus paper. But I guess I worked on that for three years—sophomore, junior, and half or three-quarters of senior year.
Ritchie: How would that paper be different? I understand that it was a weekly but—
Bulkeley: It focused on campus activities. The Columbia Missourian was a city newspaper. In fact, it was a small regional newspaper, because people covered the outlying villages and towns, too, and issues. But the campus paper was like every other campus paper. The student governing body was the big governing body to be covered. We covered some legislative stuff affecting university and some university governance questions, certainly, and the Greek activities and the independent dorm activities, campus politics, and whatever went on on campus. What went on in the city, unless it affected the campus, was immaterial.
My junior year, the editor and a carload of his friends went to Selma* over break—spring break or Thanksgiving break.
Ritchie: This was '62?
* Selma, Alabama. County seat of Dallas County which became the focus of 1964 efforts to register black voters and the point of origin of the 1965 civil rights march to Montgomery, Alabama, led by Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr.
Bulkeley: Yes. '62. Over one break. They came back and filled the paper up with it, and we were all furious. I was the end of the "silent generation." I was just ahead of the Peace Corps generation, although a lot of people my age Peace Corped. But having come from the Republican part of the countryside, we were slower to follow the Kennedy lead than those who started out in the activist and the Democratic mode, and the Southern Democrats, too, because a lot of them were really Republicans, only there weren't any Republicans in the South. So we were all put out at Larry Fuller when he filled the paper with Selma; we didn't think it was relevant.
Ritchie: To what was happening on your campus and in your lives?
Bulkeley: To what was going on and what that paper was there for. Fuller was the prophet; not the rest of us. But I think that's all I did—that and my classes.
Ritchie: You always knew you wanted to work on a newspaper—not magazine, not a different type of writing?
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Bulkeley: I don't remember ever entertaining any other approach. Between the classes and the kinds of people who came to Missouri Journalism School as visiting professionals in Journalism Week, it was pretty clear to me that what I needed to do was go somewhere where I'd get a crack at covering local government and how it fit together, and then work my way up through state capital and into Washington—that that was the primary path for people who got to be Washington reporters at some point. I was not interested in management. I thought I had all I could fit into a career to do that reporting step-by-step thing.
Ritchie: What about women's pages? Wasn't this a time when a woman would have been more likely to go to a women's page.
Bulkeley: Only if you were where they stereotyped, which Missouri didn't. A lot of students came with that expectation and did the women's-page stuff. I did the page make-up on the women's pages. But the first wave of change on the women's pages had started in the field, and Missouri was on top of that. So our women's pages were not just food, furniture, and fashion and brides. We were, in fact, doing the impact, on family life and community, of issues. Not a lot, but some. As I say, for one semester I did once or twice a week the page make-up for those papers, but nobody ever said I had to go work on them or do reporting for them.
Ritchie: So you weren't categorized?
Bulkeley: No. And other women weren't either. There were women doing the nightside reporting when I was. There had been women doing it before I did, and we were all over town at night. We could get exceptions. I was in school when they still locked women in at night.
Ritchie: You had a curfew.
Bulkeley: Yes, and locked doors. My last semester is when Missouri started experimenting with senior keys. If our parents would sign all of the papers that absolved the university of any responsibility, then we could sign out keys, but we had to say where we were going and why, and why we couldn't be back on time, and who were the people we'd be with. We had to sign in when we got in, and if we were more than fifteen minutes before or after when we had said, we had to explain why, and more than two variations meant that you had to talk to the dean of women
students about it. So while it was an experiment, it wasn't much of one, because all but the most determined couldn't fight the paperwork. I was on nightside reporting, so it was a little easier for me.
Ritchie: You could get an exception.
Bulkeley: I could get an exception. Some other kids from my home town were going to Missouri by then, one of whom had a car and was a freshman, so it was registered in my name and I had custody of it until I got my own, picked up my own at Easter break. So I spent my last semester staying out. I was tired of all of the people at that point. I had senioritis, as everybody does. One of my male friends was on the graveyard shift out at the radio station. The university didn't own the radio station, but had a contract, so some students had jobs there, some students did their school practice there. A friend of mine was on the graveyard shift, and if my own reporting nightside assignment didn't keep me out until I knew everybody had gone to bed at the house, then I'd go out and sit with Bob [Priddy] at KFRU. We'd visit while the records were on, because I had the car. So I always just went ahead and signed out until one in the morning.
Ritchie: Which you could do with your reporting.
Bulkeley: Which I could do, because reporting assignments were generally over by then, and I would know if I had one that was going to run later than that. In those days, the Missourian was an afternoon paper, but people on nightside covered and wrote the stuff and had an editor there working with us. So we were used to having editors critique and make you go back and rewrite and all of those things that in newsrooms at the time they were already too short-staffed to do.
Ritchie: So you really had the luxury of having the attention of someone.
Bulkeley: Right. And we really were getting the learning that we were paying for and that we went there to get. Then as I mentioned earlier, we had the Columbia Tribune and its professional reporters' work to compare our own with the next day, and took great delight. The guy who covered the county government for the Tribune was straight out of central casting, an old, sort of slouchy, suited but a little unkempt old guy named Gene Powell. He thought he was God's gift to all of the women students. He was always being so helpful, showing us where things were. It took me about six weeks to start scooping him with what he'd taught me about the courthouse. He never quite understood he had done it to himself, but it was great fun.
Ritchie: So you learned the ropes of the courthouse from him.
Bulkeley: And what went on where and how to deal with—the courthouse people were all used to dealing with students. But you could get to the next level of understanding. The surface level, even at routine court business, often wasn't where the real connection with the public came. As with so many things, the real connection, where it starts to resonate at bone marrow level, is at the second or third level of understanding. I developed the kind of relationship at the courthouse that people would invest time in explaining the rest of the story and more than the two or three paragraphs, so I had context and community relevance in anything that was more than a routine record.
Ritchie: Was there ever anything you weren't allowed to cover because you were female?
Bulkeley: Not at Missouri. Not that I noticed. No. I may think of something later, now that you've raised the question, but I don't remember ever having thought of anything or being reminded of anything. I ran into that later.
Ritchie: So that learning was a good experience in terms of exposure to many different aspects of newspapering.
Bulkeley: I don't remember going to any fires or anything, but I think it's because they never happened on my watch. I remember coming up on a fatal car wreck when I was on my way somewhere else. It was the first time I had ever seen a dead body. It was all over the middle of the road, and it nearly wiped me out for my next assignment, which is when I became even more aware of how to build, and the necessity of building, that detachment piece that reporters have to learn if they're going to stay in the business, that you have to detach from the environment, too, and turn off your normal human instincts. It's the stuff that got Merriman Smith* and the others through the [John F.] Kennedy assassination, even though Smith and some others had nervous breakdowns, or breakdowns of some kind, later. That's what got them through those hours and those days. It's what accounts for, in my day, the stories the faculty would tell, would be about the newsrooms that were staffed with women during World War II when the casualty lists would come in, and their fiances would be on it, but the editors would never know it because the job would get done. Or the guys who couldn't go, when the casualty lists would come in, it would be the first time they knew their brothers had been killed, or their fathers, or whatever. So we heard those kinds of stories about the detachment. Until you live through it, you don't really know what it takes to get there.
I just remember after that car wreck, the body was just lying there. They were waiting. The cops hadn't even gotten there. Well, I had a blanket in the back of my car, and I gave it to them, because nobody else there seemed to have a blanket. I figured the least we could do is cover the body, which they did.
But the guy I talked about who was on the radio graveyard shift was covering the same event I was for the radio station, and when I got back to the newsroom and finished my stuff, I picked up the phone and called him and said, "Do you know what's going on?" He said, "I'm not going to do your work." I said, "Do you know who that was and what happened in the wreck?" Well, lesson two from that night. I was just furious. I wasn't going to write the story for the paper. It wasn't my assignment, and I had something else to do. I had long since spent the time I was supposed to, and there was no boss there for me to say, "Shall I go ahead and do it?" And I don't know why—well, I know why I didn't—because I was too shaken by the whole thing. But that's when I also found out that friends are journalists first. Bob Priddy, who had done the reporting on it, wasn't going to share the stuff with me, because he worked for a competitive outlet. Well, that was a lesson that served me in good stead over the years, too. But I would never have learned it if we had been only doing campus news media. Those are lessons I would have learned sometime later out in the world when my paycheck would have been at stake.
Ritchie: When you talk about being detached, does that relate to objectivity in reporting—by not getting involved?
* Merriman A. Smith (1913-1970). U.S. journalist. UPI correspondent, 1936-70; covered White House from 1941.
Bulkeley: We would call it objectivity, and what it really means is not letting your own personal reactions get in the way of things. I think we were all realistic enough to know that in most cases we had our own perspective and viewpoint. A lot more is known today about that kind of thing—that our own class and culture and upbringing has something to do with how we see and hear things. In those days, none of that was understood nearly as well by most people, but I think in terms of stuff like you can't worry about whether the guy died instantly or not, because you've got to find out the facts—who is he and what caused the wreck, are there criminal investigations proceeding, who's his family, what's the obit.
In terms of the Kennedy assassination, my news lab met that afternoon after John Kennedy was murdered. I had the only class on campus that met that afternoon, and of the twenty-some students in it, it was a relatively simple second week on the assignment kind of thing we did, and only about a third of them were coherent. The other two-thirds of the students were so blown away by the assassination of the president, which, of course, was the first time in how many generations—five, six? Most of them were so affected by that, that they could not do whatever our fairly straightforward assignment was that day. Half a dozen of them shifted into professional gear and delivered the assignment as if it were any other Friday afternoon.
Ritchie: Were you able to do that?
Bulkeley: Yeah. Ninety percent. I ran the lab. What I didn't do, again not being prophetic, I didn't save the list. To this day I wish I could tell you, or remember for my own curiosity, who were the ones who functioned as journalists and who were the ones who hadn't learned it, just to see whether that was prophetic or not about what they did with the rest of their lives, or even their early career.
Ritchie: Can you think of other experiences from your work, when this had to kick in? I'm sure it became more natural.
Bulkeley: True, because it becomes just part of your attitude and the way you deal with things. But my second year out of school, my second year at the Rochester Times-Union, I was assigned to cover a suburban township. In New York State, towns, as they're called, or townships, have, if they choose to exercise them, full municipal powers. So I was covering the town of Irondequoit, which had police department, planning, zoning, and was pretty thoroughly populated as a suburb first tier from the city of Rochester, between the city and Lake Ontario.
The township elections that fall, the incumbent Democratic majority—the township supervisor was up every two years, two of the four town board members every two years. So a majority was up every time. Part of what I saw was a lot more honesty and integrity in the incumbents than in the challengers, and I had a hard time knowing how to handle that and be sure I was being fair, even though I had decided, the more I was exposed to them, that I wouldn't want the Republicans running my town—that particular group of Republicans running my town. Likewise, one of the two school districts in that township had initiated what ultimately became, and still exists as a city suburban transfer program for students K [kindergarten] through [grade] twelve. It was fought bitterly in that town. Well, I came to believe in the people who had developed the program, and had very little respect for those who were fighting them, and could very easily poke holes in the arguments they were using, and I would give myself headaches in both of those cases, trying to be sure that I wasn't being unfair to the challengers, but that in trying to be fair to them, I wasn't being unfair to the incumbents. Learning that balance and how to keep a perspective, and where to find sounding boards, by then I also understood some of the dynamics of being a single female where people weren't used to women, and dealing with stuff.
There had been a woman from the Times-Union, Betsy Bues, covering that town for less than a month ahead of me. The weekly newspaper had a woman [Elizabeth Knight] who covered some of it, but she was married and she was older. She and I became a pretty good team, because I had done weekly newspaper and I understood the difference in its role and the daily role. I understood what analysis and perspective were fair shots on the daily that to some extent was serving that township with its own page that came out in other editions, but to some extent was also trend-spotting and lifting out major stories to run in most of the rest of the paper. So it was a dual role, but Elizabeth's was clear cut as a reporter in the town covering the town to talk to itself. She and I could help each other a lot on interpretation and understanding, looking at options and consequences of things that were being considered, all of which I always thought was part of a reporter's job—to cover processes and, again, thanks to John Ramsey, to show people what the options and probable consequences were, so they could make fair choices from the broadest possible array of options.
Ritchie: So she wasn't really a competitor?
Bulkeley: Nope. I didn't think so. Of course, I never thought radio and television were competitors, but we weren't allowed to do the television public affairs shows, because our boss said they were competitors.
Ritchie: So you weren't allowed to go on them?
Bulkeley: Right. I kept saying to the bosses, a few years later, when I clearly was the best, in lots of ways, covering government and politics, I kept saying to them, "How are people who don't read our newspaper going to know what we've got to offer if you don't let me go to those television shows that they watch, where I can ask questions and react and run rings around anybody else who's there?" They said, "That's not up for discussion." End of discussion. I don't know when they ultimately changed that rule, but to the day I left there in the mid-seventies, as far as they were concerned, radio and television were direct competitors.
Ritchie: You weren't to talk to them.
Bulkeley: That's right.
Ritchie: Or assist them.
Bulkeley: And that we would be helping them make money with no benefits to ourselves if we went on their shows. Well, that also meant that I learned to work with those reporters, too. The radio guys could do some stuff I couldn't, and I could do a lot of things they couldn't, because I had the space and the depth. Likewise, the television guys.
In those days, broadcast newsrooms weren't nearly as big as they got to be in the seventies and eighties. The clear channel radio station—remember AM clear channel, 50,000 watt radio stations? It had five newspeople. Our newsroom had a hundred. The leading television station, counting the cameramen, I think had seven. So they really had to hit and run. We could easily scoop them and leave them picking up our papers and reading it. By the same token, because our bosses never really knew how much broadcasters knew, we could always threaten our bosses and say, "You've got to get that story in, because So-and-so at thus-and-such broadcast station knows about it, and we're going to look foolish if it's not there, because I think he's going with it."
Ritchie: Big news.
Bulkeley: Yeah. It was just in some ways a different time. But I also would play games with them. Most of our news sources for those of us who covered beats had material before press conferences, because they knew our deadlines, and the broadcasters knew our deadlines, and we all understood all of that. But I'd go to the press conferences, because I never knew when some of my colleagues might ask a question I didn't know, and I thought I should honor my sources by being there anyway. But I always got myself into the television film, and it was film in those days, which was a lot harder to edit than videotape. So I always asked a question on everybody's television film, even if they ran their cameras once or whether they ran them in sequence, I asked questions on their film, just to try to make my points and get some exposure. And that probably helped their newscasts and the public, too, because it was stuff they weren't asking, or I wouldn't have gotten room for my question.
We had a good time in those days. I don't know whether people do now or not in newsrooms.
Ritchie: What did you do during the summers in college?
Bulkeley: One year I took a French course to try to not forget what little I'd learned before, because I still had to take one more course required. One year, two years, I worked for the Register-Mail one year. I must have worked for the Argus one year and the Register-Mail one year.
Ritchie: In Galesburg?
Bulkeley: Galesburg. Must have been between my sophomore and junior years. Between my junior and senior years, I had applied for a VOA, Voice of America, internship, which I didn't get. But the publisher of the Galesburg paper was so sure I was going to get it, he hired somebody else for his one or two internships. By the time I knew I wasn't going to get the VOA job, he didn't have any work for me, and he didn't have any room in his budget for me. His newsroom was only ten or twelve people.
So I superintended my folks' swimming pool and read my year's supply of Saturday Reviews and lots of mysteries, and got a suntan that lasted all the way through the next school year. We kept playing in the summer band. There was a high school band that the parks department, playground department, the city paid a little bit. Any of us who were band kids kept playing in it if we chose to, and enough of us did in those days so that it continued to be a connecting thing. And whatever else we did in the summer in our little town—sit around and visit, mostly.
Ritchie: You went home for all of the summers?
Bulkeley: Yes, I spent summers at home.
Ritchie: How did you start to look for a job as you were finishing college?
Bulkeley: Missouri had the premier job placement for journalism students in the country, and we all had jobs before we graduated. Recruiters came to campus starting in the fall. We got steered to them based on what we wanted to do, as well as on what the faculty thought we could do and should do, and where they thought we should go. I didn't want to go huge places.
In those days, places like the Chicago Tribune would hire straight out of journalism school. Within ten years, the metros didn't hire anybody with less than five years' experience, generally. But at that time they were hiring straight out of journalism school, but I didn't want to go to a city that big. So I interviewed only two places: with Gannett, which was recruiting on campus for the first time that year. The heir apparent to Paul Miller had been hired in the fall of '63—a bright, young, aggressive news guy from Knight-Ridder named Al Neuharth had gone to Gannett as Paul Miller's heir apparent. He sent a recruiter from corporate headquarters from Missouri. Before that, Missouri had had the nearest editor, which was Danville—the Danville editor had gone over to interview for Gannett.
I was pushed at Gannett. I was pushed at Wilmington, because I wanted to go East.
Bulkeley: Delaware. In those days, independent—well, independent in the sense they weren't part of the newspaper group, but Du Pont owned the newspapers. There was a morning and an evening with separate newsrooms in Wilmington. I went to one of them on the front end of Easter break for an interview and to the other on the back end. I had never flown—I had flown commercially once from Columbia to Springfield, Missouri, but I'd never flown in a big airplane. So I separated my job interview trips and made a whole trip out of each one.
I interviewed on campus, then was on the short list that got to go to the newspapers for more interview. So I did those, and was offered a job both places. Chose to go to Gannett because it was a chain that had all kinds of jobs within it, and I figured whatever I end up really liking to do, and being really good at in reporting, I could do within Gannett because I would have everything from weeklies to big-city dailies—Rochester, and state capital bureaus and Washington bureaus. So I thought this is a lot more sensible than going to a self-contained company, where in order to move beyond a certain level, I'd have to go find somebody else to hire me.
Ritchie: When you interviewed for Gannett, was it for the Rochester paper?
Bulkeley: Yes. Turnover wasn't the same in those days, so they usually just hired, filled vacancies out of journalism schools, and then there wasn't any turnover again for a long time. I spent my first forty-nine weeks as the junior reporter on the totem pole. There was no turnover. Again, it changed shortly thereafter—Vietnam among other things.
But, yes, I was hired for, interviewed for the Rochester Times-Union, which was the flagship of Gannett at that time. Its editorial page was on the required permanent reading list in the Nixon White House because of Paul Miller's connection, and even though it didn't have the Sunday paper, it was slightly larger than the morning paper in terms of circulation in Rochester. But I was the city desk clerk, and the guys were reporters.
Ritchie: What do you mean—city desk clerk?
Bulkeley: I was the clerk who answered the phones for the city editors, and I kept the "futures" file for the city editors, and I took dictation from reporters, and that's all they let girls do in that newsroom in those days.
Ritchie: So you didn't go right as a reporter?
Bulkeley: Nope. It was paid as a reporter job, because they'd never bother fighting the Newspaper Guild to change it.
Ritchie: Do you remember how much you earned?
Bulkeley: Hundred dollars a week. The first contract raise went through in the fall, and it was another $2.75. Because I was on scale for entry-level reporter, I got that raise automatically, which was about 70-something take-home per week. My first apartment was in a converted house; it was $85 a month. A living room that had the refrigerator in it, the stove and the sink were in what had probably been a linen closet when the house was a house, and the bedroom had probably been the maid's room or the cook/maid, whatever. It had the back stairs down into the kitchen out of the bedroom, which held a twin bed and a dresser. It was at the back of a wonderful painted lady house—carpenter Victorian with two other apartments.
My car was a Chevy II with automatic transmission. That was the year of Mustangs and Chevy IIs. My older brother bought a Mustang. I bought a Chevy II, because I thought the Mustangs were weird-looking. We all got used to that look later. My car was $1,800, with automatic transmission, no air-conditioning. Air-conditioning was not standard in those days. No windshield washers. And I went to a city that has ninety inches of snow, all of it basically gray slush because of the lake effect, so I had to learn how to cope with a dirty windshield.
Ritchie: You were unprepared.
Ritchie: You moved there in the summer following graduation?
Bulkeley: I started work two weeks after graduation, and they really wanted me to get there a week faster. I said, "I can't get there any faster."
Ritchie: Were there other new people on the staff at that time or were you the only one?
Bulkeley: I was the only—no, there was one full-time new and one summer intern. The full-time new had a master's degree from—he was from North Carolina. I don't remember where his degree was. They had had one new person in the winter with a master's degree from Penn State. The intern had just finished his junior year at Northwestern, but had also had part-time jobs at City News Bureau and United Press International already in Chicago, because he was a pretty good hustler, pretty aggressive. But I had my daily newspaper jobs, weekly newspaper jobs. I thought I should be doing more than city desk clerk work, but I found out in a hurry that that's what women did in that newsroom.
There were two women who had been there, came the year before me, who had not yet gotten married and left, which was what they expected us all to do, one of whom was doing the church page. They were doing obits and the library and some of those peripheral pieces of government that the government reporters couldn't deign to cover.
Ritchie: In your scrapbook, I saw a telegram that was sent to the Missouri Placement Bureau.
Bulkeley: Right. I forgot about that.
Ritchie: Asking you to submit an essay.
Bulkeley: They hired a new women's editor that year. To this day I don't know whether they seriously considered somebody straight out of school for that page or whether they just wanted to get a feeling for what the state of the art was, or what kind of savvy I had about what was going on and what kind of stuff I could put together quick and easy. But with the help of the faculty, I responded to that. I obviously didn't save a copy of my response. But that was between the time of the on-campus interviews, and it was after that, that I was invited to come out for a job interview. So whatever their intent with that request for what I would do with women's pages, the effect of it was to help secure the interview and a job.
Ritchie: So it worked to your benefit.
Bulkeley: So it worked to my benefit. Part of the Missouri placement system included a thing called senior assembly, which is where we worked on résumés and scrapbooks and what kind of clips to send what kinds of job contacts, and how to write letters for jobs, and how to deal with job interviews and how to get oriented to the first job once you'd get there. Part of what they always told us was you keep your first job a year. Until you stayed all the way through one cycle of the calendar, you don't know what the whole job is. Few people can even begin to make change in a job, if change is warranted, until they've at least lived through a year of it. So that's the only reason I stayed there that year for clerk work.
Part of that year I also spent doing filing and stuff in the women's section, because Missouri had said you've got to stay a year or you lose access to the job placement network for the future. They maintained job placement, and to this day they still will do files of people job-hunting and employers looking for jobs.
Ritchie: For former graduates?
Bulkeley: Former graduates.
Ritchie: So they really impressed upon you that you should give it a year.
Bulkeley: Right. Also, with the much slower rate of turnover in those days, there often wouldn't even be a chance for greater work assignment or for a promotion or the kind of work until you've been there six months or a year.
Ritchie: And you'd gotten a little seniority. Who was your first supervisor—your boss?
Bulkeley: The city editor. He had one full-time assistant. A couple of the senior reporters would swing in to cover the sixth shift, which was Saturday, or they would swing on to the desk as assistant during the week, and the assistant would cover Saturday. But basically it was a very tight management group, and with so many senior reporters, as I became senior reporter, we all understood negotiating for space ahead of time. So you write the story to the space, and the editor knows what he's getting.
A lot of that didn't happen in other newsrooms. It was only as I became familiar with other ones, that I realized how advanced ours was in many ways. Some of that changed as we lost senior people and the average age dropped. They started putting more people on the desk, because reporters needed more help with putting stories in context, rewriting, editors cutting stories because reporters wouldn't stop at the line. We all learned how to use whatever didn't fit one day, how to build a story on it for the next day, or how to build it as an inside story for pages that had to move. With the limits of hot metal and the production limits as linotypes and things
began to phase out, our bosses always in the afternoon had some advance pages to move for the next day's paper, so we always knew on beats that if we had stuff that really wasn't worthy of front page or prime space, but needed to get in the paper, we always knew to get it in to them, as fast as they got rid of today's paper, start feeding them for the next day.
Ritchie: So that you could get a place.
Bulkeley: So we had no problem when we ran out of space. If it was a three-page story, so it was a three-page story. These other key parts, we'd write a new story for the next day or write an inside story or feed to somebody who was working on something similar. We did pretty good teamwork.
A lot of that stuff disappeared over the years later. I was in smaller newsrooms, so I don't know some of the dynamics of how it disappeared. I just mostly hear the horror stories that grew out of the creative tension pitting reporters against each other, and how hard they had to work when they went back to teams for investigative reporting or teams for comprehensive political reporting or for major stories.
When I went to Danville, they had somebody with an editor title tied to the desk for everybody they had on the street. In Danville, I'm also talking about the copy desk. That newsroom in Rochester had a city editor, an assistant city editor, a part-time assistant. There were five or six people on the copy desk. We had a managing editor and an assistant managing editor, a business editor and a sports editor and a women's editor. All the rest of us were reporters, and there must have been thirty, thirty-five reporters. There was a columnist who did reporting and two others in the women's department. Sports was probably four or five. There must have been twenty news reporters, or twenty-five.
Ritchie: You all reported to the city editor?
Bulkeley: All reported to the city editor, two-and-a-quarter people. By the time I left that newsroom, there were four people on the city desk all the time, and they were happy if those of us on beats gave them a budget for the next week with one major story sometime in the week on it. When I first went on the county government beat, after I finished on today's deadline, I'd give my bosses a budget for the next twenty-four hours, and beyond that, a general notion of what I was working on. So the whole sense of expectation was so radically different just in that newsroom, anyway—in about a six-year span from a major story, or candidate for major story, a day with a bunch of other pieces, to one a week with some other stuff, maybe.
Ritchie: Quite a difference.
Bulkeley: Oh, yes.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Bulkeley: Editors who simply had expectations far too low. Some of it was the beginning of the change in news content, without a whole lot of understanding of what they were looking for and why. A lot of the procedural stuff that I had reported from government, that I felt helped the readers connect with government and be part of it, was left out, was no longer of any interest. So we shifted to what we still see too often today, where people see the beginning of a story, of an issue, when the president or somebody proposes a program, we don't see it again until we're down to two choices that we don't recognize, neither one of which we're very interested in, but which
Congress has to vote on, choose between. We never see in between how it got there. Or the city council or the state legislature or whomever.
But we covered governmental process and looked for how do people connect with it. We changed—because of how I reported government, learned it and reported it, we changed that whole taxing system—not the system, but the cycle. The county government budget in the Rochester-Monroe County area, when I went on the government beat, came out election day or the day after.
Ritchie: The new budget.
Bulkeley: The budget for the following calendar year would come out election day or the day after, routinely drift through its committees on the county legislature—board of supervisors, then legislature—and be voted on after a routine ten- or fifteen-minute public hearing, all a daytime meeting. I learned to project the spending impact of decisions the legislature made, and to translate those into context the readers could deal with, so they could see at least the cost consequence of things the legislature was considering.
Ritchie: You're talking about the state legislature.
Bulkeley: County level. I talked earlier about the towns in New York State having full municipal powers. County governments mostly had the second tier—social services, health. In this case, the airport, the zoo, the safety-net things, but that most taxpayers never saw or dealt with. They paid it in a property tax that in townships was offset or combined with county taxes, and most people paid it through the mortgage, so it was a piece of a whole, and they never really saw it anyway.
Yet after I'd been through the cycle, and with my reporting, by the third year the county administration and controlling party had to move the budget into a September introduction, with public hearings nights and weekends all over the county, and voting on it before the election, because the taxpayers were insisting that they see what the incumbents, anyway, were going to do with programs and taxes. We got rid of the fake welfare spending cuts to produce tax cuts for election year, that also led to borrowing in off-election year and interest costs and revenue for banks in the non-election years, because I wrote the stories whenever they started toying with welfare cuts that the statistics said would not hold because of the welfare caseload and the trends and the state reimbursement dollars and things. I could write the stories that said if they make that cut, the odds are they're going to have to borrow X-million dollars at X-interest rate, at X-impact on the tax rate in another year, whereas if they leave it alone, the tax rate will stay flat now and we won't have to pay the banks anything either. I didn't say it quite that way.
Ritchie: How did you learn to say it so people understand it? It's very complicated.
Bulkeley: By listening to people at all of the things. I didn't have anything else to do as a single female. I spent my whole life doing government and political stuff. I went to political dinners and I went to political meetings and I went to rallies. I talked to people, and I listened to people. The women talked to me because I was a woman. The guys talked to me because I was a single female, because I knew what the government stuff was. I got introduced to all of the wives, because everybody wanted to make sure that their wives knew who that was they were talking to, even though I dressed like a church mouse. I didn't even own a cocktail dress for years. But I listened. People would say to me, "I read everything you write, because my husband (or So-and-so) says it's important, but I don't understand it." So then I'd talk to them about what I was writing until I found a way to say it that they understood. First I had to write it so my bosses
understood it, because I was writing stuff that nobody had ever done before. I was reporting stuff nobody had ever done before.
Ritchie: And you had the leeway to do that?
Bulkeley: As a beat reporter I did in those days.
Ritchie: How long did it take you before you got to be a reporter?
Bulkeley: I was city desk clerk for forty-nine weeks, at which point I became a general assignment reporter. That summer, which would have been the summer of '65, there was—was it the summer of '65? No, I was general assignment the summer of '65.
A reporter with a year's seniority over me—Betsy Bues—was given the assignment to cover Irondequoit, but then her school called and invited her to go to their school in Athens, Greece, and teach English. She had gone to a Catholic girls' college, women's college. I was the first female journalism graduate they'd hired there—the Neuharth influence. So anyway, Betsy's school called. It was a chance for her. She was interested in Europe, so she left.
Overnight they needed somebody to go cover this township. Well, I had already been going to city council meetings and to some township meetings, town board meetings, where we didn't have reporters, and writing those things in my spare time at the city desk clerk job. So they knew I had more understanding of local government and politics and New York State government stuff than any other junior reporter, so I got the Irondequoit assignment in August of '65. A lot of that was night work, but I also went out to catch the police report before the morning deadline to the afternoon newspaper—some of that kind of stuff. The Irondequoit page was daily, and it was four columns in an eight-column paper. The newsprint was still wider in those days, so we had eight columns across, not six.
I forgot what your original question was.
Ritchie: I think I asked how long it took you to become a reporter.
Bulkeley: I was general assignment reporter forty-nine weeks after I went to work there, rather than the day I went to work there.
Ritchie: You lasted almost the fifty-two weeks.
Bulkeley: In the clerk job. I was very close to when I would have quit, had I not been given the kind of work that I went there to do in the first place, but also because of the kinds of things I'd been able to do since I was so grossly underemployed in the clerk job. Within three months of getting off the clerk desk, I had a reporting beat—that whole township of 60,000 people, in all of its forms, the two school districts, the library districts, the volunteer fire districts, the police.
Ritchie: So anything you wanted to cover?
Bulkeley: The township government, which was a couple of million dollars, and I was really on my own to decide what ought to be covered and how to cover it. So mostly, of course, I covered the government and political stuff and the governing processes. I had to work very hard at finding feature stories. We also had to do our own photography. For people who see or think graphically, those suburban pages would become almost feature pages or photo pages.
It would take me longer to see a feature picture or an illustration for a story, than it would take me to fill the page with copy that was legitimate news copy. Two or three days after a story ran, I'd realize what would have been a fair game, responsible illustration/picture I could have taken, or the editor would call and say, "Why didn't you get thus and such? Did they have some film there that you forgot to tell me about?" I said, "No." He'd say, "Why not?" I'd say, "Because I didn't think of that picture possibility."
Ritchie: So this was before the day of large photo staffs that would go out with reporters?
Bulkeley: The paper had photo staff, and indeed it was a combined staff for the morning and evening paper, but because these suburban pages—there were three suburban pages in the Times-Union in those days, covering the biggest of the—Monroe County had nineteen townships. Five of them were of the tier before there was open countryside. In New York State, cities had not been able to annex since early in the century, so while the Rochester metropolitan area is now 800,000 people, the city of Rochester is only 240,000. So in the early sixties, if you drew the line around where the first fields and cows and things and barns were, there were five suburbs within the line. Three of them were clustered together with one reporter, and then two of us each had our own full township. Those were what we called the suburban pages, and they were replated. For Irondequoit, the Irondequoit page was there. It would be taken off the press and the Greece page put in for the papers that went to Greece. Then the papers that went to Brighton, Pittsford, Henrietta, would have their own page. For the rest of the territory, the other suburbs, the other townships, plus the city of Rochester, the best stories, or the most important stories, off those three pages would be put into a fourth replate.
Ritchie: A composite.
Bulkeley: A composite, in effect—good word—of our pages. So we did our own photography, because they couldn't justify sending a full-blown professional union-scale photographer out to take a picture for 10 or 15 or 20 percent of the circulation territory, which a lot of our pictures would be. Few of our pictures, especially with people like me taking them, would be worth feature quality, although occasionally one of my pictures would get appropriated to the whole paper, but not very often.
Ritchie: That wasn't one of your talents.
Bulkeley: Did not become one of my talents or a permanent piece of my repertoire. I have one wonderful "arty" picture I took, hanging on a wall somewhere. The establishment suburb, the school district, the one that did the urban/suburban transfer program, also had a fine theater department in the high school and, in fact, had one student who played harp, and they did the Fantastiks that fall, which, if you remember, the music has wonderful harp in the theater orchestra. So I have somewhere on a wall the picture I took that ran in the paper. By then I had at least figured out to use my own high-speed 35-millimeter with fast film, and not screw around with the strobe lights and all of that. I just put fast film in and shot with natural light. So I have the harpist profiled against her harp, with the tiny, little bitty cast of the Fantastiks on the stage doing whatever they were doing. It was a wonderful photo—perfectly balanced and dramatic, but told the story, and told people what to expect when they got to the play. Mine didn't always work like that.
I had a couple other just spot news feature pictures, one where the wind had blown a perfect curved crescent over a mailbox, that just was a freestanding crescent hanging over
somebody's rural mailbox that I just happened to see and take a picture of. Some incidental things like that, but nothing to frame or hang on a wall or enter in a contest.
Ritchie: How large an area did you cover, physically?
Bulkeley: Physically, I don't remember what the square miles were. Town hall was, by expressway, about ten miles from downtown Rochester. I had a little office and file cabinets and things in the town hall, but, of course, we were all working with typewriters and sending hard copy through in those days. So at night I had to go in and turn in any copy and do my writing. I had a desk in the office, too.
Irondequoit itself was really outlying city density, so it wasn't all that big. At its deepest north to south, it might have been eight miles, and across, six or seven. So it wasn't all that big. It was an old suburb, and you can't tell the difference through—a lot of it was small twenties' houses and lots, or somewhat bigger houses developed where the subdivisions went bust during the Depression. They were starting to build apartments in the suburbs.
You asked earlier about objectivity and staying out of stories. I sat in zoning hearings where developers would propose apartments for properly classically zoned buffer areas, talk about the income levels, which would be my income level, but people would stand up there and talk about apartment-dwellers as if they weren't human. I had an awful time sitting there, keeping my mouth shut. I'd want to get up and say, "That's me! That's me and my peers that you're keeping out by attacking this zoning as letting in undesirables."
Well, what it was, was early fear or backlash against minorities. That suburb was people who had escaped the city. It was the second-generation immigrants. They didn't want any density or anything that was going to look like the city part or the parts of the city they'd gotten away from. By then, of course, the new immigrants into cities were black. Whether there was fear of blacks or simply not wanting anybody at all below their income level and their sense of proper housing, who knows. But it was me they were talking against, and it was the schoolteachers they were talking against, and I'd get incensed and have to sit there and act like I wasn't. And I'd have to write the story with just the facts in it, and try not to reflect that I thought those people attacking the apartments that were separate from their neighborhoods anyway, were unreasonable. So just another piece of the culture of that era.
Ritchie: It was the mid-sixties.
Bulkeley: That would have been, yes. I covered Irondequoit from August of '65 till June of '66. But I was working eighteen hours a day, five days a week—maybe only twelve on Friday, except there usually were township dinners, Little League, or political or whatever.
Ritchie: So you really immersed yourself in everything about the town.
Bulkeley: I did. When the fire districts had elections, I'd go to all of them on election night and get the head shots of the new officers or water districts or the library boards. That stuff had never been covered in that town before. But to me that was more important than feature stories, so I did it. Often even I'd have to spend some time on Sunday, if only writing copy for Monday, from Saturday night or Friday night or Saturday stuff.
Ritchie: What was your deadline?
Bulkeley: When the boss came in at six in the morning to put the pages together.
Ritchie: So you'd have to have it in.
Bulkeley: He would call. He didn't work at night with us. We only had each other to talk to if we had problems or questions or couldn't figure out what to do with something, or we'd leave him notes saying we weren't sure about something. He'd call us by eight in the morning, even if we'd been there till two or 2:30, and we knew we were up if he had questions, which he usually did, and should have. That's what he's paid for. It was only later that they shifted that editor into working when the reporters were working.
Ritchie: That would seem to make more sense.
Bulkeley: Generally as long as we had the compartmentalized space. When they gave up those pages and went to some other system, there had to be somebody there during the day to fight for the suburban copy to get it in or to handle the editing of it, shortening of it, or whatever, who knew the suburbs well enough to not do violence to the copy. So times have changed. I don't really remember how all of that worked.
I was offered the job of editor to establish the night system, but by then I was into the notion of changing how the county and its budget and decision-making of the taxpayers related. I had started seeing what was possible with that, and was committed. I was concerned. I was committed to seeing it through, even though my bosses never really understood what we were doing until the day I came back with the county manager story changing the budget cycle. Then they began to understand, and they saw the public filling those public hearings all day Saturday, insisting on hearings at night out in the countryside. Then they understood what I was doing. Nobody ever entered it in any contests, but they understood that I had reasons for saying "no" to something like that promotion to nightside or a switch over to the city hall beat, which, in their eyes, was more prestigious because it was the city, as opposed to the county, even though the county covered more geography and had more dollars than the city.
Ritchie: That wasn't how they saw it.
Bulkeley: That wasn't the prestigious government. It was city, because that was Rochester. But we all have a different perspective.
Ritchie: Who were some of your colleagues in the early days in the newsroom? Did you make any friends that you worked closely with?
Bulkeley: Sure. There are a bunch of answers to that. I started going to city council meetings in the fall after I started at the paper. In those days there were only two people doing government and politics full time. One was city hall and politics. The other was county government and backing up city hall and politics during an election campaign—that Labor Day to Election Day period. The county government reporter would take over the basics on city hall, and the political reporter would be full time on politics, so just two people.
That fall, I started going to city council. The back-up reporter, the county government reporter, was there, a guy named Charlie Holcomb, who treated me like a professional colleague. They made room for me in the press row. When there was time to discuss, Charlie filled me in on the background of what was happening. He saw to it that I had all of the documents that the other reporters got. All of the professional courtesies and background.
Well, it wasn't very long before some of the city council members and city administration people started taking me with them to their debriefing sessions after council meetings. Some of them were doing the, "Isn't she cute? She thinks she's a reporter. Show them how big and important we are." Some of them were good government people who, in their own way, had decided that I was as smart as anybody there, and could use that to get stories planted and, in effect, send messages back to the "real" reporters. So they'd lead the incompetents into talking about things in front of me that they should never have talked about in front of a reporter if they didn't want it known, which they didn't. I'd go back and feed it to my reporter friends. Of course, once reporters know the answers, they know how to get them on the record from sources, while protecting their real sources. Some of those guys never figured out what hit them.
Ritchie: So these debriefing sessions were private?
Bulkeley: They'd go to rehash the council meetings, and it was just like a caucus, in effect, a follow-up caucus to the council meetings to review. There were some pretty good people in local government in those days in the elected offices. Rochester was city manager, and the county was county manager. It was a reform growing out of some independent research that George Eastman, of Eastman Kodak, had financed. He also had financed and endowed a research bureau—Bureau of Municipal Research, in those days it was called, in Rochester. So there was always that kind of forward looking.
But anyway, some of the council members were really good and bright and ambitious, and some of them weren't. I mean, some of them were political hacks. But the Democrats were the majority and would generally, with at least the deputy city manager, and maybe the city manager and some other department heads, would go somewhere and drink after the meetings, review what had gone on, and usually drink after hours, because it was they who enforced the law, after all, so a barkeep had no fear if they stuck around. They'd go to the places, though, that usually stayed open after hours if they were doing that. And I could go. Didn't matter if I got any sleep to do my job or if I was hung over. I learned in a hurry what my capacity was, and I seldom exceeded it, at least when I was with news sources.
But the deputy city manager, who ultimately was city manager, was a University of Chicago Ph.D. and a wonderful teacher. He taught a lot of us a lot about government and politics and survival in cities. His name was Sy Scher. He and a couple of other people, as I say, would get the less bright ones to talk about some of the crap that was going on, that really, in their interest they wouldn't have wanted the public to know, but they weren't bright enough to keep quiet in front of me. So we got it done.
Ritchie: They didn't see you as a real reporter.
Bulkeley: No, they didn't see me as a real reporter. The Democratic party was going through some assorted upheavals at that time. Not quite then. It came into them later, and I don't think any of this stuff, the kind of thing I'm talking about, specific examples of which I can't even remember anymore, but that next summer , the Democratic party treasurer, who had taken over his family's business not very long before, filed for bankruptcy in the family business, and there were big concerns about party money, too. So the political reporter ended up being the lead reporter on that scenario as it unfolded over a few months, including the bankruptcy hearings and things, because he was the only one who knew the names and all the relationships.
The two of them had covered campaign reports and all of those things, so it was important that one or the other of the two from that beat be in those courtrooms, so I got thrown into county
government the summer after I covered Irondequoit. I got thrown in there, and again in some other context encountered the "Isn't she cute? She thinks she's a reporter," from the people who fed me news, but part of what that ended up being, they didn't like the reporter on the county beat.
I covered the county government for a while. It was the summer of '66. I did Irondequoit '65 to '66. That summer I was doing general assignment, I covered county government on back-up assignment, during the political scandal, and I had not been to the county government meetings, because they were daytime. But the county had a good public information director and a good county manager. Their sense of government with integrity was to do it honestly, be ahead of the curve, but also do it the easiest way possible, which is why the budget was handled the way I talked about earlier. They fed me stories—major stories—so that I was on the front page covering their government almost every day for weeks.
Ritchie: The county government?
Bulkeley: The county government, when I was only the fill-in reporter. That got to be a little heady, but it also gave me a lot of follow-up pieces, so it didn't take me very long to become independent on the beat. Only I was only temporary.
When the bankruptcy political scandal thing settled down, the two guys went back to their beats, I went back to general assignment just at a time when the bosses decided we had to start covering all of the suburban townships. I had also only just caught up my sleep from all of those months in Irondequoit, and been able to wake up with less than twelve hours' sleep or stay awake nights again. I got sent back out to a big sprawl of five townships scattered over the far western reaches of the county, and I was furious. That started in the late summer/early fall of '66.
Among other things that fall, the state Republican convention was in Rochester. Those were Rockefeller* years, so it was consummate political performances short of the national convention. To this day I remember coming back in from being out in my Podunk townships, dealing with dog-leash laws and zoning insults, and coming in with reporters growling because they had been at the state Republican convention with the Rockefeller people and the New York City politicians. Of course, I would have given my eye teeth to have been there. I didn't have any eye teeth, but I would have given them if I had. And I was bored to death—leash laws compared with the next step on the stuff I needed to learn.
So I was getting ready to give notice and leave again when I was brought back in from the suburbs and put back on the county beat, because the guy who had it was going—1966, late in the year—to a place we'd never heard of, except that there had been a few people from Rochester killed—in Vietnam. So Peter Behr was going to go do the home town boys in Vietnam—wherever it is and whatever it's all about—reporting for a couple of months, and I got to cover county government while he was gone.
Ritchie: So that became your new assignment?
Bulkeley: I was sent there temporarily, with the expectation that when he got back and finished whatever he hadn't reported while he was there, and got over that trip, he'd go back on the beat.
* Nelson A. Rockefeller, (1908-1979). Republican governor of New York, 1959-1973; vice president of the United States, 1974-1977.
Ritchie: Why were you moved from Irondequoit in the first place?
Bulkeley: The township, in the first place?
Ritchie: Did they stop doing the pages?
Bulkeley: No. They still did the pages, but partly I was exhausted because of my approach to it, partly because it was a fairly normal rotation. I had been out there doing stuff long enough; it was time to get me back in the newsroom and supervised, although there were no complaints about what I did. Irondequoit Press, the weekly, even did an editorial saying how important I'd been to the people of the community when I was out there because of my approach to reporting. It was just, in those days, a normal rotation, and there were new junior reporters to send out and start finding the best way to use what I could do for the whole paper, not just a slice of it.
They didn't do a whole lot with me that summer. Then as it turned out, I got shipped back out to the suburbs and also on zoned and the zone circumstance. But I spent so much time driving out there, that I didn't produce nearly the copy, even though I had a lot more institutions and a lot more different townships and sets of people to cover. The total number of people was less than Irondequoit, and the distances were such, I was half an hour from one town hall to another, from the nearest point to the office, instead of twelve minutes on the expressway.
Ritchie: So you spent a lot of time in your car.
Bulkeley: A lot of time in the car. There was no such thing as dictating stories for transcribers to do, or portable computers so you could use down time writing stories, or even portable typewriters or offices that you could do that. So it was, by my standards, grossly nonproductive and just an overall frustrating experience.
Ritchie: Did you complain to anyone?
Bulkeley: Oh, yes. I was told, "Only for a while," and I kept saying, "How are we defining this," giving deadlines or threatening to give them deadlines if they didn't give me some relief, and they did right after the election. Too late for that particular convention.
Ritchie: That you would have liked to have been at.
Bulkeley: There were others, so—
Ritchie: This might be a good place to stop tonight.
© 1994, Washington Press Club Foundation.
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