Go to Session One | Index |
Ritchie: If you think of anything else that we haven't talked about—
Goodman: The only other thing, just in terms of journalism and writing, going further back, it seems that one of the pivotal things for a lot of people who were young when I was young, in Detroit, was the emergence of new journalism, what was called new journalism in the sixties, as it was exemplified or given a showcase in the New York Herald-Tribune.
Ritchie: What do you mean by "new journalism"?
Goodman: New journalism, in the sixties, was more subjective, more high styled. You got away without "who, what, where, when." It was more psychological, more leaps. You were allowed more leaps of expression. It was more expressive. Tom Wolfe started in that venue, and Gail Sheehy started in that venue. There are some things that were problematic with it. Clay Felker was the editor then at the New York Herald-Tribune. But there were also things that gave a lot of us the sense that there was more leeway to the process of writing in the newspaper than we had assumed before.
Ritchie: Is that the way you began writing?
Goodman: For a lot of us who were young then, it was something that we read and said, "Gee, well, maybe they'd let you write like that." [Laughter.] Or write in your own style, not necessarily in Tom Wolfe's style. God knows there were people who became Wolfe-alikes. But there was more stylistic leeway, and I think that was very important to me at that time, because you could have fun writing.
Ritchie: So you took up that style?
Goodman: It made an impression on me. I didn't take up that style, but I think what it freed you to do was to find your style, rather than a piece style, rather than stylebook style.
Ritchie: A set, very predictable type of writing.
Ritchie: Tell me how you write your columns. How did you start writing columns?
Goodman: I started writing columns probably the way that you should, in that I didn't have a column; I wrote six maybe in one year about things I cared a lot about.
Ritchie: Where were they published?
Goodman: In the Globe. The Op Ed page was open to in-house columns, and I wrote maybe six that first year.
Ritchie: Was there ever a conflict when you wrote for that, as opposed to writing for your own department?
Goodman: No, there wasn't, although maybe it was because I did that on my own time. Not really. There was some looseness and flexibility. You could have been stuck with an editor who got pissed off every time you did it that way, but the Globe was pretty free. The Globe was always considered to be a writer's newspaper; it still is. There was a lot of leeway. In a newspaper, to a certain extent you can operate as an independent entrepreneur within the institution.
Ritchie: Do you think everyone can, or just someone of your stature?
Goodman: I think anyone can. In other words, there's a magazine that you can submit to; there's a book review. There are little places under the roof where, if you're not enjoying what you're doing, or if you want to try something else, you can. People don't always do it, and people don't always know, but I always operated at something of a—
Ritchie: So this would have been the early seventies that you wrote these first columns.
Goodman: Right. Or earlier than that, because by '71, I had a once-a-week column on the "Living" page, which is where I was working.
Ritchie: Do you always get to write whatever you want about in a column, or have you always been able to?
Goodman: The theory, to an almost complete extent, is that they give you the piece of paper, they give you the little piece of real estate, you put in it whatever you want to put into it until such time as they say, "This is no good," and they take the entire piece of real estate away from you.
Ritchie: "They" being the editors?
Ritchie: So you had a once-a-week column in the "Living" section, and then you moved to the Op Ed.
Goodman: Not yet. Not for some time, actually. When I came back from my Niemann year, I became a columnist full time. First I worked in the city room for a while, and then I became a columnist full time.
Ritchie: What did working in the city room entail?
Goodman: It was ghastly. I will never forget coming back from my Niemann year, which is shock enough after having been on your own, your own boss, thinking in formative, interesting, contextual ways, to come back and to be told to write a series on inflation—"Whip inflation now," if you don't remember the Jimmy Carter—no, I think that was pre-Jimmy Carter. That was during Richard Nixon's period. It was during the Watergate time. I did not enjoy working in the city room at all.
Ritchie: Were you writing news stories or larger feature stories?
Goodman: Larger feature stories, news feature stories.
Ritchie: How long did that last?
Goodman: It seemed like forever, but I believe it was just a matter of three or four months. [Laughter.]
Ritchie: So obviously it wasn't a change that you requested. You came back and were reassigned?
Goodman: I didn't want to go back to "Living." I can't remember the conversations that I had, but I think Winship conned me into it.
Ritchie: He was the editor.
Ritchie: How was the decision made to give you a column?
Goodman: Various people have various memories. I certainly remember asking to do it full time, and Winship says now, in retrospect, that it took him about three seconds to say yes. I don't remember it quite that way. [Laughter.] But there was a small period of negotiation and then I did it. I can't remember the exact details.
Ritchie: How is the structure of a day different when you're writing a column? Was there any difference in your work pattern?
Goodman: You're on your own. The only requirement is that you finish it by deadline, and how you finish it and when you write it and how long it takes you and what piece of it is reporting and what piece of it is writing and what you write about the rest of it, you're on your own. When you pass it in, an editor may say, "What does this mean?" or, "It's too long." The editing process is different than for a news story.
Ritchie: Would it come back to you then with these remarks?
Goodman: Very minimal. I never had a whole lot of that. Column-writing, you're pretty much, for better or worse, on your own.
Ritchie: Do you ever get stuck in ruts, or have you gotten stuck in ruts, in terms of subject material?
Goodman: When you write about what interests you, you never feel like you're in a rut, because you're writing about what's interesting you. There are times when certain subjects recur just because they're on your mind. When I've gone back and put together collections, I will see that in a given year, some idea I was gnawing at like a cavity in a tooth, you know, and I came back to it a few times. But generally it's because something was happening out in the culture that really I wanted to figure out for myself and readers.
Ritchie: So would you say that overall, the subject matter balances out?
Goodman: I don't know what you would consider balances out. I don't say to myself, "I'm going to write on foreign policy on Tuesday, and then balance that by writing about the cardinal on the window box on Thursday, and then I think I've done okay. I've done foreign policy and a domestic one. I think I'll write something funny." It doesn't work like that. Your own personal rhythms change, and if you've written something fairly grim, you might not want to the next time. But often what I write about is news-driven, and at least half of the time it's driven by a breaking news event.
Ritchie: That gets your interest and you want to know more about it.
Ritchie: How do you get more information? How do you go about gathering information for your own background?
Goodman: It's what's called reporting. [Laughter.] People have this image of columns sitting around sucking their thumb and thinking, you know, but what you do is you see something in the paper and maybe it interests you. Take what I did this week. I did a story on a custody dispute between the adoptive and biological parents. I saw a little light, and I said, "Hmm. There's more there than meets the eye," and I pursued it.
Ritchie: On this particular case?
Goodman: This case. Talked to a variety of people, to know what to think about it. Not like they tell you what to think about it, but it's very useful to talk to people who spend a lot more time than you're going to spend thinking about issues of adoption and so forth. I talked to a number of people. Most of those interviews end up on the cutting-room floor. I went through all of the clips of this case, and went through some of the legal literature, and then wrote it. Then on Thursday, when I got up in the morning, Marian Anderson had just died, and I said, "Oh!" I went to the office and looked through a lot of stuff that I had, went through the library, went through the clips, found some books on the pivotal moment in her life and Eleanor Roosevelt's involvement, and wrote that. So sometimes it varies.
Ritchie: In terms of research, you might call people and interview them.
Goodman: You call people, you read. You read books. You get stuff through the computer. And you can literally cover something by being there.
Ritchie: Being there at the paper in the library?
Goodman: At the event, whatever the event might be.
Ritchie: Do you travel much for your columns?
Goodman: I travel a lot. Some of it is for speaking, some of it is to Washington, some of it is for column-writing. Sometimes the columns come as a side effect of traveling, rather than a direct effect.
Ritchie: What challenges do you see in columns? You've been doing them a long time now and obviously still have the interest in doing them.
Goodman: What interests me usually is the idea. I think what interests me is two things. One is the writing process, which is always interesting, and sometimes I like playing with words. Sometimes I'll get on a word or a series of words or something, and I will just carry the column. Sometimes I'll have to control it and say: Okay, block that metaphor. I'll have to go back and take out three of them. But I like playing with words. I do consider that play—not play in the easy sense, but play in that my mind just goes that way and I enjoy that.
The other thing I really like is thinking about ideas and what it means and where it all fits into most of American society, to people's lives. But that probably propels what I do. If I see something, like I've covered the "gays in the military" issue a few times this year, and you see something in that, and you say, "What's going on here?" Then you try to figure that out for yourself and others. People often say to me, "You wrote just what I was thinking about," which isn't probably right. What I did was I wrote what they were thinking about, I wrote about what they were thinking about. But they don't have time. They go on to normal, sensible jobs where they don't have the time to spend asking themselves, "Why are people so freaked out by gays in the military?" Whereas that's really my job, to figure that out. Finding meaning is what interests me the most.
Ritchie: In a column, are you allowed, or are you permitted, or do you express your personal opinions?
Goodman: You have to. That's what it is. If you don't have an opinion, you get out of the opinion business fast. That's what people want to know. People come back to read you. They want to know what Tony Lewis thinks about this or what George Will thinks about this, what Mary McGrory thinks about this. They want to know what you think. Over time, that's why people run columns, regular people, as opposed to assistant professors of transportation, which is fine occasionally. It's interesting often to vary a page, but if you're looking for consistency in a newspaper page, if you're looking for a reason why somebody hangs their hat on that paper and picks it up at the front every day, in terms of the editorial pages, in terms of other things, they are going to turn to that page, and if they have some familiarity with you over time, they want to know what you think.
Familiarity is a very big part of why people get the newspaper. You're reaching people at a very vulnerable part of the day. They get up in the morning, they may or may not have their first cup of coffee, the kids are screaming. You know, it's morning in America, as Ronald Reagan would say. Then you are competing for their time. More and more you're competing for people's time, but also people want to know not just what's going on, which they, by the way, often get from television and broadcast now, but what it means. I'm in the "what it means" business. That piece of the newspaper, it seems to me, takes on more importance as many of the other immediate functions. It gets taken over by other more instantaneous media.
Ritchie: Do you ever falter in what you think, or change your mind?
Goodman: Sure! You sort of sit there some days, if you're doing something very hard, and I tend to like to do the hard things, because they're the things I haven't figured out yet. If you're doing, say, a bioethics case, everybody's a little squishy around the edges of right-to-die issues, and if you're doing something like that, you'll go down and you'll do, "On the one hand, this; on the
other hand, this," and, "This person thinks this, and these are the details of the case." Then you hit that point in a column where you have to say, "What do you think?" And there are days when you can sit there saying, "Uh . . . Duh . . ." [Laughter.] But eventually you have to come down. Not always. I don't believe that anybody has an opinion on everything. Sometimes you just have to frame the issue in ways that people can think about it. But eventually you have to draw people through an argument and then they want to know what you think of that in some form. You may not do the old, you know, Roman arena—thumbs up or thumbs down. But they want to know somehow or other what you think.
Sometimes the most important part of a column is leading people through the thought process, (a) so that they know what the issues are; (b) so that they might be able to draw their own conclusions; (c) so that they think you have some basis for what you're thinking about, even if they totally disagree with you. Lots of people disagree with my point of view.
Ritchie: What kind of feedback do you get from readers?
Goodman: From readers you get mail, and people do talk to you directly, or you get occasional telephone calls or whatever. Then when I'm traveling, people will talk or ask questions at a speech or something like that. So it's a whole range. I get feedback sometimes at the office, just in conversation.
Ritchie: Do you have any loyal followers who have been many, many years and who have communicated with you through the years? Do you have someone who answers your correspondence for you?
Goodman: I do most of it. I read, or at least skim, almost every letter that comes in. Some letters get a more detailed response than others, but that could be almost impossible. You could either write or correspond. [Laughter.] But I think if people write to you, they generally deserve some kind of response, and sometimes I don't get their letters. A lot of times the letter will go to the newspaper, and newspapers are fairly arbitrary about whether they forward the mail.
Ritchie: Because you're syndicated in how many papers now?
Goodman: Over four hundred.
Ritchie: How did the syndication come about? What is the process for getting a column syndicated?
Goodman: After my Niemann year, I was a full-time columnist. We're now in 1974. I think about a year later, a woman (whose name I just lost down my memory hall) syndicated something, or sent out something, called "One Woman's Voice." She had about ten women in rotation doing columns. She syndicated that. I was one of the ten women. I had also done some freelance work in this period. Then another woman said to me that she would like to syndicate my column. She was just starting up a private wire service. I thought about that, and mentioned it to a guy at the paper who dealt with syndication, and he said that the Washington Post Writers' Group, which had just begun and had very few columnists at that time, I think it was conceived as a writers' group in a different sense than a syndicate at that time, where people who wrote for the Washington Post would be sent out, and I think it was just Dave Broder and George Will and maybe Bill Raspberry was on then. But there weren't four or five people at that time. This guy at the Globe sent my stuff to Bill Dickinson at the Post, and he said he'd like to take it on. So it was a relatively smooth process, with which I didn't have that much to do. I didn't have that much to do with it, really.
Ritchie: So once you've done the column, they take care of signing up newspapers and all the details.
Goodman: That's right. I had six newspapers the first year. I started in March of '76 with six newspapers.
Ritchie: And now it's over four hundred.
Ritchie: So a paper will buy it for a certain amount of time?
Goodman: They can drop it any time they want, really. I think some syndicates insist on some period of time. I'm not too clear on the business aspects of it. But the [Washington Post] Writers' Group philosophy, and mine, has always been, if they're not going to run you, the hell with it. There's no point in squeezing the last $6.50 out of them.
Ritchie: Are there any topics that you avoid writing about, or you find unpleasant, that you would rather not have to—say, like foreign policy. Maybe not unpleasant, but areas that you just don't write in?
Goodman: I don't write too much on foreign policy unless it has something to do with this country, partially because of the things I do write about. You write twice a week, you have to make certain decisions, and I really consider my beat, so to speak, to be American society. Also I think you can't know about Sri Lanka on Tuesday and Somalia on Thursday and South Africa on the following Tuesday and Norway on the following Thursday. You just can't know that. A lot of foreign columnists are unencumbered by that, that they don't know it. But I've always felt that I wanted to write about what I knew about or learn about. But I've always wanted to write about American society, too. There are people who do the other.
When I started writing, there was nobody writing on Op Ed pages about women, family. There would be occasional pieces, but the things that I was writing about didn't make it to the Op Ed page. We're talking '76. Those issues were still, by and large, not editorial-page fare.
Ritchie: But they've become more and more so.
Goodman: They have. But when I first started writing a column which was about public policy and about private lives, a lot of editors would say to the Washington Post Writers' Group, "Well, we like it, but I don't know where we'd put it." Because some wanted to put it on "Living," and some wanted to put it on Op Ed pages. I deliberately was trying to blur those lines—not blur those lines, but I thought those lines didn't make any sense, because it's not the way you lead your life. That was quite a deliberate move on my part, even though it was a marketing problem, as they say.
Ritchie: But you've been successful, even though in the beginning it may have been difficult.
Goodman: That's right, but I didn't do it to be—part of it came out of the women's movement, which was "the personal is political." That's crazy to subdivide lines the way we do. These things all fit together. That was my political consciousness, really, and my journalistic consciousness. The Op Ed page, the page for "serious commentary." This is serious: Children are serious, the way you lead your life is serious, women are serious.
Ritchie: Do you ever have trouble not exposing yourself personally, not putting too much of yourself out front? Don't you have a private life to lead, too?
Goodman: Oh, yeah. I don't write confessional columns.
Ritchie: Is that hard not to do, or is it just very easy to keep them separate?
Goodman: I think there's a degree to which you should write personally in some ways. Your readers have a right to know who the person is that's writing about this, where you're coming from. Also I have written personal columns, a large number of them, but only when the personal has interest to somebody other than me and my mother. You know what I mean? Everybody has in their life six personal columns, or in a year, six personal columns, but that's three weeks. There are forty-nine more. It can get tiresome if you're writing about how cute your children are.
Ritchie: So because you have so many other things to write about, that's not something that—
Goodman: Well, I wouldn't do it. I wouldn't write a cute little column on my daughter getting her period. You know what I mean? There are certain things one doesn't do in life. [Laughter.]
Ritchie: There are columnists like that.
Goodman: I don't know what happens when their kids grow up, but I think Katie's very comfortable that I wouldn't violate her privacy, and that's much more important to me than getting a column out. [Laughter.]
Ritchie: Do you think your audience has changed over the years?
Goodman: A lot of the things that I originally wrote, that were much more radical at the time, or much more cutting-edge ideas, i.e., ideas about working mothers or whatever, these ideas are more mainstream now because society has changed. I could probably give you a better answer to that question, but I can't think of it right now.
Ritchie: How do you select what columns go into your collections? You have now—
Goodman: I'm just doing my fifth.
Ritchie: Which is Value Judgments?
Ritchie: It's already in the Library of Congress catalog.
Goodman: Is it?
Goodman: [Laughter.] I've got to write the introduction this week! Oh, panic in the streets.
Ritchie: Turning Points was your first book, and that was somewhat different.
Goodman: It was an original reporting book.
Ritchie: Why did you not do another book like that?
Goodman: Because it killed me. [Laughter.] It was time, really. It's like having a day job, a night job, a weekend job, and six children, to write a book, you know.
Ritchie: Do you think you accomplished in the book what you set out to do, in terms of looking at American social values?
Goodman: I'm a pretty hard judge. I wouldn't say that that book satisfied me.
Ritchie: Do you have trouble letting something go, like finishing a book?
Goodman: That may be a little bit more, but journalism—boy, you've got to let it go. It's a personality. There's a psychology to it. A colleague of mine at the paper says, "If it's done, it's good." Well, that I don't feel. Sometimes I go, "That didn't quite work. I wish I had three more days," or whatever. But you have to say, "Okay, that's done. It's wrapping the fish. Look ahead." And I think I have that personality, the capacity to let things go. I'm not a person in any way, in my personal life, who dwells on the three most dreadful things I ever did.
Ritchie: So as you say, the psychology and the personality make you get things done.
Goodman: Yes, and who knows the degree to which you have that personality and therefore are comfortable in journalism, or whether journalism produces that over the thirty years? This will mark thirty years of journalism for me, so that's longer than I wasn't a journalist. That certainly is formative.
Ritchie: That's what Otile McManus said, that she'd been at the Globe longer than she had done anything else, been anywhere else, and that makes you stop and think.
Ritchie: So Turning Points is a very different kind of writing work, and it was done at the same time you were doing everything else.
Ritchie: So you didn't have a year off to be doing this.
Ritchie: How did you decide to do collections of your columns?
Goodman: Really, the [Washington Post] Writers' Group came to me with the first one and said they had done collections of others, they had done George Will's collection. They said, "Let's do a collection." I said, "Oh, okay." I hadn't really thought about it.
Ritchie: How did you select the categories that these would fall into?
Goodman: I worked with an editor. You sort of weed out the columns you didn't like in the first place, right? Then you weed out the ones that didn't hold up in terms of time; events just
overwhelmed them. Then you start juggling and making some tough decisions about which ones you leave in and which ones you take out.
Ritchie: So you've done one about every three years?
Goodman: It's funny, because I was talking to my editor this time, that one of the things that the book insists upon, again, is categories, and one of the things that I fight in my column is categories, so there's this conflict between having to put them in someplace, similar to what I was describing at the newspaper. The columns themselves spill over the edges of these categories. [Laughter.] But they deliberately spill over.
Ritchie: So you've done a collection about every three years now.
Ritchie: Do you like doing that?
Goodman: Yes, it's fun to have them sort of rescued from the yellowed pages.
Ritchie: Do you have any difficulty when you do it, in terms of selecting?
Goodman: Not really. Journalists, in general—it's part of what we were saying before—don't hold on to their last word and think of it as unbelievably precious. If you've worked on deadlines your whole life, you tend to make decisions. You've got to go with what you've got—the old journalism expression. There's a moment where maybe you wish you could make another call or walk around the block for another half hour or something, but you've got to go with what you've got. That sort of personality, you come to a book, and my editor this time was laughing about how much easier it was to deal with me than with novelists when you have to cut something, because if he would say to me, "We've got to get three more columns out of there," I'd say, "Okay, let's get them out." [Laughter.]
Ritchie: It doesn't bother you to have to do that?
Goodman: A little, but you've got to do it.
Ritchie: Whereas someone who has struggled over writing a fictional work might have more difficulty with cutting and pasting or really cutting out.
Goodman: It's just a different sense of the preciousness of the sentence.
Ritchie: How did Watergate* affect your writing? How did you cover Watergate?
Goodman: I didn't cover Watergate as a columnist, because it had happened in 1974. Just a funny personal story, we were all on watch when Nixon was about to resign, and I was at the paper for about three nights. My daughter, who was in first grade at the time, just about going into first
* Watergate, (1972-74), a series of political scandals during the Richard M. Nixon administration involving a burglary at the Democratic National Headquarters in the Watergate complex in Washington, D.C., and a cover-up of the illegal actions by Nixon.
grade, finally called me up one night, with this little voice, and said, "Has he resigned yet?" [Laughter.] It was completely personal from her point of view; she wanted me to come home.
It was part of the times, and the paper was very involved. I was involved as a citizen, but I didn't write too much about it.
Ritchie: So you were an observer at the paper.
Goodman: And my paper published the Pentagon Papers. I had gone out and interviewed Dan Ellsberg* and stuff, just as a story, but I can't say that it was a turning point in my professional career.
Ritchie: What about the [President Ronald] Reagan years? I know that's a heading in one of your books. And, of course, there was so much social change or lack of social progress during that time period, that would have been something that you would be interested in.
Goodman: I was, in general, very much opposed to most of the things that Ronald Reagan was doing and was about, and I think during a period like that, on the one hand, there's a lot to write about. In some ways I did a lot of thinking about society.
This has been a period in which there has been a lot of conversation about values, and I think in some ways if I had to say what I write about—which is a question people ask you, "What do you write about? What is your subject?"—that's a very hard question for me to answer, because there isn't a subject that I write about. But if I had to put a label on it, the label would be "values," I suppose. "What do you write about?" I would have to answer, "To a large degree I write about values." There were a lot of value questions being raised during that era, whether they came under the strict label of family values and what did that mean, to whom.
[Referring to birds outside the window] The extended finch family arrives for breakfast. Oh, there's a cardinal. They don't eat out of the feeder; they're bush feeders. They don't eat out of the feeder, really. We have a lot of cardinals around here. See, I get totally distracted.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Ritchie: Is there a danger when you're writing, say, about something in the Reagan years, something you disapprove of, of falling into a very negative pattern?
Goodman: I can't say that I disapproved of the Reagan years; I disapproved of most of Reagan's policies. That's very different. The years were good years for me personally in lots of ways, years in which regular people were going about their lives, making a lot of decisions that had nothing to do with the policy, years in which there were many interesting social debates. Here's public policy up here, and here's social change down here. I have always been interested in covering social change as well. So I don't feel, and I don't think, the columns of that era took a kind of harping quality to them, although I was certainly disapproving of the president.
Ritchie: Do you take a political stand in your columns?
* Daniel Ellsberg, former Defense Department official indicted December 29, 1971, for conspiracy and espionage for his role in leaking the "Pentagon Papers."
Ritchie: So your readers know how you stand in terms of different issues politically.
Goodman: Absolutely. Absolutely. What did you mean by "political"?
Ritchie: Your beliefs, your philosophies, generally.
Goodman: I should think so.
Ritchie: I didn't mean whether you are Democrat or Republican; I meant in general terms.
Ritchie: What are some of the changes you've seen in your own writing through the years, in the way you might cover something or topics you might cover?
Goodman: I think generally as you get older, you see layers of things, or as you cover an issue, you go back to it time and again, you see different layers and different pieces of the puzzle, and you write about things differently as they change. For example, it's a responsive relationship with your society in some ways. If, in the mid-seventies, I might have been writing about women not having access to some institution, in the 1990s I might be writing about how women feel that they don't just want to get into that institution, they want to change that institution. So things and the perspective changes. You might be writing about a ten-point program or something or the abortion issue. Look at how that has changed. It's a responsive relationship and it's immediate. It's not like being a historian, and it's not like being an academic, where you're writing for a magazine that won't be out in ten months. It's not like being a book-writer. You're writing journalism. It's going to be out tomorrow, day after tomorrow, three days later.
Ritchie: Do you think your columns have facilitated change in any way, made a difference?
Goodman: Hard to know, isn't it? Certainly I don't think that because I wrote about Ronald Reagan, a great horde of people stood up and said, "Oh, no, we must not classify ketchup as a vegetable." [Laughter.] You know what I mean? It doesn't happen like that, but I think what you want to do is to say to people, "Let's turn this issue around and look at it a little bit differently." And when you do that over time, people may, sometimes by articulating the crazy thing in there that they couldn't get at. A recent column that I did on gays in the military, where after listening to all these men talking about scared they were of other men in the shower or something, I wrote a column just saying, "Well, guess what? Men are talking about this the way women experience it their whole lives. Men are worried about gay men, neurotically worrying about that. This is the experience in life that most women have." I got a lot of response from that, and it helped people somehow or other, because I think this is a particularly hard one for people to figure out what the hell they think and what's going on. It helps people.
Ritchie: You mentioned values a few minutes ago. I wonder if we could talk a little bit about ethical standards in journalism and what you see as ethics, the "dos" and "don'ts" in terms of what you personally would do, or wouldn't do, to get a story. What would you define as ethical standards that you live by as a journalist?
Goodman: Honesty; fairness, even in opinion-writing; not distorting your opposition. I don't run into a lot of the questions that fill ethics panel discussions, like paying for journalism or any of those kind of things, paying for sources.
Ritchie: Were you ever caught in a situation—of course, you didn't do too much reporting—where you felt—
Goodman: I was a reporter for ten years.
Ritchie: Ten years. That long. Detroit and then when you came to the Globe. Were you ever in a situation where you ever felt you had to compromise or kind of ease your standards a little?
Goodman: This is a dicier thing. Sometimes I felt people wouldn't understand the ramifications of talking to me, and they wouldn't understand how what they were saying to me would read, and what the implications might be for their lives, for having said it.
Ritchie: In other words, they might be very open with you, and they did not understand what that would mean in the long run for them.
Ritchie: Would you try to tell them?
Ritchie: You would take the information?
Goodman: Generally. There were times when I might have protected somebody or not used something, but that's something that a lot of journalists have in the back of their minds sometimes.
Ritchie: Do you think women and men journalists operate under a different set of ethics? Are women more—something? Do they go by different things? Or have you seen that in your experience?
Goodman: Sometimes I think that male journalists—but I don't even know if any of this is—it's so hard to generalize. There are elements of competition in the profession, that my experience with women journalists has been that they don't get into some of the real bullshit competition. There's been some more help or cooperation. But I don't have any double-blind crossover studies that would prove that or disprove it.
Ritchie: There's not much written on ethics in journalism, and this is one area that we are supposed to explore with the people that we interview.
Goodman: In terms of competitiveness there's a famous story of the day that Kennedy was killed, when Merriman Smith from UPI [United Press International] and Jack Bell were both in the car behind the president. I may have this story screwed up, but it's the way I remember it. They both got to a phone, and Merriman Smith took the phone, called in the story, and wouldn't give the phone to the guy from the AP, and it was the end of a friendship of some duration.
Ritchie: I can imagine.
Goodman: So that UPI would get a two-minute beat on the story or something, or fifteen minute or something. I don't think that happens very much anymore.
Ritchie: Did you ever encounter an ethical situation or standard or behavior that you would like to have changed?
Goodman: The number of assholes in the world, you mean? Excuse me. Delete that. [Laughter.] I've seen people in my profession behaving badly, sure.
Ritchie: You would encounter that in almost any profession, I would think.
Goodman: Sure, all the way from the recent NBC alleged blowing-up of a car.* And I think outing is very dubious journalism, whether you're outing somebody with AIDS, a tennis player.
Ritchie: What do you mean by "outing"?
Goodman: Whether you are revealing, against his will, that Arthur Ashe has AIDS or that somebody who works in the Pentagon is gay.
Ritchie: Information that you obtain and the person would rather not have known.
Goodman: Yes. The issue of rape victims. I think women felt very differently about that, or women felt very strongly about that. Not all of them, because Geneva Overholzer of the Des Moines Register disagrees with protecting the identity, and there's a pretty ripe argument in the journalism community about revealing the name of a victim. So I've written about that.
Ritchie: For the most part, the women's names aren't used, are they, when they're reported?
Goodman: Right. Although some have volunteered their names. My feeling was, you can ask a victim if she wants her name revealed, but you shouldn't reveal it otherwise, because you're pushing back the very thing you want to push ahead.
Ritchie: And if the person requests it not [be revealed], that would be considered an invasion of privacy.
Goodman: I would consider it that, although it's not illegal, I don't think. I think there are rape shield laws in some states. I'm a little fuzzy on it at the moment.
Ritchie: Are there some ethics and legal issues that you would consider unethical, but not illegal to do?
Goodman: Sure. I can't give you an example right off the top of my head, but there are many, many more unethical things than there are illegal things, in life as well as in journalism. I have
* In November 1992, the magazine show "Dateline NBC" broadcast a fifteen-minute segment on safety problems of GM light trucks. The segment included what NBC initially called an "unscientific demonstration" of a fiery crash. In February 1993, GM sued NBC, charging that the broadcast test crash was rigged and that NBC had deceived its audience. NBC subsequently retracted that portion of the broadcast.
some real questions about going through Henry Kissinger's garbage to get his video list. Not that Henry Kissinger's on my dance card, but—
Ritchie: But to do that.
Goodman: There are limits of privacy. And I've always felt very strongly about not using children, not doing the Chelsea Clinton joke list. There are some things you really oughtn't to do. That isn't even unethical, in that sense; it's just lousy.
Ritchie: Would you say it's more your sense of responsibility and judgment, you as a person?
Goodman: In the sense that you can't create a law that says I can't make a joke about Chelsea Clinton. I mean, we do have a first amendment right, which I would defend. But you have to use some human sensibility and judgment. I think that we, as journalists, are, quite properly, at times trashed for invading people's moments of pain and privacy. "How do you feel?" they say to the woman who's just had her kid killed in a train wreck.
Ritchie: So many of the talk shows now are sensationalized, one story better than the next, you know. This person did this to that one, and here's the person to weep about it in front of people.
Goodman: And the stunning thing is how many of the participants volunteer to go on the show. "Sure, I'll come and talk to you, and I'll join the panel of people whose—" I mean, all this kind of psycho-babble stuff.
Ritchie: It's almost like the rag sheets in the grocery store. It's like that on television, and it seems that there's one in every town you go to when you travel.
Goodman: Right. What do you do, for example, over the Clinton-Genifer Flowers incident, of accusing Clinton (or whatever the right word is) of infidelity? That story, which was in a scurrilous rag, on the next day or two became part of the campaign trail. In other words, reporters were asking him about it on the campaign trail, sort of a sheltered environment to a certain extent. But then does a reporter not write about what's happening on the trail, so that he isn't telling people the story of the day? My newspaper didn't run the Genifer Flowers story from the first cycle, the second cycle. I think on the third one then we did, because it's out of the loop. There are some things that are very hard. Then you're making a decision that your readers shouldn't know what's happening that day, is that everybody's badgering Clinton about Genifer Flowers. Very tough. You lose control sometimes.
Ritchie: How does a newspaper decide that?
Goodman: With agony. Lengthy, on-the-fly, ethical debates.
Ritchie: In the late eighties, you became an associate editor.
Ritchie: So would you be in on a discussion like that?
Goodman: I was not in on that one, but somebody might come in and ask me what I thought, but that would be on an informal basis. Basically my title of associate editor, like David Broder's,
is honorary. [Laughter.] Plus meetings and some involvement in the future of the paper, but I'm not a line editor.
Ritchie: Have you ever covered a candidate on the campaign trail?
Goodman: Many of them for a short period of time, not for the whole duration.
Ritchie: Do you enjoy doing that?
Goodman: I think my body has a limit of about three days. [Laughter.] It's physically grueling. When I was on the [Geraldine] Ferraro* plane—when was that? We're talking now 1988. [Walter] Mondale ran in '88. You're on a plane and it's making eight stops in one day, and you go to sleep at two in the morning or midnight, and the call for your bags is at 5 a.m. You do that for a few days and say, "I think I'll go home." I have a friend who had back surgery after that campaign, you know. [Laughter.]
Ritchie: How would you get included in a group like that?
Goodman: If I wanted to do some columns, I'd just get on board. It's not hard.
Ritchie: You could do that without too much trouble?
Goodman: Right. The advantage of being in four hundred newspapers is that people return your phone calls. [Laughter.] This is not to be underestimated as a journalist, and that you can pretty much get to talk to anybody you want to, which has nothing to do with my charm and wonderful personality, but it has to do with the fact that they know it's going to be in four hundred newspapers.
Ritchie: You're a recognized name and respected writer.
Goodman: And it's going to be in four hundred newspapers.
Ritchie: So they get a lot of coverage by one person, from you, as you say, around the country.
Ritchie: Do any foreign newspapers subscribe to the column?
Goodman: The Guardian picks up a page from the Washington Post, and I've been on that often. The Herald-Tribune. Stars and Stripes—is that international? And a newspaper in Argentina or someplace, an English-language newspaper. I think my work would not translate very well, because it's so wordy, so specifically English.
Ritchie: How many words do you write now?
Goodman: About 750 to 800.
* Geraldine Ferraro (b. 1936). Former New York congresswoman and 1984 Democratic vice-presidential candidate.
Ritchie: And you have to keep close tabs on that?
Goodman: If you don't, some editor will, and I've read chopped stuff of mine from other newspapers, and it really makes you want to be ill.
Ritchie: You mean one of the newspapers that subscribes to the syndicate might chop something?
Goodman: Oh, yeah. You're reading along, "On the one hand, this; on the other hand, that."
Ritchie: And then that's it.
Goodman: You say, "What idiot wrote that?" [Laughter.]
Ritchie: So they obviously run out of space or something, and just cut.
Goodman: Right. There are some good editors, too, who do a reasonable job if they have to, but sometimes it's awful.
Ritchie: Tell me abut winning the Pulitzer Prize. How did that come about?
Goodman: You get submitted.
Ritchie: The paper submitted you.
Goodman: The paper submitted me two years in a row.
Ritchie: You knew they were submitting you?
Goodman: I knew they were submitting me. I helped pick out the columns. I think it's ten or twelve or fifteen; I can't remember anymore. Then I knew I was in the last group for the decision. I knew I'd made the cut. Then I got a call saying that I'd won. It was pretty swell.
Ritchie: This was 1980.
Goodman: 1980. And my newspaper won three Pulitzers that same day, which was really nice. So it was a great celebration. We had a party over at the Kennedy Library across the road from the Globe. It was a real nice party.
Ritchie: What were the other two? In that areas were they?
Goodman: Bill Henry for criticism, and the Spotlight team, I think it was public service. What was it for? I can't remember now.
Ritchie: You won some other awards, too, in your career, for different columns. One was that same year, wasn't it, the—
Goodman: ASNE [American Society of Newspaper Editors] Writing Award. It was that year. I won a number of those.
Ritchie: Newswoman of the Year.
Goodman: That was early in my career.
Ritchie: In the late seventies, you began doing radio and TV.
Goodman: Some, yes.
Ritchie: What brought that about?
Goodman: I was asked to, and I thought it would be interesting to try another form. So I did some radio commentary; I can't remember for how long.
Ritchie: You actually prepared and wrote for that?
Goodman: Yes. It was mostly reading or rewriting columns. Then I did "The Today Show" was the same thing. I can't remember how long I did that. About a year? I can't remember. Not quite.
Ritchie: But it was all about the same time, right?
Goodman: It wasn't at the same time; it was one after another or one between another.
Ritchie: What would you do for "The Today Show"?
Goodman: It was the same. I basically rewrote columns to fit "The Today Show" space.
Ritchie: Did you like being on camera?
Goodman: I didn't dislike it. I wasn't crazy about having to traipse down to New York to do it, which was an interruption. It's funny. When you just mentioned it, I don't even remember it actively. You mentioned it, which stirred my memory of it, but I've never thought of that as an important part of my career. For about two years I was one of the rotating people on "Brinkley," too, and I don't find that format—I mean, the other things were like column-writing. The "Brinkley" format I found very uncomfortable for me. Partially it was really the boys and the skirts. Only once did Cokie Roberts and I appear together, which was a source of great amusement to us. My God, they're going to have two skirts on! I have thought in some ways that my experience on the "Brinkley" show was what a lot of women experience as they rise through the ranks; they get discriminated against by an ever more rarified group of men. [Laughter.] If you look at any of these shows, there's kind of one skirt and the boys, and often the woman is trying to get a word in edgewise. But also I think, for me, anyway, it wasn't a comfortable format because I don't write about or write in the way or want to debate in the way that those shows have. They are interruptive. "Can you top this? I'll give you the three." And it's not the way I want to think about an issue. They'll be doing "who's up, who's down," and I want to do "why." So I've never been especially taken. I've done a lot of "MacNeil-Lehrer" and "Nightline," the whole range of things, but I've never had an impulse to do that full time.
Ritchie: On a regular basis.
Goodman: No, because you can't do what it is that I find compelling. (A) you can't write in the same way, although my friends in broadcast would kill me for saying that. But you aren't allowed to ruminate.
Ritchie: Which you enjoy doing.
Goodman: They don't do ambivalence. If you want to do ambivalence on one of these shows, you have to have two people. One does one side and one does the other side. You aren't allowed to work out your own ambivalence and thought process.
[Referring to birds outside the window] We've having a major bird fight.
Ritchie: So in that format, people take very definite stands and almost duke it out.
Goodman: They fight. They duke it out. I don't do duking it out. It's dumb, to me. It's popular. There are certain shows I will never go on, too, for that reason. But MacNeil-Lehrer I find that you have some time and you have some conversation, and I'm happy to do commentaries. They come and they talk to you about some issue that's on for a nightly news program, and I do a lot of that. That's fine. I'm happy to. But I don't want to get up there with, "Okay, tonight we've got a view from the right and a view from the left, and they're going to wrestle it down to the ground!" It doesn't even make sense. What's right? What's left?
Ritchie: How do you have time to do all these things?
Goodman: Good question. [Laughter.]
Ritchie: Celia [Lees-Low] schedules you well?
Goodman: And I say no a lot.
Ritchie: Do you find it hard to say no?
Goodman: No. Look! I just did it.
Ritchie: For your own sanity.
Goodman: Right. I found it interesting, when my daughter was little and people would ask me to come and speak, say, at a family conference, for example, I never spoke on weekends for family reasons, and they wouldn't understand. [Laughter.] There was something funny about that. But I've always had a certain list of priorities, and my priorities were strongly including my sanity and my family, which were also connected. I never had trouble making that kind of decision, but sometimes it's very stressful. Newspaper-writing is stressful; deadlines are stressful. You've got to get it done.
Ritchie: And you no sooner get one done than you start over.
Ritchie: We were talking about novelists, who, when they put the book away, they probably have other ideas and are starting many things, but it's not the same pace.
Goodman: You win the Pulitzer on a Wednesday, you've got to write on Thursday, and you're judged by your next column, not by your last one. It's incessant, in that it's never ending. In one of the books I quoted a columnist who said that writing a column was like being married to a
nymphomaniac, that every time you thought you were through, you had to start all over again. [Laughter.] Which is a far more sexist way of describing it, but it's a measure of truth.
Ritchie: How do you relax? What do you do personally for relaxation?
Goodman: Mostly Maine is a major source of relaxation in my life and in my husband's life, and we have a lot of time together, Bob [Levey] and I do. We spend a lot of time together. I also enjoy sports. Sometimes it's hard because I'm also now moved from being a working mother to being a working daughter, and I have obligations. My mother's not been in such great shape. But I try to balance it, and sometimes I'm better at it than other times. Sometimes I'm more stressed out, as my daughter would say, or tired, than I am other times. But the good news about journalism is that, yes, you have to do it again tomorrow, but, yes, it's done when you go home, usually. I don't carry it. When I finish my second column on Thursday, I don't immediately put that aside and start worrying, unless I have to get ahead or something. You handle that rhythm or you can't stand the work.
Ritchie: When you say "get ahead," if you're traveling or go on vacation or whatever, then you do enough columns in advance to fill in?
Goodman: Sometimes. Often I do them on the road.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Ritchie: We mentioned a little earlier about your title as an editor. You said it was an honorary title.
Goodman: Well, yes. It's not honorary. It doesn't require that I do much more than I'm already doing, which is column-writing.
Ritchie: Do you have any say in hiring at the paper?
Goodman: I would have what input I wanted, but it's limited. I've got plenty to do. [Laughter.]
Ritchie: Do women work for you?
Goodman: I have an assistant [Celia Lees-Low] who works for me, but I've been, over the years, a sounding board for a lot of the women at the paper. I have an office with a door, and people will come in and talk and we'll strategize about something going on in their department or their life, you know, something like that. That's not every day, but not infrequent.
Ritchie: So in a way, you might have been a mentor to people at the paper?
Goodman: Sounding board. I'm not sure about words like "mentor."
Ritchie: It's a pretty big word.
Goodman: I'm now an older citizen, and people will come in and test something out.
Ritchie: Do you have young women coming in?
Goodman: Yes, younger than I.
Ritchie: New people at the paper, so to speak, or new in the profession, I guess.
Goodman: Somewhat. I try to be helpful, and I'm conscious of writing nice notes to people when they do good things. I think it means something to people. E-mail now, of course.
Ritchie: Have you been involved at all in any of the professional organizations?
Goodman: I've been involved in ASNE. I've also been involved in several flights of women's groups at the paper, by the way.
Ritchie: What would they be?
Goodman: There was one of several flights of women's groups trying to change the paper, one in the seventies when we were dealing with issues that ranged from "Golda Meir, grandmother of three, said today—" to when we were trying to get any woman in any editing position at all, to issues far more recently of atmosphere and making it a comfortable place, flexible hours, and trying to get more women on the masthead. So there are a progression of issues over time—glass-ceiling issues. Things change over time, but I've been involved in several flights.
Ritchie: Those would be issues relating to both the paper itself, as a carrier of news.
Goodman: The paper as a product and as an employer.
Ritchie: Can you think of any others in terms of product? Women on the masthead.
Goodman: That's as an employer, really. I'll give you an example from the Washington Post. During the beginning of the Clinton administration, they were running Hillary Clinton stories on "Style," and a lot of the people there didn't like that. We have issues like, we're running a profile, this woman is running for city council, on the "Living" page? Hello? "Good Morning, America"? You know. Should we be doing that? This story had the seven most sexist words in the western hemisphere in it. How come only men are covering X? You know, things like that. And also issues of what's important. We have had, for example, over the last year, in my newspaper, extensive coverage of domestic violence. On the one hand, you could say there's been a rash of wife murders. On the other hand, you can say that the paper has taken that out and paid great attention to it and put it on page one. So there's always something. Those things didn't even get on the screen. "Oh, yeah? Two other people, a husband and a wife beating up on each other? Yeah, he knocked her head against the radiator? Yeah, well, sure." You know. "Where's the news?" So decisions about what is news are very important.
Ritchie: Are women involved in those decisions now?
Ritchie: Because of their position?
Goodman: There are so many more women at the paper. Entry-level jobs now are about equal male and female. As you go up the pyramid, there are less women, but there are so many more women than there were.
Ritchie: What's the number at the Globe, the staff?
Goodman: Editorial people? Four hundred. I knew, but can't give you in any accurate way, how many men, how many women. It's available if you want to know.
Ritchie: But you've seen that change dramatically.
Goodman: Dramatically! There were almost no women in the city room. There were just very few. Very few minorities.
Ritchie: Has that changed?
Goodman: Oh, yeah. But I'm not saying it's perfect because it's changed. It's my perspective of how much has it changed and other people's perspective, too, which is fair, that it hasn't changed nearly enough.
Ritchie: So in terms of, say, articles that may have sexist terms or "the grandmother of three," that type of thing, women at the paper are conscious.
Goodman: Men, too. That would flag. "Golda Meir, mother of three," would flag! [Laughter.] It might even come up in Spellcheck, for all I know, at this point. Maybe that's what we need—sexist check. I don't know. [Laughter.]
Ritchie: What about the Globe as employer? How have you seen that change? We talked about your pregnancy.
Goodman: There is maternity leave. There is a policy of more flexible hours. There are a couple of job shares. At the same time, these things are fighting—as they are in many parts of the economy—with problematic economy and cutbacks and stuff. But it's in those ways much more user-friendly, much more woman-friendly.
Ritchie: Do you think that's changed across the board, or is your paper ahead of the times, from what you know?
Goodman: I think the Globe has always had a staff that was active, and a publisher and editor who were very supportive of these things, so that people who were protesting never felt that they were putting their jobs on the line. They always had a receptive ear, and that's extremely important. Probably the Globe is marginally ahead of the curve on many of these things, but, still, newspapers reflect what's going on in society. There's a greater capacity to embarrass a newspaper because of its covering something and behaving badly itself, you know. Generally, newspapers have a fairly decent conscience and consciousness that way, but it's not wildly ahead of the rest of society.
Ritchie: It's a place that you've been happy working?
Ritchie: Did you ever consider leaving and doing anything else?
Goodman: I didn't have to leave to do something else, which is very nice. I didn't have to leave Boston in order to be nationally syndicated, and I didn't have to leave the Globe in order to have a larger, in some sense, career. I might have otherwise, but I didn't. Some of that, by the way, is technological. We haven't talked about the technology. I started being syndicated just when the
Page 56 Xerox telecopier came into the world, the late unlamented Xerox telecopier. Otherwise I would have had to have dictated columns, which I sometimes did originally on the road.
Ritchie: So you would write them on the road and then call them in.
Goodman: Sometimes. The technology was harder sometimes. But the Xerox telecopier was a great aid to those of us who didn't want to live in Washington and New York, but wanted to write nationally. Originally, almost all the clients got the column by mail. You remember mail.
Ritchie: Yes. [Laughter.]
Goodman: Now probably 5 percent get it by mail, maybe more.
Ritchie: A very low percentage.
Goodman: They almost all get it through the computer now, so they get it instantaneously. The whole business is speeded up, for better and for worse. The business is speeded up enormously.
Ritchie: How has that changed, the technology, your own writing?
Goodman: I like writing on the computer and I like pushing a button and having it go to Washington, and then having them push a button and having it go out. Writing is pretty much the same, per se. It's no easier and no harder. For those of us who fiddle, and I am a notorious fiddler, it's great to be able—because you're dealing with clean copy all the time, and you don't have to retype, which is dreaded, stupid work, just retyping and retyping. I can barely remember it, but I used to retype and retype, because I am a real rewriter. With the computer, you don't actually rewrite; you just fiddle and diddle, move things around.
Ritchie: But in the early days, you would have typed, written changes, then retyped so it was legible.
Goodman: Yes, many times before you got it on the old telecopier.
Ritchie: So in a sense, it gives you more time to fiddle.
Ritchie: Do you think your writing has improved through the years, or changed? How has your writing changed through the years?
Goodman: Gee, I don't really know. Somebody else would have to tell me that, because I don't look back over it. I don't really think about that so much. I think more about what I'm writing and how I'm going to write it today and tomorrow. It gets easier in the sense that you develop confidence. In other words, if I go in now to the paper and I have no idea what I'm going to do, I still know rationally that it will be done before I leave, as opposed to the, "Oh, my God, I don't know what I'm going to do. My career is in shambles! I might as well stick my head in the toilet." [Laughter.] There's a good deal less panic.
Ritchie: You mentioned briefly yesterday, in passing, a union at the paper.
Goodman: A house union.
Ritchie: Have you been active in that?
Goodman: Now I'm a member of management.
Ritchie: Before, how were you involved with the union?
Goodman: As a member.
Ritchie: What types of activities did you participate in?
Goodman: I haven't been active in the union. It's a house union. I've been attentive to it, but I haven't really been active in it.
Ritchie: Would the union have taken on some of the women's issues that we were just talking about, or was that a separate thing? [Tape interruption.]
Another question I had was what your schedule is like now, but we talked about that.
Goodman: There's a lot of juggling.
Ritchie: Getting the columns done and doing all the other things that you do, too.
Ritchie: Did you ever think you would be as successful as you are today? At what point did you realize that you would be successful or that you were moving along to a prominent position in journalism?
Goodman: You know, you don't wake up in the morning and think about your prominent position in journalism. [Laughter.] You wake up in the morning, in this business, thinking, "Oh, shit. Where's the lead?" You know. I mean, excuse me for swearing, but that's what I think about. I think about writing this column, and I think you have to have a lot of focus to write a column, and that's what I think about. Obviously I'm aware, and I like the fact that my column is in four hundred newspapers, but that's what I think about. It's nice that I'm in four hundred newspapers, not, "Isn't it nice that somebody thinks I'm famous?" [Laughter.] It's just not in my—
Ritchie: Way of thinking.
Goodman: I don't know. Maybe it's another kind of neurosis. I don't know.
Ritchie: But certainly you reached a point where financially and in terms of job security, you were okay.
Goodman: Yeah. Right.
Ritchie: You didn't have to worry, I mean, being a single parent and having the responsibility of raising your daughter.
Goodman: Although reaching that point and believing in it, there's always a further gap between that. [Laughter.] But that's right. And I very, very, very much appreciate that. I think though the forum for those of us who write, the writing process and the forum, it's a little bit—
I've talked about this with my daughter, who is now twenty-four and is in the throes of—we've had lengthy conversations about the major question of a young life, which is, "How do I make a living and do what I want to do?" That, it seems to me, is a very large question for everybody, and one which I've really lucked out on. I don't want to sound like I'm not conscious of being successful or anything, but the real issue in a human life is how do you find what you want to do, and how do you make a living doing what you want to do? I've gotten that one knocked for the moment. [Laughter.]
Ritchie: Do you see your career taking any different direction?
Goodman: [Laughter.] He might want to answer this. [Referring to her husband.] Yes, I'm going to be an acrobat. We had a joke about that the other day. I can't remember what it was.
Ritchie: Going to try something new?
Goodman: I would say that when my husband took the buyout at the paper, and when Otile did, too, I thought, "My God, I'm the only stick-in-the-mud around." It did make me think about—here my husband and my closest friend both going in different directions, saying that it was enough for them. Really, it kind of made me think of just going through this elaborate process of two people leaving work that I'd been doing, and at the end of that process, I realized that I liked what I was doing. I didn't realize it like it was a revelation or something, but I realized, in a sense, that you don't have to change what it is if you really like it. This is a stupid, simplistic way to put it, but one of the things about column-writing is that it's always different, and you're always interacting with the moment and the time, not just the moment, but it's very heady.
Ritchie: You work with a lot of different topics or subjects.
Goodman: Right. And ideas. As long as I am interested in what's going on, I will find it interesting, and hopefully so will people who read it. For the time being—and I don't think much more ahead than, say, five-year chunks—I really still find it very engaging.
Ritchie: Is journalism something you would recommend, say, that your daughter go into? Do you think it's a profession that young people should look at?
Goodman: I think it's terrific in the sense that it keeps you so involved in what's going on around you, and it also allows you to follow anything, if you have a certain amount of leeway. If you're interested in anything, you can find out about it—as a job. You may be interested in—
Ritchie: The birds outside.
Goodman: The birds. But if you're a journalist, you can call up twelve ornithologists and find out why the gold finch is olive drab in the winter, you know, and write about it. The capacity to satisfy your curiosity, as a day job, and to ask people all of the nervy questions you really want to have the answer to but didn't have the guts to ask as an individual, but now you have to because it's your job, if you have that kind of curiosity and involvement in your world, it's a great way to satisfy it. As a profession, it's tougher.
Ritchie: Why is it tougher?
Goodman: Because it's not a growing profession at the moment, newspaper journalism.
Ritchie: It's static, or down, going down?
Ritchie: Why is that? People aren't reading?
Goodman: Right. Period. They're not reading anything. It's not just that they're not reading newspapers; they're not reading. Obviously I don't mean that in a general sense, because millions—but there are fewer people reading. The marginal readers, the people who just read the paper for the ads or for the general news, some of them are getting the news from radio and television, and some of them are getting it in other places.
Ritchie: Would this be related in any way, the downsizing of papers, to large corporations owning a lot of newspapers? Has that had an effect on the growth of, say, small newspapers—Knight-Ridder and Gannett buying a lot of newspapers?
Goodman: There are lots of theories about the economics of it. Towns used to support many newspapers. You could make cases of all sorts for it, and I would leave that to the newspaper business people to do in a much more accurate, professional way than I could do it. It's interesting that the one growth area in readership has been professional women, contrary to what a lot of people think, that in two-worker families, people don't have time to read the paper. But, in fact, the professional women, not just working women, but I meant that literally, professional women, are reading the paper because they need to. But newspaper-reading is not as young and not as poor as it used to be. [Tape interruption.]
Ritchie: So the audience has changed, in addition to the papers changing.
Goodman: Right. The people who are reading, are reading it more thoroughly, which is interesting, too. In a way that's good news for people in my end of the business.
Ritchie: Right. Because we do sit and go through the newspaper carefully.
Ritchie: Looking back on your career and, I guess, your life, if you had to pick a happiest time or the most enjoyable time or a time when both your career and personal life were going well, could you select a time in your life?
Goodman: This is going to sound like something out of Pollyanna, but every time has its pleasures. [Laughter.] It's a little bit like choosing between children, choosing between phases of your life. It's so different from one phase to another. When I was starting up, there was a certain element of excitement and rush and struggling to cover what you didn't know. When there was a period, as a single mother, there was the energy, as well as the stress, of being involved in raising a child and working and rushing back and forth. There was a period of great feeling of coming into your own. In mid-life, there is both the sense of maintenance, which is what life is about, to a certain extent, from everything from your teeth to your profession, to a real feeling of confidence that when I write about something, I've watched that over time and I feel the centeredness that comes with a certain amount of personal history and experience.
Ritchie: There is a depth to what you're doing.
Goodman: I feel writing with confidence in some ways, that probably comes with age. This is a good time, because you have that confidence without losing your energy at some point. I don't mean on any given day, because some days I've lost my energy, God knows. [Laughter.]
Ritchie: What about low points in your career? Was there ever a time when—
Goodman: When I came back from the Niemann year and I was writing "Whip Inflation Now," I was really depressed. I was really wondering how I was going to figure out a way to do something that was going to interest me, because it was for sure that writing about that wasn't going to interest me. I think that has been a tremendously high priority in my own life, finding ways to keep myself interested, finding interesting work. Everybody may not feel that way. People who want to find things that are creative, they want to build something—a friend is an architect, wants to build—people who are visual. But to me it's playing with ideas.
Ritchie: The challenge.
Goodman: Yes, and also writing.
Ritchie: What concerns do you have about your profession? We talked a little bit about the downsizing and ethics.
Goodman: I'm not concerned about ethics. I think ethics are higher than they have been in our lifetime, which is a very short time frame, where we're worrying about this year's ethics. But ethics are very high. The quality of people going into the profession is terrific, compared to even when I first came in. "Sweetheart, get me rewrite." It was not that far back.
I'm concerned sometimes that people in journalism aren't connected enough to their community, which is something that's been important to me. We have a kind of cast of floating journalists who move from one city to another the way broadcasters do, and don't put down connections, put down roots. I would not want us to become a class of itinerant journalists.
Ritchie: Who could go anywhere and do anything, but have no connections to a certain place.
Goodman: But also who are careerists. There is something of a calling in journalism to be part of your community, rather than to be part of the floating professional class.
Ritchie: You clearly have an advantage in terms of what you're writing, in background information and knowledge about the place, if you have roots in the community, wouldn't you say?
Goodman: Yes, but also you should be beholden to a community, and you should know where you are, because otherwise you're very vulnerable to experts and the government people, and you're very vulnerable to thinking in very careerist terms about moving from one "market" to another "market." Nobody lives in a market.
Ritchie: But that's one way that journalism has changed. People move more, don't they?
Goodman: Yes. And it's an educated class, too, but I think it's a struggle for people not to become increasingly dependent on experts and the phone and information that comes through the computer, and not getting out.
Ritchie: Knowing where they are is important. You talked about Otile and Pat O'Brien as being obviously close friends and colleagues who have been with you for many, many years. Who are some of the other people who have been helpful to you in your career through the years?
Goodman: Tom Winship, for sure, and my husband.
Ritchie: Tom was the editor at the Globe when you started working there. He hired you.
Ritchie: And encouraged you through the years?
Ritchie: How would he do that?
Goodman: You have to know his personality, but all you needed from Tom was a note. We used to call them tiger notes, which often said, "Go get 'em, tiger," or something, you know. [Laughter.] But he's a very high energy, sort of "upper" as a person, and he was always good to me.
Ritchie: So he was someone who encouraged new writers, people with ideas.
Goodman: Very much so. I was twenty-six when I came to the paper, and he loved having this whole new group of young people around.
Ritchie: As opposed to maybe some of his colleagues who weren't as comfortable with you?
Goodman: Not me personally, but it was in a transition period at the Globe, from the old Globe to the new Globe, under him.
Ritchie: And Bob, your husband, was also at the Globe.
Goodman: Oh, yes, and we were very, very good friends long before we were even possible mates, certainly long before we were mates.
Ritchie: So he was someone who also would have encouraged you and read your material?
Goodman: Yes, Bob and Otile both.
Ritchie: Is there anyone else? Well, your sister, would you say?
Ritchie: Anyone else who, through the years, has encouraged you and followed your career and maybe aided it in some way?
Goodman: Bill Dickinson at the Writers' Group, very much so, and then Allan Shearer, head of the Writers' Group, who I have a very good working relationship with. Anna Karavangelis there, who was the second. They've all been very, very encouraging, very supportive over a long time. Jerry Delfonso, who was an editor in "Living."
Ritchie: At your paper.
Goodman: He was my editor for many years. I think the whole atmosphere of the energy and a lot of my friends at the paper produced an atmosphere in which thinking and working was—it was just a good atmosphere to work in.
Ritchie: What haven't we talked about, in terms of your career, your life, that we need to talk about? Can you think of some questions I haven't asked? We've jumped around a bit sometimes. Any high points in your career? Clearly we could go over some of the columns and talk about different issues that you covered, but we've done some of that in terms of the women's movement and we've mentioned Vietnam and Watergate.
Goodman: To me, I think covering the women's movement these many years, the women's movement has been the biggest social change of my adulthood, and everything that I've done, including that I've done it, has been very much connected to that. If there had been no women's movement, my career would not be. It's all connected. Journalism wouldn't have had to cover it, women wouldn't have done as well in journalism. It's all of a piece of the major social change of our lifetime, and there are a number of women in journalism who came before me, who made that somewhat more possible, and I suspect that my opening up the Op Ed page has made it somewhat more possible for other and younger women, not even necessarily that much young. I would very much include my life and career in this thing that I also have covered for so long, the women's movement, which I would think of very literally as the movement of women. I think it's central. It's central certainly to my life. I would have been a very different person without it.
Ritchie: Had that not come along at the time that it did.
Goodman: Absolutely. Absolutely, for my generation. And yet it's also true that my generation has been at the cutting edge, which is not always a very easy place to be. We have been the first generation of professional women in large numbers to enter journalism, to enter medicine, to enter law, and we didn't always have role models ahead of us. There was nobody who was trying to do what I was doing, which is to say, write a column that wasn't just politics, wasn't just personal, that wasn't Erma Bombeck and wasn't politics. The capacity to have that cut out, to have the people and to have some kind of support for what you were doing, and to also be supportive of what other women in the larger society were doing, just by virtue of them seeing their lives and concerns reflected back in the newspaper, it's all been a part of this braid of change. I would just emphasize that.
Ritchie: And you're very much a part of that, every aspect of your life, really.
Goodman: Sure. Absolutely. I'm not one of these people that says I would have made it all by myself. I wouldn't have. It wouldn't have happened. I'm not saying I wouldn't have made a career, but I wouldn't have made this one.
Ritchie: Is there anything different you'd do, looking back over your career, if you could?
Goodman: I've got to tell you this one thing I just don't do. [Laughter.]
Ritchie: You don't reflect.
Ritchie: Or you don't reflect on that.
Goodman: No, no. It's very hard to go back to the future and think about how you would rerun your life, because you would have just screwed up some other area. [Laughter.]
Ritchie: It's over. It's done. I don't have any other questions for you.
Goodman: I don't have any other answers for you.
© 1994, Washington Press Club Foundation.
Washington, DC. All Rights Reserved.