Born, reared, and educated in Texas, Deborah Howell is the daughter of newsman Henry Howell. After graduating from the University of Texas and working three years as a radio and newspaper reporter in Corpus Christi, Texas, Deborah moved to Minneapolis, Minnesota, in 1965 for a job with the Minneapolis Star. She worked fifteen years with the Star, including almost four years as city editor, one of few women in the country serving in that position at the time. She went to the St. Paul Pioneer Press in 1979 as assistant managing editor. After the paper merged with the St. Paul Dispatch, she served successively as managing editor, executive editor, and senior vice president/editor of the St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch. In 1990 she moved to Washington, D.C., as bureau chief of Newhouse News Service.
In addition to discussing her family, education, and career, Deborah talked in the interview about her marriage to Minnesota political leader Nick Coleman, her decision to hire her stepson as a reporter, her experience adjusting to life as a young widow, and her efforts to juggle her career and her personal life.
In preparation for this interview, I read a selection of speeches Deborah had given between 1987 and 1993, articles written about her, articles about newspapers in the 1990s, and Kay Mills' book A Place in the News. The chapter "Jacqui Banaszynski" in Women on Deadline by Sherry Ricchiaroli and Virginia Young was particularly interesting. I also talked with colleagues who worked with and knew her in Minneapolis and St. Paul.
I am familiar with Newhouse Newspapers, having been a long-time reader of the Newhouse paper Staten Island Advance in Staten Island, New York. Like Deborah, I lived several years in the Midwest, and we share the experience of being widowed at age forty and remarried at age forty-seven.
Deborah works hard and keeps long hours at the office; she also protects her weekends. After our initial conversation, it was almost six months before an interview could be arranged, and there were frequent postponements and cancellations of subsequent scheduled interviews. We conducted the interview sessions at the end of the work day, but they were often interrupted by telephone calls or by a staff member needing a quick decision. The sessions averaged about one hour each.
The interviews were held in Deborah's third-floor corner office in downtown Washington, D.C. The wall behind her desk is dominated by two bulletin boards and the entire space (5' x 16') is covered with cartoons, photos, notes, telephone messages, bumper stickers, badges from meetings, news articles, etc. The bookcases and window ledge are covered with dozens of framed letters and photographs of Deborah with friends and of her eight stepchildren and their families. There are stacks of hard-cover books on the corner of her desk and on the coffee table. The office reflects her active mind and her passion for family and friends.
Donita M. Moorhus
January 13, 1994