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[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Gentry: I want to continue talking about your years on the Miami Herald. But there was one thing I wanted to ask before that. Throughout your work on these newspapers, were you given equal pay with the men who had comparable jobs?
Paxson: No. The only times that I got equal pay were in the very beginning on the United Press and then Associated Press and then when I became a publisher in 1978. And I got the same salary on my first newspaper as publisher that the man I succeeded had gotten. Otherwise, the women staffers were below the men the whole time.
Gentry: Even when you were doing these great things at the Miami Herald and everybody was looking at you, you were still underpaid.
Paxson: We always kept saying that the women's editors should get equal pay with the sports editor. And that fell on deaf ears. You know, there are ways that you find out how you get paid. People do compare their salaries.
Gentry: Sure they do.
Paxson: And we were not equal.
Gentry: During your years at the Miami Herald there were huge changes in the social morals, the mores of the culture, with the sexual revolution coming in, the Pill coming in. Could you address your readers to these issues in the women's pages?
Paxson: Yes. We did cover these topics quite extensively, sometimes so much that some of the readers complained that we were overdoing it. These complaints, of course, would go to the managing editor. We did feature stories on them, we had a special — well, it was sort of an advice column called The Column with a Heart. The woman who wrote that, these letters would come in and this was one way that we addressed some of these changing social values. The Pill, of course, we did a lot of medical coverage and talked to women's doctors on these kinds of subjects, if we could get them to talk, you know. We did a lot of it.
Gentry: The Pill came out, really, in the early sixties. Can you remember any talk between your colleagues and you about the Pill? Was this a lively topic of conversation?
Paxson: It was. And there were lots of jokes going on. We had discussions on how to handle it, sensitively but still report what was going on.
Paxson: I'm not sure we were quite aware of the tremendous social revolution that was about to happen because of the Pill. But we caught up with that later on.
Gentry: Right. Right. And then you had all these different revolutions going on in the sixties and the change in young people and their life style. Did you deal with that kind of thing?
Paxson: As far as we could spot the trends and keep up with them, we tried to do it.
Gentry: By this time, young people were living with each other and that was relatively new.
Paxson: Yes, they were beginning to. Again this is where The Column with the Heart came in very handy.
Gentry: Who wrote that?
Paxson: A woman named Eleanor Ratelle. She could get into these subjects and it might duplicate something that might have come up in Ann Landers' column, for instance, but this was local. And she could answer it and talk to local doctors, psychiatrists, this kind of thing. We worked into it that way very well.
Gentry: Do you know if other papers around the country were covering these issues at this point in the women's section or were some of them lagging behind and not covering anything controversial?
Paxson: Well, probably a lot of them were lagging behind but the exchanges that we got were mostly the major papers. And I think they were trying to get into it one way or another on their women's pages.
Gentry: So that by the early sixties, then, the women's pages were starting to change pretty much throughout the country.
Paxson: On the big papers, yes. A number of them. Not all of them but a number.
Gentry: Now, by this time that you were at the Miami Herald, you were doing very little writing, if any; is that correct?
Paxson: That's right.
Gentry: Were you writing anything at all?
Paxson: Oh, I did a couple of travel pieces because there were always trips coming up and they got passed around the office so that everybody had a chance. Most of these were through the Caribbean. I did one trip to Jamaica for a week. This was the time when Miami Beach was in its heyday as the country's favorite winter resort. There were so many celebrities in town. And the big hotels brought in big entertainment stars, sort of like the stars that appear in Las Vegas now. And we interviewed all of them. Again, these were passed around so I did some of them, yes.
Gentry: Such as? Do you remember?
Paxson: I did the High Lows. I did Jeffrey Holder. I didn't get to do Frank Sinatra but I did get to attend his performance, his opening night performance which was marvelous. We did them all.
Gentry: You and Dorothy Jurney came from very much a hard news background. What about the other staffers? Had they come from a similar background, most of them?
Paxson: Some had. I think most of them had been in the women's pages but there were one or two that had been in hard news. I think our food editor, for example, who was excellent, had worked in hard news at one time before she changed over. That's a big help, by the way.
Gentry: I bet.
Paxson: When you're looking for fresh angles and a woman's angle on a news story, it kind of helps to have that hard news background.
Gentry: Especially at a time of changes.
Gentry: When the pages were changing to more news stories.
Gentry: I know when I talked to Dorothy Jurney, she said that your news sense was the finest. That was one thing she said immediately and she said that was one of your finest traits. And that you had great skill in evaluating an idea and choosing the right person to follow up the story.
Paxson: Well, that was a big part of it. You just can't give a story to anybody if you're going to get the right results. And Marie and I spent a lot of time deciding who would cover what story when we were going to get into something substantive.
Gentry: Now, this was after Dorothy had left that you really made these decisions, am I correct? At first you were primarily editing copy.
Paxson: First I was a copy editor, yes, doing page layout and writing headlines. I still did that. But Marie and I would sit down — on Thursday morning, I think — and we would plan the next week's coverage and decide then who would handle which particular story and talk with each of the specialists — that is, the food editor, the fashion editor, the home furnishings person, Eleanor Ratelle and her Column with a Heart, go over what was coming up and decide then tentatively what would be the lead story in the section and of course we spent a lot of time on the Sunday section, too — that is, a week from Sunday.
Gentry: A Sunday section which was, I imagine, enormous.
Paxson: Yes. Yes.
Gentry: How many pages?
Paxson: Oh, it could run twenty-four, twenty-eight, thirty-two, sometimes in the heavy advertising seasons up to forty pages.
Gentry: That's pretty big.
Paxson: That's pretty big. We had quite a system. We had worked out with a man in the advertising department who laid out the ads that in order to improve the looks of the section, we did layouts in advance, with pictures and stories, and we would mark off a dummy page with the size of this layout and he would try to fit ads around it. So that when we came to lay out this enormous section, the fashion layout and the food layout, anything special — we ran a series on diets. This again was Eleanor Ratelle. Eleanor was marvelous at this. You know, diets were in style.
Gentry: Did she have a medical background?
Paxson: No. No. She was in touch with an awful lot of people that —
Gentry: Because she knew who the experts were.
Paxson: She knew who the experts were.
Gentry: Certainly she had a hard news background, didn't she?
Paxson: Yes. I think so. I don't recall but I'm sure she did. I remember she would have an idea for a diet and then she would find somebody to go on this diet and then take pictures before and after and all this. So that Eleanor was always working six weeks, two months ahead on a story like this. And then the paper would print up this diet and she would interview the subject who went through it.
Gentry: That's an interesting way to approach it.
Paxson: Talk to the nutritionist. Eleanor had a knack for thinking of great names for these things. She came up with one that they could very well still be hearing about at the Herald and that was the Tubby Hubby Diet.
Gentry: Oh, no. Do you remember what that was?
Paxson: It was simply a diet to slim down whoever the subject was. And then, of course, she worked with dietitians and nutritionists and they would prepare a little leaflet that was a two-weeks' diet. Then you could write into the Herald and we would mail you this little leaflet on the Tubby Hubby Diet. And we ran out of them. Eleanor did several of those over the years.
I got off the subject but making up the particular Sunday section we would do the layout and send down to this man six or eight layouts, something like that. He would arrange the ads around them so that as you went through the section, you would have some tight pages, that is pages with a lot of ads and not much space for a news story or a column. Then here was the open page with the layout and then probably some more tight pages. This system helped the looks of the section.
Gentry: Sure. It looked good. It was probably a lot more readable that way.
Gentry: At this point, with these changes going on and this very capable staff, what were your main ideas about the ideal women's page? Did you have certain concepts you wanted to put forth? A balanced page, obviously — a women's section, I mean, not a page.
Paxson: We wanted it to be balanced. We wanted variety. We mainly wanted to get into that section the things that women were interested in. And we felt that that went a lot further than society, although they were interested in society and there was plenty of activity in Miami, particularly in the winter season because so many big names came down to spend the winter in Miami in those days — and maybe they still do, I don't know. We wanted to get in what organizations were doing, the women's clubs — not the routine meetings but if they had a very good speaker or if there was a special program that some club was putting on that we thought people ought to know about, this kind of thing we wanted to get in. And we got in fashions and food —
Gentry: And controversial issues and social problems.
Paxson: That's right. Medical, social — we were just trying to cover the waterfront, so to speak, as far as the things that women readers would be interested in. And in the process we discovered that a lot of men were interested in them, too.
Gentry: I imagine you wanted the whole cross-section of women readers, from the woman who stays at home with five kids to the working woman.
Gentry: So you had to touch all of these people.
Paxson: We were trying.
Gentry: The early part of the time you were there was before the civil rights movement. Miami, south Florida, has all these cultures — they have blacks, they have whites, they have a lot of Jewish people, Cubans. How did you deal with that influx of different cultures? Did you have articles? Did you report on blacks, did you report on Cubans — their clubs, their women that had attained success?
Paxson: We tried to get them in. You have to realize that for the most part when I was there was before the tremendous influx of Cubans. We did have a lot of blacks; we covered some of their organizations, not all of them. We had no blacks on the staff which made it a little bit difficult. We didn't really think too much about the Hispanics at that particular point because they were not the force in Miami that they are today. We did cover Jewish activities simply because there was so much going on and this was part of what was happening in the community.
When Fidel Castro took over in Cuba on January 1, 1959, there was an initial influx of refugees. And then, as time progressed, more and more of them came. The federal government set up a specific program for helping them and set up allotments of financial assistance, so much per family. The Cubans really weren't too keen about accepting that and they wanted to get away from it as soon as they could. I remember that one time — I don't remember specifically when but not too long after Castro took over — the only unions at the Herald, the pressmen and the mail room employees went on strike. And the Herald hired replacements in the mail room. One of the men hired in the mail room had been a supreme court justice in Cuba. But he didn't like the federal handout, he wanted to support himself if he possibly could.
It took time for these Cubans who came over to establish themselves and to reach the point that they are today. So while we were covering the refugees coming in and the problems associated with that and getting them situated, there was also a lot of resentment in the black community that these people who were coming in would take jobs away from them, even then. That got into the paper. Americans on welfare resented the fact that the Cubans who came in got more than those families on welfare got. Those are the kinds of things that got in the paper at that point. But even when I left in '68, you still didn't have the tremendous Cuban influence you have now. The town is half and half now, as I understand it. It wasn't then.
Gentry: So when you came in, there was none of the stigma toward reporting on blacks. I mean, you did report freely on blacks. It was a Southern paper. Before the civil rights era, before they had to, many just didn't deal with blacks.
Paxson: We dealt with them a little bit. I would not go as far as you think because I don't think we did that good a job of it. We did some of it.
Gentry: At that time there was not the racial conflict in Miami that there has been since. Were there riots and a lot of trouble between the cultures?
Paxson: No. Although I suppose the seeds of it were sown in the sixties.
Gentry: Now you said Castro took over on January 1, 1959. January 1st is the Orange Bowl. How did the paper deal with those two huge events?
Gentry: You didn't have a holiday, I assume.
Paxson: No. The Orange Bowl section, the January 1st issue of the Herald is a souvenir edition, it's an enormous edition with all kinds of special features and designed to tell all the visitors in town for the Orange Bowl about everything that goes on in South Florida. It's part Chamber of Commerce, part news, a big promotional effort. The paper — at least when I was there but I'm sure they still do it — designed a special logo for the Orange Bowl. It would be a big logo across the front page, maybe six inches deep, something like that, across the top of the page, shallower logos across each section front, section after section, a lot of feature material printed in advance, this kind of thing, which was all done that year.
Gentry: Certainly your woman's coverage dealt with that kind of thing.
Paxson: Yes. And then it became obvious that [Fulgencio] Batista [y Salidar] was going to collapse and Castro was going to take over and there were some frantic moments that last day of the old year and the first day of the new year as we tried to find the space. The paper was locked up, a great deal of it had been printed in advance. Every story on the front page and the section fronts were planned because this was the big holiday and everything was focusing on the parade and the game the next day and the two teams that were here and all the visitors. And we really had to do some juggling.
Gentry: How did you manage? Did you just start cutting things?
Paxson: You started deciding which feature was expendable [from] which you could get the space in the paper.
Gentry: The whole staff came in on New Year's —
Paxson: Mostly the editors and the news side were handling most of this, of course, but we had to find the space for it. So it was the editors and the people who laid out the paper who had to make the changes frantically.
Gentry: At the time you were in the Miami Herald, you said you didn't deal too much with Cubans. Were there Hispanic papers in town that you can remember?
Paxson: There might have been. I'm really not sure.
Gentry: You didn't know any Hispanic journalists?
Gentry: It sounds as if on the Miami Herald you were working among so many talented women. Were there particular women you admired that you could tell me about, for their talents?
Paxson: I admired a lot of them on our staff. Our food editor, Jeanne Voltz, was just marvelous, and I've still got some recipes that I've saved of hers. She had a very practical approach but at the same time she knew the food field and was very good. She left the Herald and went to the Los Angeles Times and then ended up as
food editor in New York City for one of the women's magazines. And I don't know how many books she published. She was good.
I remember particularly one of our feature reporters, Roberta Applegate, who came from a hard news background and was an excellent writer. She finally decided she'd had enough of working for the newspaper and she went into teaching. She taught at Kansas State and I'm sure she was a marvelous journalism instructor, with the kind of experience that she had.
They particularly stand out.
Gentry: In addition to Dorothy Jurney.
Paxson: In addition to Dorothy and Marie and Eleanor.
Gentry: Did you have a great camaraderie with this staff? Did you do things together? Did you talk out everything?
Paxson: Yes. We got along very well. And we had a good time.
Gentry: Did you socialize together, too, as well as working together?
Paxson: We would have parties occasionally. The most fun was when we went out to the Voltzes' house and her husband cooked outside and she did things inside, because they were both excellent cooks. But we did —
Gentry: You were all friends, as well as working together.
Paxson: We were very good friends.
Gentry: Which helps a lot.
Gentry: And were you on pretty good terms with your male bosses there?
Gentry: They were pretty supportive of what you were trying to do.
Paxson: They were very supportive. And of course that's the whole key.
Gentry: Sure it is.
Paxson: The women's editor is not the top boss and not the one who makes the final decisions. If she doesn't have the support of the managing editor and the editor above him and finally the publisher, she's not going to be able to do anything. It's a two-way street. Sometimes you can hammer and push long enough that you can persuade them, maybe they give in just to shut you up, I don't know.
Gentry: Who was your managing editor? Was there one person during those years?
Paxson: The managing editor was George Beebe who was a marvelous man.
Gentry: Which helps.
Paxson: Which helps, yes. Yes.
Gentry: How much did he intervene on the decisions?
Paxson: Not a whole lot, really. He would see our Sunday front pages and he knew what we had scheduled for upcoming weeks because we scheduled these Sunday fronts, tried to have them scheduled at least four weeks in advance. But it could be subject to change if some special newsworthy feature or something came along that we thought we should switch it. He would see that and possibly make suggestions about a headline or some kind of makeup on it but that was about it. He and Marie met and they would go over what we had planned. He knew what we were doing in advance.
Gentry: He essentially trusted you, then. He knew you had a good staff and essentially trusted you.
Paxson: I think he did.
Gentry: Which is probably fairly unusual during that time, wouldn't you say?
Paxson: I think all of the managing editors and editors that I had worked with at that point trusted me most of the time.
Gentry: I didn't mean you, I meant the whole staff. I wasn't referring just to you.
Paxson: Well, I don't know how unusual.
Gentry: Some of them are looking over your shoulder all the time.
Paxson: That's true.
Gentry: But this man didn't.
Paxson: No. He wanted to know. He didn't like surprises. That's good business.
Gentry: Certainly. Certainly. Now, with all these changes going on in women's pages at this time, were there seminars or conferences where women's editors could get together and really talk about these changes and what each paper was doing.
Paxson: They were springing up all over the place. The big one, of course, was the American Press Institute in New York City at Columbia University. These would be two-week seminars that covered all facets of women's news. The API had seminars all year round on some phase of the newspaper business. There would be a seminar for city editors and a seminar for state editors, seminars for sports editors, for circulation directors, some of these were split by circulation category because the problems on a major metropolitan daily are not quite the same as they are on a paper of 25,000 circulation.
So this was a year-round program that was funded at the Columbia University graduate school of journalism. They had gone on for some years and finally in — I guess the mid-fifties, they had one for women's editors, waited a couple of years, had a second for women's editors. I got to the third one that they had in 1959 and then they became annual. Meanwhile, state press organizations — the women just wanted to get together to talk back when I was at the Houston Chronicle. Through the Texas Press Association, there was a conference for women's editors.
The speaker at that time was Jean Mooney who was with one of the syndicates — NEA, I think. I'm not quite certain about that. But at any rate, she was a great inspiration.
Then we got acquainted with each other that way. The same thing happened in Florida, it happened in a lot of other states. And we made enough noise, I guess, that sometimes we even moved to some of the women's editors doing programs at a state meeting of managing editors where you were telling the bosses, "This is what we want to do and this is what you need to do to help us."
Gentry: Did you ever do one of these?
Paxson: Yes, I did one with Edie Greene who was women's editor of the Ft. Lauderdale News. Ft. Lauderdale is twenty-five, thirty miles north of Miami on the Atlantic coast. Edie and I were good friends. We got together frequently to talk shop. And we got asked to put this program on and so she and I —
Gentry: For the managing editors.
Paxson: For the managing editors.
Gentry: What did you tell the managing editors?
Paxson: Edie and I did it very carefully. We planned it and worked out a script where she talked and I talked and she talked and I talked. The subject of our program was "What's Wrong with Women's Pages." Edie and I took it from there and we took exception to the title, first of all, because we didn't think there was that much wrong with them but we thought we ought to define what a women's page is and we defined it simply as one that is a reflection of all of the interests of the women in the community. These interests range all the way from careers to cooking, from handbags to hair coloring, from babies to budgets. You see, we worked on this and we felt it should appeal to the typical woman.
We told the boys in the audience — because they were all boys — that we thought they made a mistake when they allowed reporters to write something to the effect that "although Edie Greene is a champion stock car racer, president of the Florida women's press club and women's editor of the Ft. Lauderdale News, she still finds time to be a wife and mother." And we turned it around by asking whether one of them would write about her managing editor — I think he was her managing editor — yes, Milt Kelly — that he was a professional marksman, a flycaster, managing editor of the Ft. Lauderdale News, and still found time to be a husband and father.
Gentry: Wonderful. I know exactly what you mean on that.
Gentry: It's still being done, too.
Paxson: It is still being done and I still cringe. We may have come a long way but we have a long way to go. We told the managing editors that we wanted to print a balanced, varied selection of stories, that we need to get at the heart of the matter as well as just printing all the fluff — and that included weddings, engagements, benefits and style shows. We felt like we needed to cover medical, educational, economic, sociological and community problems. And these were the types of stories that we should do.
And we told them that we needed a qualified, decently paid, adequate staff. We told them that they needed to give us the space that we needed. And then we said that the editor needed to see that we used it efficiently.
That was part of his responsibility. We also said that the managing editor should regard the women's editor status as equal with that of the sports editor.
We pointed out that they need to back us up in the battle to cut the club trivia. At that point we were still describing the ruffles and flounces on wedding gowns. And by backing up, I simply mean that when some bride's mother or father called furiously to complain that you didn't describe my daughter's lovely wedding gown which was white lace with a twenty-foot train and all this, that he'd back us up and say that — give us the support. Well, she says there are more important things and I think this is important — and he has to say, "I'm supporting her."
Paxson: It was very difficult sometimes. We also told the managing editors that they should make it possible for the women's editor to be able to assign a photographer to take pictures on Friday and Saturday nights when there are football or basketball games.
Gentry: Very difficult, though.
Paxson: Very. Very. And we told them that they need to keep the communication lines open, that they should keep the "must" copy to a minimum — that is, some story that comes from an advertiser or from a publisher's friend or a friend of the wife of a publisher — or the managing editor's wife, for that matter.
Then we outlined what women's editors needed to do and be. And the first point we brought up was that the women's editor has to be something of a crusader. And I think a lot of the women's editors who were making these changes back then were crusaders. Then we said she has to be a newswoman, alert to what's going on in her community and to know what people are talking about. And that's not what people talk about when they call the paper to complain, it's what people are talking about at their coffee klatches or over the lunch counter. The women's editor has to have imagination because it takes imagination to take advantage of the wire copy and all the other material available and to look at it and see where there might be a local angle to it.
We said the women's editor has to be a good administrator. This is something that got overlooked a lot of times. Some woman simply was promoted but she needed to learn how to manage the staff, how to keep the staff on its toes. At some point she needed to learn to back up her staff. That's the thing I learned from Mrs. Hobby. She was willing to back me up and I've never forgotten that.
The women's editor also needs to realize that she can't think of everything herself and to encourage staffers to come up with story ideas. She had to read the paper, all of the paper — sports and everything else — with an eye to the women's angle. Read the exchanges. And above all, must be able to plagiarize and localize — and that's a phrase I have used —
Gentry: Did you make that one up?
Paxson: I made that one up. I preached it like crazy when I was president of Theta Sigma Phi and I have used it in many a program like this simply to point out that, as I said, you can't think of everything yourself, you have to borrow, maybe steal good ideas, and then adapt them to the local situation. Everybody does that in every business so this is nothing new or different. But it can really help to keep you on top of things. Women's editors need to be patient. I think we're still seeing that. These changes took place very slowly and they're still taking place. It's just one of these things.
Gentry: They could still turn around and revert back to the old days almost, couldn't they?
Paxson: It could.
Gentry: If we aren't watchful?
Paxson: If you are not watchful, that's right.
Gentry: There is some regression, isn't there?
Paxson: I think there has been, yes.
Well, that gives you some idea of what Edie and I had nerve enough to talk about to the managing editors.
Gentry: That's interesting. How did they take it?
Paxson: Oh, they all told us they loved it. And then went right back to doing things the way they had always done it.
Gentry: Was that the first time two women went out in a managing editors' conference and told their side of it?
Paxson: One of the managing editors, somebody in their organization had the idea and —
Gentry: I think it's a wonderful idea.
Paxson: — they knew that both Edie and I were extroverts and they asked us to do it and so we looked at each other and said, "Sure."
Gentry: I imagine all these conferences, both the API and the state conferences, really helped you in your business and in your work. It helped all women.
Paxson: They really did. I forgot to mention that when the Penney-Missouri Awards were set up at the University of Missouri by the J. C. Penney Company, there were three-day workshops with that every year. Again on the subject of women's pages feature sections, things like that.
Gentry: So this was your major place to exchange ideas.
Gentry: For women's editors all around the country and state women's editors.
Paxson: It was a big help. If nothing else, it lets you know that you're not alone, you're not the only one out there who has these ideas about getting more hard news and substantive news into your pages. You're bored with writing the trivial club notices in lengthy descriptions of weddings and engagements — and if you're bored the readers are probably bored, too. But you're not alone. Other people are fighting the same fight and you get all sorts of ideas from them. And I think this was happening all over the country in other state press groups the same way.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Gentry: Back in your Miami Herald days, had the technology changed much on newspapers? Were you still typing on typewriters? Were the presses the same?
Paxson: We were still typing on typewriters and type was still set on linotype machines and made up for hot metal. Once the page was made up it went to the stereotype department and the heavy pressplates went to the letterset presses. The technology was the same at that point as it had been a hundred years earlier. The one difference at the Herald was that they had developed a process to speed up setting by the linotypes. They punched tapes very similar to what we punched on the teletype machines back on the wire service and then ran this tape through the linotype machine. And they set type a lot faster.
Gentry: Let's say you were off in another town or another state doing a story and you tried to call it back under deadline, how would you do that, just on the phone?
Paxson: Just on the phone.
Gentry: Just read your story on the phone.
Paxson: Read your story and somebody on the other end would type it, tell you to wait a minute or "okay, go ahead," you know, that kind of thing.
Gentry: I see. Okay. Did you ever experience any union problems, were the papers you were on union, did you experience anything like strikes?
Paxson: No. There were unions, the International Typographers Union and stereotype was in pressman's unions in Houston on both of those papers. But we never went through any strikes there. The strike I mentioned in Miami, the paper hired replacements so there was no disruption then and there was no violence that I recall connected with one of those. And I was never a member of a union or the guild. Now, on the two wire services, when I worked way back in Nebraska, we were covered by the guild contract but Lincoln and Omaha were small bureaus, they were out in the boonies and we were not organized, so I was never a member of the newspaper guild.
Gentry: I want to break for a moment from the Miami Herald and come back to it and talk about Theta Sigma Phi and the changes you made in your involvement in the organization. In the midst of your years with the Miami Herald from 1963 to 1967, you became president of Theta Sigma Phi and made a great many changes in the organization. Can you talk about the climate of where Theta Sigma Phi was when you became very active and wanted to change it. What type of organization was it as a woman's journalistic organization?
Paxson: It was a professional organization. There were a number of women in it, like me, who were holding down jobs. But the general feeling of the organization was that it was kind of the social sorority of journalism. And this was the point where changes were really beginning to take place and I felt like as a professional organization, it should begin to change, too. I had joined the organization at the University of Missouri, helped to organize what was then called an alumni chapter in Houston and had been president of that.
Gentry: So you were active since you were a student, then.
Paxson: Yes. Then moved to Miami and there was a chapter there. And in 1960 some friends in Houston thought it would just be great if I moved up and became involved in the national organization. And there was a vacancy for the office of first vice president which was the vice president for the alumni — and by now they
were called professional chapters, we did get that changed. So I ran for it and was elected and held that job for three years — it's a two-year term, so I was reelected for another term.
And friends from other chapters began to say, "You ought to run for national president." And I said, "Well, I don't want to run against the incumbent. We'll wait." And these friends, who were in St. Louis and Rochester, New York, and Chicago — these were the particular leaders. The office of president was coming open in '63 and the incumbent was going to run for reelection — she was a very nice person, I don't mean to put her down in any way, shape or form but —
Gentry: Do you want to mention her name?
Paxson: — it was not professional image. Her name was Miriam Sturgeon from Bloomington, Indiana. She's dead now. At any rate, these members of these chapters around the country just sort of organized a little campaign to put the pressure on me to run. And I finally weakened and did it.
Gentry: Their goal was to make the organization more professional than it had been.
Paxson: Yes. And that was what I campaigned for. One particular example of the attitudes occurred at the 1963 convention in Cleveland. By now I was well into everything that was going on in Miami. We had been to some of the seminars and meetings for women's editors. And I thought that Theta Sig ought to put on a seminar for women's editors at its national convention.
Paxson: I just thought that was logical and, my gosh, I knew women's editors all over the country and it wouldn't be that difficult to put together. The national board went along with it but the local chairman could see no point in having that kind of an event at the convention.
Gentry: What did she want in its place?
Paxson: She didn't want anything. She just thought —
Gentry: Nothing professional?
Paxson: Nothing professional. She didn't see that that was necessary.
Gentry: They just came together socially.
Paxson: Yes. Yes. The Cleveland Theta Sigs were so opposed to it that we had to make arrangements with the hotel for the meeting room by long distance because they just wouldn't touch it. These were the extremes of attitudes in the organization, really.
Gentry: So there were a lot of factions. It was little bitter, then, I guess.
Paxson: It was quite an election, yes. It was a little bitter.
At any rate, I persuaded another Theta Sig who was Maggie Savoy who was women's editor on the Arizona Republic in Phoenix at the time to chair this meeting. And we wrote and talked back and forth and pulled the program together and sent out the announcements and proceeded to do it. The unfortunate part was that Maggie's husband was killed in an automobile accident three weeks before the seminar so she wasn't able to be there, participate in it. So the whole thing sort of fell back on my shoulders to make sure this seminar ran right,
at the same time that I was running for national president, at the same time that I was conducting the separate meetings in the convention for the delegates from the professional chapters.
Paxson: It's a good thing I was a lot younger then. But it was an interesting time and I ended up winning. The Herald had asked the Associated Press to be sure and move a story on the election. And they did. It wasn't very long, of course. The election in the morning and shortly after noon a telegram was delivered to me from Marie and it said, "Congratulations, I guess."
Gentry: So how did you begin to change the organization? As president, how did you attack this problem? Assuming there are still factions in the organization that weren't all for change.
Paxson: The election was close but not that close. You know, any time you try to effect change —
Gentry: Especially in an old, old organization like that —
Paxson: That's true.
Gentry: — which had been more of a sorority since what?
Paxson: 1908. It's the oldest professional journalism organization in the country, founded at the University of Washington. Our first move was to try to establish a national headquarters in an office. We did have a national headquarters; it was in the home of the national secretary who lived in Austin, Texas, and most of the files were in her garage. So the first move was to try to work with the national treasurer and look at the budget and see if we had the money to rent a little office space. And at the same time try to get more professional information into the magazine, the Matrix.
Gentry: Let me ask you one question. How big was the organization at that time? Do you remember how many women, roughly?
Paxson: Roughly I think it was about 4,000, 4500. It's up to ten thousand or better now. And then the approach was to have more professional meetings at the national conventions than what we had, and not just on women's pages. That was a logical first one. One of the big things that we tried to emphasize is that this is the time when more and more women were going back to work, after having gone to college and gotten their professional education, then they got married and had children and now they wanted to go back to work. And this was an area that we tried to stress a lot. It was a long, slow process but obviously we turned people around.
Gentry: They really didn't have that many professional seminars apparently at their meetings — or any at all — before that time.
Paxson: No, they had occasional ones but I think they had had some. But up until that time, not as a general rule.
Gentry: I'm kind of curious as to how you managed to do all these things and still hold a full-time job. I assume that meant a lot of speaking, a lot of traveling to organizations, to different chapters?
Paxson: Yes, it did, and it took a lot of work and I got myself very carefully organized to do it. Marie was very supportive. I would take my vacation a day or two at a time over a weekend so I could go to a regional meeting
or go speak somewhere at a dinner. I guess maybe the Herald gave me time off professionally to attend the national conventions but that is about it. The rest of it was my own time.
Gentry: On all the weekends, I suppose.
Paxson: Yes. I did a little bit of checking, when I went through my expense receipts for those four years when I was national president — as you can see, I'm a saver, pack rat. At any rate, those receipts show that I visited forty chapters and clubs and traveled more than 75,000 miles. Most of this was on weekends. I made so many speeches that I got over being scared of a microphone.
Gentry: I would say so.
Paxson: You just had to learn it. That's all there was to it.
Gentry: Were those some of the first speeches you had made? You've made a lot since.
Paxson: I've made a lot, yes, yes. This got me over the nervousness and eventually got me to the point that I could stand up and make a speech without having a script in front of me. Now, it has to be something that I'm very familiar with and I may have an outline but when I first started on this, every word was written out. And I leaned very heavily on it. But that's past.
Gentry: As you visited these chapters, all these forty chapters, what kind of things did you do when you were on the scene?
Paxson: You came in and were supposed to be sort of inspirational about the organization. Basically it was to sell the members on the organization because, of course, they were all volunteers and they were paying for the privilege of being a member. And so you were trying to persuade them what they could get out of it, if they chose to. This is where I would emphasize — with students, for instance — that when they got out of school, if they went to a city where there was a chapter, they would immediately come in contact with other women who were in journalism — and this was not just newspapers, it was advertising and public relations. We cut across the spectrum, it was not strictly a news group at all. That they would have contacts, that these people could be helpful. I kept pushing for the seminars, special programs, even if it was only one speaker but in the professional clubs and the women who wanted to go back to work, they had a network of contacts in the group and they could also get help from this group in finding their way back into the work place.
Gentry: To do all this work with Theta Sigma Phi you must have been awfully well organized and had a lot of time-management techniques that you developed.
Paxson: Yes, I did, because that is the only way I could get it done. I have counted up — again from those expense receipts — that in those four years I wrote more than four thousand letters, or an average of twenty-five a week. Some were down at the office but most of them were done at home, either before going to work or when I got home after work. I'm an early-morning person, though, and I like to get up early, so I did a lot of them in the morning. And I worked out a routine which, so help me, on my Girl Scout honor, ran like this: I was up at 6 o'clock. I promptly plugged in the coffee pot. I would turn on the oven and set the oven timer for 6:20. Then I would go in and write letters. At the sound of the timer, I would pour my first cup of coffee and put a TV dinner in the oven. Now, this is before frozen breakfasts — this is '63, '64, so on; frozen breakfasts hadn't come along yet. And I didn't want to waste time cooking anything so a TV dinner —
Gentry: Eating chicken and beef for breakfast.
Paxson: Beef and chicken, that's right, that's right. Whatever the little TV dinners were, they worked very well. And I would reset the timer at that point for 6:50. And then I wrote more letters. At the sound of the timer, I took the TV dinner out of the oven and while it cooled slightly, I got everything ready to be mailed. And then I poured another cup of coffee, sat down for breakfast, looked at the morning paper, got dressed and drove to work.
Gentry: Did you do this every day?
Gentry: That's the only way you could get that amount of work done.
Paxson: It's the only way I could get it done.
Gentry: That's amazing. That's just amazing.
Paxson: That's the way it worked.
Gentry: Tell me the goals you had for Theta Sigma Phi in more detail and did you accomplish them.
Paxson: I think I did because I set out to make the organization more professional. I wanted to update our bylaws.
Gentry: You did establish a national headquarters, as well.
Paxson: We did establish, we got the —
Gentry: Where was that?
Paxson: That was located in Austin because that's where the national secretary had lived.
Gentry: You got the files out of her garage.
Paxson: Right. I think we muchly improved the magazine. We put an emphasis on having professional programs at our national conventions. We divided the organization into regions and began the process of getting into regional conferences which would be less expensive than going to a national conference.
Gentry: Oh, they hadn't done that before?
Paxson: No. Began to have professional programs — not the entire program, of course, but at least there were professional speakers. And then I began to suggest that we change the name.
Gentry: Oh, you were the one that did that.
Paxson: One of the things that I said in my farewell address was that the organization should speak English and change its name, because the name itself projected the image of a social sorority. That name change took place several years later because it took a while to wrestle around what the name should be.
Gentry: Were you pleased with it when it did take place?
Paxson: Oh, yes. I was a delegate at that convention, yes.
Gentry: Women in Communications was your choice?
Paxson: That's as good a name as you can get. That's what it is.
Gentry: That's right. So you went to these forty chapters and I assume you attended most of those regional meetings, as well, didn't you?
Paxson: There were no regional meetings then. That was one of the things that evolved.
Gentry: Oh, I see. Okay.
Paxson: And there are more than forty chapters but I just couldn't get to visit all of them.
Gentry: I realize that. That's quite a few, when you're doing it on weekends.
Paxson: That's quite a few.
Gentry: Now, how much did you deal with the student chapters? Not only are there professional chapters but all these student chapters at all the universities?
Gentry: How much did you deal with the kids and talk to them?
Paxson: My biggest contact with them was at a major event. It was the college weekend program that the Chicago professional chapter put on. This was an event planned to give the kids a taste of professional life and a chance to come to the big city to do a day on the job, to hear some professional speakers. And they always invited the president to come and speak. And I went. There might be as many as 125 college students there and they would stay in the homes of various members to keep the cost down. And it was a two or three-day — I guess it started on Friday and ran through Sunday. It was a marvelous event. And I stayed with one of my very good friends, Mary Jane Snyder, who had a great big house and she might have eight or ten students.
Gentry: She told me once she had thirteen.
Paxson: Thirteen. All right.
Gentry: Plus you, I guess.
Paxson: It could have been, yes.
Gentry: It must have been a very big house.
Paxson: Oh, it had five or six bedrooms and a basement and they slept on the floor on cushions and sleeping bags as well as in the spare bedrooms and all that. It was a marvelous time.
Gentry: That was really wonderful that they opened their homes to these students so they could afford to come.
Paxson: It was, I think, a very good experience for the students. I have to tell you about one of them — and this may have been the time at Mary Jane's when there were thirteen plus the national president. At any rate, after the college weekend was over, I got a note from Mary Jane — I think it came to her, I don't think it came to me.
But one of the students had written a thank you. And this student wrote that it was so wonderful to be at this college weekend. She had three great memories. One was of staying at Mary Jane's house and the marvelous hospitality. The second was meeting a real, live Italian prince on her day at the job assignment. And the third was seeing the national president in her pajamas.
Gentry: That's great! Where were these "day at the job" assignments you mentioned? Did you assign these kids different jobs?
Paxson: That would work out with various members and businesses that if some college student was interested in advertising and you had a member who worked in an ad agency, the student would be assigned to her for half a day, something like that.
Gentry: Oh, I see.
Paxson: Or the newspaper or whatever.
Gentry: And this student conference was how long altogether?
Paxson: I think it started on Friday and ended Sunday. But it was very well organized. See, I was never part of it, I just went up to speak.
Gentry: But you spoke. What kinds of things did you tell the students at that point, coming from your perspective and their going into journalism?
Paxson: Well, mostly, of course, I was talking about the organization and some of the things that I said earlier. I was trying to push with the students the importance of staying in the organization, the contacts that it could provide and the support system that was there if you needed it.
Gentry: Was that a forum to inspire them also?
Paxson: It's true there was an attempt at it, yes. Yes. The people in Chicago gave me one more incentive when I was telling them about the benefits of staying in the organization. I would fly up there from Miami, Florida. And I went the first year and I owned one wool suit. This was a deep red wool knit with a gray applique. So I was fine. And the second year I went up, I wore the same wool suit.
Gentry: Since it was your only one.
Paxson: Since it was my only one. And I apologized for the fact that I had to wear the same suit but, after all, I lived in Florida and we didn't very often have occasions to wear wool suits. Two of the chapter members picked up on that. I have never found out where they got it but they presented me with a two-piece nubby wool dress, which I wore the third year that I went up and told them not only did you have all these contacts and not only could you meet these people who could be helpful, but you might even get a wool dress out of it.
Gentry: That's great!
Paxson: It had many benefits.
Gentry: Did you enjoy working with the young future journalists?
Paxson: Oh, yes. The students are always fun. As national president I didn't have as much contact really as I would have liked because, you see, we had a vice president for the professional chapters and a vice president for student chapters.
And they were the people who worked directly with the students. But I had a lot of contact with them.
Gentry: Do you enjoy inspiring young people?
Paxson: Trying to. And just being around them. They're such fun, you know.
Gentry: They inspired you back, probably.
Paxson: That's right. I don't want to be with the old folks all the time.
Gentry: You say you regarded your presidency of Theta Sigma Phi as one of your more important contributions to journalism. Can you tell me why?
Paxson: Well, simply because I always had a high regard for the organization. It did spread across the country and there were a lot of prominent women in it. I felt like it could be a force to help women as things changed in the sixties. And I wanted the organization to be part of it. I wasn't that strong to remain in it if it was just a social organization. I felt like the professional contacts it could provide were very valuable.
Gentry: And this gave you a tremendous national exposure among journalists. By that time, everyone knew who Marj Paxson was, I'm sure.
Paxson: Well, it continues to surprise me how people know the name and how it pops up. In the strangest place I'll meet somebody. "Oh, yes. Yes. I know who you are." I wasn't looking at that when I was doing it but it certainly — it's kind of nice.
Gentry: Going back to the Miami Herald — which you did, of course, after being president and which you stayed in during the whole time you were president —
Paxson: Oh, yes.
Gentry: You worked there till 1968, so you were there twelve years. And during those years, were there things that you couldn't do that frustrated you? We talked about all the great things you did. Were there things you couldn't do that frustrated you in those years?
Paxson: Nothing comes immediately to mind. I may just have put them out of my mind. I'm sure there were, I don't mean to say that. But I don't think of anything right off-hand.
Gentry: During the sixties that you were in there, certainly television became a much stronger competitor with newspapers. Did that affect the way you organized your woman's pages or did that make an impact on the way you handled news and handled stories, so you could compete favorably?
Paxson: As I recall, at that point television was having more of an impact on sports coverage and news coverage and didn't too much affect what we were doing on the women's section which, of course, was a little bit softer coverage — the news feature type thing. Those were the days when newspapers suddenly had to face the fact that you'd better get a different lead on the story because people have already seen it on television and so they know basically what happened. And you've got to give the story a different approach and explain more of the why's than you might ordinarily have done and get more in depth. I think that's when it began to hit the newspaper business — really the impact of television news.
Gentry: Sure, because television news would be covering the Pill, women going back to work —
Paxson: I'm not sure they were covering all of that, no. You've heard the same criticisms about television news that you've heard about newspapers. If it wasn't cops and robbers and government and sports and weather, I don't think they were any better than the newspapers at catching up with some of the trends.
Gentry: And if they did catch up with them, it would probably be for three minutes.
Gentry: And then the newspaper's role was to really explain it in depth, as you say.
Paxson: Yes. It took a while before newspapers finally woke up to the fact that if people saw it on television, they also wanted to read about it. And much more explanation and deeper coverage of it, as you said, yes.
Gentry: Since the Miami Herald years were so important to your career, what do you think the best thing about those years was? Or what you learned, the most you learned out of those years?
Paxson: I learned so much that it's hard to pick out one particular thing.
Gentry: A number of things.
Gentry: What was the best part of the job, the thing you remember most?
Paxson: I thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing. That was a lot of fun and working with that staff was fun.
Gentry: It's probably as good a staff of women as you ever worked with in your career, wasn't it?
Gentry: When you became assistant women's editor, when Dorothy Jurney left and Marie became women's editor, you really had your first big taste of management almost, didn't you?
Paxson: Yes, because it was so different from the other two papers.
Gentry: So you learned a lot in that respect, too.
Paxson: Yes. You begin to learn that. I guess it was then that I had my first exposure to sessions in management.
Gentry: Between that and Theta Sigma Phi, it was all management.
Paxson: It was. It was indeed.
Gentry: When I spoke with Dorothy Jurney and Mary Jane Snyder, they said one of your greatest traits is being able to work with people and very effectively. And even in crisis situations, you were able to really bring people together and mesh them together, mesh creative people together. And that's quite a trait. How did you manage to do that? Certainly Theta Sig had that and the Miami Herald had a lot of creative people.
Paxson: Well, I managed, I guess, to find people who were sort of interested in what I wanted to do, particularly in Theta Sig. And the people on the Herald were professional writers and editors and we all sort of had the same common goals.
And when you've got people who can work together, it's not difficult to point them in the right direction, I guess is what I want to say. That's not very good but I was able to find in Theta Sig a number of members who thought the same way I did about the way we ought to go. And that's what made it click.
Gentry: I see. A real group of you. Yes.
Paxson: I might have been the leader but they sort of ganged up to persuade me to do it in the first place and then they stuck in there long enough to get it done.
Gentry: Do you want to name some of the women?
Paxson: There were too many, no.
Gentry: At the Miami Herald — as assistant women's editor I suppose you would do this — did you make any changes in those women's pages that was kind of all your own, something you really changed all by yourself, so to speak; it was your creative idea?
Gentry: It was just kind of a group effort.
Paxson: It was all a group effort. Marie was a very easy person to work with and we had all sorts of discussions in our weekly meetings about what ought to be done. It was sort of common agreement, mutual agreement that this was the way we would do it.
Gentry: After twelve years of working on the Miami Herald with all these great people and making all these changes in women's pages, why did you decide to leave?
Paxson: It came up very suddenly and unexpectedly. I had made the big decision in the fall of '67 that I would stop living in a rented apartment and I would buy a duplex. And I had found the duplex and bought it and oh, maybe been in it about a month. In December I got a phone call from a friend who had at one time worked on the St. Petersburg Times and was now working back East and she wanted to feel me out whether I might be interested in moving to the St. Petersburg Times as women's editor. She was calling at the request of the editor of the St. Petersburg Times. I sort of took a deep breath; this was the last thing in the world that I had thought about.
Gentry: How far away was St. Petersburg?
Paxson: It's on the other side of Florida. It's on the Gulf coast — 160, 180 miles, catty-cornered across the Florida peninsula.
Gentry: Was this a paper you had been watching? Was this a good paper for women?
Paxson: The St. Petersburg Times was a very good paper. They've had excellent women's editors and it's a very progressive paper.
Gentry: So you had a dilemma.
Paxson: So I had a dilemma. This time I talked to my good friend who did the managing editor seminar with me, Edie Greene. I called her and told her I wanted to come up and talk to her.
And the minute I got there she said, "You've had a job offer, haven't you?" I said, "Yes." And we talked at great length about it and, of course, she said essentially the same things that I had been told before, when I got a job offer from the Atlanta Constitution out of the blue.
Gentry: Was that during the Miami Herald —
Paxson: That was at the Miami Herald, yes. We didn't cover that, did we?
Gentry: No. We didn't.
Paxson: Well, let's pick up on it because it's the same thing. At any rate, I had just been named assistant women's editor and had gone to the American Press Institute when this offer from the Atlanta Constitution came and it just rocked me back on my heels. I talked with Marie Anderson and finally talked with the assistant managing editor, Al Neuharth, who went on to become the head of Gannett. He listened to what I had to say and he said, "You've got to remember one thing. You can't let loyalty stand in your way or the fact that you've just been promoted or the fact that the paper — that the Herald sent you to API. Nobody's really going to look out for Marj Paxson but Marj Paxson and you can't just say no automatically. You ought to go up and talk to them and find out about it."
So I went up and it didn't take very long for me to decide that the Atlanta job offer was not for me. But when the offer from St. Petersburg came along, that was a number of years later. I knew a great deal more about the paper and knew people on the paper because it was in Florida. And I had been in the same job — even if I liked it, I had been in it now for nine years, give or take. I also knew that Marie was only four years older than I am and there didn't seem to be much likelihood of her moving on simply because when you got to be women's editor, you stayed being women's editor.
So I went over to St. Petersburg and talked with them and decided to take the job. Two months after I moved into my duplex, I moved out and moved to St. Petersburg. One sales point was that the salary in St. Petersburg was $4,000 more a year than the salary in Miami. I went from about $9,000 a year in Miami to $13,000 in St. Pete.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Gentry: When we left off we were talking about your move to St. Petersburg. You were women's editor there. What responsibilities did you have there as women's editor?
Paxson: These were all the usual responsibilities of running a department. We had a staff of seven. The St. Petersburg Times is a smaller paper than the Miami Herald. We didn't have nearly as much space as the Herald. It's a much smaller community, although it was a very good paper and had a national reputation for quality and excellence. It was simply my job to run the staff, manage the place, make the assignments, do the editing and layouts — all the usual things, plus attending management meetings.
Gentry: You weren't writing anything on that job, were you?
Paxson: No. No. I didn't write anything then. You keep asking about not writing. I really didn't miss it. I had moved from one thing to another so that not writing was no problem.
Gentry: At St. Petersburg, wasn't that an older community, a lot of older people?
Gentry: Did you change your viewpoint on the women's section?
Paxson: No. No. St. Petersburg is a retirement community but that paper has a reputation for being one of the most liberal and most progressive papers in the South. They were very anxious to stay up with the trends, do everything, try things that were new — and the fact that it was an older community made no difference. There were still a lot of young people around. Yes, we covered some of the senior citizens' activities but that was not the main thrust.
Gentry: Yes. Right. As editor did you get to control the budget and hire and fire? You said before men would always do that.
Paxson: You're right. You're right.
Gentry: Same thing?
Paxson: Same thing. I could make the recommendations, I didn't control the budget, Marie didn't control the department budget on the Miami Herald. It was something that just wasn't done. You sort of did what you thought needed to be done — if you wanted to send somebody on a trip you had to go discuss it with the managing editor and see if you could do it or not.
Gentry: Is that pretty much the same now or has that liberalized, if a woman is the head of a department?
Paxson: It depends on how the paper is structured financially. The department heads — that is, circulation, advertising, production, the news side — those people know what their budgets are. But the subeditors under them — for instance, the feature editor or society editor or city editor — whether they know what their budgets are, I really would be inclined to doubt it.
Gentry: Did you have much editorial freedom or did you have bosses that were looking over your shoulder on a lot of your coverage?
Paxson: No, we had editorial freedom. We operated very much the same way as other papers — staff meetings where we talked about what we wanted to do, people contributed story ideas, and we did the planning.
Gentry: This was the sixties when you got in there. There were a lot of stories about —
Paxson: This was the late sixties, now. And certainly the Vietnam war —
Gentry: I was going to say, the Vietnam war was the big story then.
Paxson: — the anti-war sentiment was growing. And of course, Kent State happened and that had a great impact. At the same time we had the space program and while I was there we landed a man on the moon. One of my favorite memories there was the food editor invited us all, with assorted spouses, to her house for a moonwatch party. She's a great entertainer and a great cook, as all food editors are, and her husband was a delight. So Ruth and Mack Gray hosted this party that — oh, must have started about 10 o'clock at night and broke up around 3:00 a.m. while we watched the live transmission of Neil Armstrong landing on the moon.
Gentry: Great. Great.
Paxson: We had a very congenial staff there and it was fun.
Gentry: Did you do any women's page type stories on Vietnam, some of the reactions, perhaps wives of people who were over there or got killed?
Paxson: We got into some of them. Most of them ran on the news side because the coverage was very carefully packaged and so we tried to get all the related stories together on one page or succeeding pages.
Gentry: I'd like to talk a little bit about your style of management. Did you feel it was necessary to be pretty tough?
Paxson: No. I have never been one who could be really tough. Every now and again I can get mad and they'll know it. Mostly I tried to persuade people and cajole them into doing it my way. And then finally if that doesn't work, you know, then you get pretty tough.
Gentry: Did you apply Dorothy's sandwich technique?
Paxson: Tried to very much, and it's a marvelous technique.
Gentry: It certainly is.
Paxson: It is and it works. You can get results from it.
Gentry: Was your staff young, the kind that you could teach? Dorothy taught you a lot about the business, were you teaching them things?
Paxson: It was a very young staff, yes. I hope I was teaching them things.
Gentry: What kind of things were you teaching them, do you think?
Paxson: Well, with some of them it was how to organize a story and how to write tighter and get rid of excess verbiage — things like that.
Gentry: It's almost like being a journalism professor, though.
Paxson: Yes, in some ways you feel like you're a teacher.
Gentry: So that staff was primarily young people.
Paxson: Yes, it was younger. There weren't that many veterans on it. There was one veteran reporter but most of the rest of them were in their twenties. The food editor was in her forties.
Gentry: Did you have a camaraderie with them as you did on the Miami Herald?
Paxson: Yes. We got along pretty well. As I say, there would be parties at Ruth's place. My house occasionally.
Gentry: By this time I guess you had bought another house and sold your duplex?
Paxson: I kept the duplex for a year and decided that being an absentee landlord was not for me and sold it, made a very slight profit on it and bought a little house in St. Pete, yes.
Gentry: Which was your first — well, your second house —
Paxson: My second house.
Gentry: — you barely lived in the other one.
Paxson: No, I was in the duplex two months. In St. Pete, this was a real cute little house and then I added an enclosed swimming pool to it —
Gentry: Oh, how nice.
Paxson: — which made all the difference in the world. You can't live in South Florida without a swimming pool. At least I didn't think you should. So we did that right away.
Gentry: Did the attitudes of the 1960s make your job more difficult in any way?
Paxson: You mean the women's movement?
Gentry: Any attitude, but that was one thing I was getting at. We're going to get into that in more depth in a minute. There were so many changes in attitudes during the sixties.
Paxson: That's true. You were trying to keep up with all of them and present contrasting views about what was happening. I don't know that in general it made it any more difficult, no.
Gentry: Again, you had the freedom to do any kind of coverage and follow the trends of the sixties, the changes in women's roles, changes in sexual freedom and some of those things. You were able to write about all that.
Paxson: Yes. I didn't do it every day but occasionally.
Gentry: I know at this point the activists of the women's movement dealt a cruel blow to many women's page editors. Can you explain that?
Paxson: Well, I can see what they were driving at. They felt that news should not be segregated by sex, that it should be organized by subject, and that therefore there should be no such thing as a women's section, regardless of the content, because the coverage was based on sex. So the women's movement wanted out of the women's pages.
Gentry: How did they make this known? How did they get this message down?
Paxson: Well, when you've got Gloria Steinem and people like her writing in her magazine and making speeches about it — and the National Organization for Women and other women's groups hammering at this in everything they say, every time they speak to an editors' group or to a journalism — or media, journalism to me concerns newspapers. But this is media as a whole. They began to hammer and pound and hammer and pound they wanted out. They wanted to be treated equally and they wanted to be on the news pages.
Gentry: And the managing editor started listening?
Paxson: Well, yes, because they didn't know what to do with all these women's issues in the first place and they were kind of glad at times to just let the women's editors handle them. And you know, "What do these women want? So if they want to be off the women's pages, okay, we'll take them off." That's basically the reaction of a great number of editors. What happened is that when the women's movement issue was moved to the news sections, it had to compete with lots of other hard news and the coverage fell off.
Even on the women's pages it was difficult to cover. On the news side there was little major, in-depth coverage. The men didn't want to cover it and it was no longer covered in women's sections.
Gentry: So it backfired in their face, so to speak.
Gentry: But you must have felt terrible because here you were, probably considered yourself a part of the women's movement and you were doing major stories on the women's movement and women's issues. Didn't you feel —
Gentry: How did you feel?
Paxson: I felt ambivalent about it. I could understand where they were coming from and yet with my friends who were active in the movement, I kept trying to persuade them that you're not going to get the coverage. It's exactly like what had happened years ago at the Houston Post when I wanted a news story for my women's section because I could give it probably twelve inches of space and a two-column headline and the news editor told me, "I'll never give you a news story," and he used three paragraphs of the story with an eighteen-point one-line head. Yes, it got in and it was kissed off in three paragraphs where I could have done something that was much more substantive.
That's what was happening here, exactly the same thing. And the feminists couldn't see it. They wanted out and they wanted off. And as I say, I could argue either side of it. But I also had the feeling of what was going to happen. What I did not anticipate happening was the backlash against women's editors themselves. That is, when they began — when we, I should say, because it happened to me not once but twice — when we began to feel the repercussions of this, when the male editors decided that okay, if they want out, that's fine, then we shouldn't have a women's section, all right, we won't. Well, what will we have?
And the Washington Post came along with its Style section which was a very interesting kind of feature section; they had a slightly different approach to things but it was basically a feature section. A lot of newspapers thought this would be the great thing to copy. You see, we're getting away from women; we're still covering some of the same subjects but it's not a women's page. Furthermore, it's not run by a woman. And the St. Petersburg Times was one of the papers that was very quick to follow suit on this.
Gentry: What was it called?
Paxson: Well, they had a great time and finally came up with really a most imaginative name. It was called The Day section.
Gentry: The Day section?
Paxson: As in m-o-n, lower case, D-A-Y capitalized. TuesDAY. T-u-e-s-D-A-Y. That was a good name. I think it was as good as any you could come up with.
Gentry: But I don't understand why capable and talented women who were editors could not run that section. Was that part of the women's movement saying that women shouldn't be running it? Or did that just come from the publisher of the paper?
Paxson: I think it was kind of the women's movement. I'm not sure that they were against the women per se. They thought that women should be executives all over the paper and not just women's editors.
Gentry: Right. But they certainly could handle a feature section just as easily as a man.
Paxson: They could but if we were going to get away from the image that this was a women's section, you didn't want a woman running it.
Gentry: I see. Okay. And this was a growing trend all over the country and St. Petersburg was one of the first to jump on it.
Paxson: Yes. St. Pete spent about three months in the early summer of '69 planning this section and working out the name and all of that. And the change was made on the Tuesday after Labor Day in 1969. We switched from the Women's Section to the DAY Section. And I ended up as the number three person in the new setup.
Gentry: Doing what? What does the number three person do?
Paxson: I worked some with reporters and did a lot a editing.
Gentry: You had no title?
Paxson: I'm trying to remember what it was. Everybody had titles.
Gentry: But they didn't mean anything. You went from number one to number three.
Paxson: I went from number one to number three and my immediate boss, who did most of the running of the section, was a man.
Gentry: Was he a man who understood what he was doing?
Paxson: Yes. But then I understood it just as well. That didn't make any difference. And it was a very uncomfortable position to be in and very difficult for me. We may get to this later on but in the summertime is when you enter the J. C. Penney University of Missouri competition for excellence in — I think they call it feature pages now; it originally started out as women's pages. So we had entered that. You enter a week's worth of sections. Our sections were right around the time of the moon landing. I'm not sure whether that was the exact day but it was very close to that.
At any rate, we ended up winning a prize in our circulation category, worth $500. And they let you know about that the day before Christmas — it's sort of a Christmas present. My phone rang on December 24th and here was the managing editor telling me that we had won a Penney-Missouri award, which was a great Christmas present. Well, then you go off to Columbia, Missouri, to a three-day workshop and the prize presentations in late March. And I came home with the check and with a big medallion for the newspaper and a medallion for my charm bracelet for myself. By that time, I had decided that I had to get out of St. Petersburg. This situation was —
Gentry: There was no more women's section after —
Paxson: There was no more and obviously, when I had been given the lateral two-step, there was no sense in staying.
Gentry: When you won the award, there was no more women's section.
Paxson: It was already gone. That's right. It was gone. We had put out these pages in late June or early July and edited them — because they set the dates for what you enter. The women's section bit the dust on the Tuesday after Labor Day, September 2nd or 3rd or whatever. And we weren't notified until December.
But at any rate, I started looking around for a new job and was talking to people in Columbia about it and friends in other parts of the country. The folks in St. Petersburg found out that I was looking for a new job and six weeks after I won the Penney-Missouri award, I was fired, with two weeks' severance pay.
Gentry: Was that a surprise?
Paxson: Yes, because I really didn't think they would be quite that vicious, that they — in view of what I had done, that they would give me a chance to get out gracefully.
Gentry: You would think if you'd won a prestigious award which gave them publicity, they would at least not fire you.
Paxson: That's what one would think but it didn't work that way.
Gentry: So you were fired with two weeks' severance pay but did you have another job lined up at that point?
Paxson: No. No. I took a couple of months to plan another one.
Gentry: My assumption from what you said about the women's movement is a lot of women's editors were biting the dust at that point. And so there must have been a lot of women looking for jobs all of a sudden.
Paxson: Well, they weren't all looking for jobs. A lot of them —
Gentry: Went into another field?
Paxson: Well, the papers would move them around. They would be shuffled over to being full-time fashion editor or something like this. For the next couple of years you could look through Editor and Publisher and just see it practically every week. Maybe there wouldn't have been that many, I suppose, but the papers that would send the announcements in that this paper had changed from a women's section to a feature section, whether they called it Focus or Style or whatever — DAY, or whatever they called it — and that former women's editor was now assistant features writer or something like that.
Gentry: In other words, she was down a couple of pegs.
Paxson: And a man — she was down a couple of pegs and a man was editing the section.
Gentry: And did that make a lot of women eventually leave? Or did they just take the demotion?
Paxson: I think a lot of them took the demotion. They probably were not able, like me, to move around.
Gentry: Probably had families there?
Paxson: Probably had families, that kind of thing. I know there were a lot of them who came to feel the same way I did, that the women's movement had turned on women's editors and that that was totally uncalled for and unnecessary. They felt like we were the people who had been traitors to the movement when we were the ones who covered it in the very beginning.
Gentry: And you became the casualties of the women's movement.
Paxson: We became the casualties, that's right. And I had people tell me that.
Gentry: And how did you feel about the women's movement after that? You felt you were a part of it and —
Paxson: Well, I felt I was a part of it and then I managed to land on my feet and get a job as women's editor at the Philadelphia Bulletin.
Gentry: How did you find that job?
Paxson: Somebody told me about it. I don't recall who it was but I got tipped that it was open and wrote and went up and did the job interview and eventually it worked out.
Gentry: It was one that had not listened to the women's movement — they kept a women's section pretty much intact?
Paxson: They kept a women's section, yes. Yes.
Gentry: Tell me about the Philadelphia Bulletin. What kind of paper was it?
Paxson: Well, of course the Bulletin at one time was the predominant paper in Philadelphia. It was the one with the very famous advertising slogan, "In Philadelphia nearly everybody reads the Bulletin." If you ever see those ads with the one little character who's totally out of step with what everybody else is doing, nearly everybody reads the Bulletin. And this was a very funny-looking little character.
It had been a very great paper in its day. It was still highly respected and very prestigious but the Bulletin had become sort of set in its ways. It was an afternoon paper, the Knight newspaper chain had bought the [Philadelphia] Inquirer which was the morning paper and they began pumping money into the Inquirer to build it up. And the Bulletin didn't quite know how to compete with it and eventually, of course, it was folded. But that was some years after I left it. So it was a good paper, highly respected, and when I got that job, I thought, "Well, you've finally got it made, kiddo. You're women's editor on a major metropolitan daily."
Gentry: Was this the place you had an opportunity to recover quickly from that loss at St. Petersburg? You know, when you got in there and started working as women's editor were you able to accomplish things that you were proud of?
Paxson: Up to a point. The Bulletin turned out to be a very difficult place to work. And the man who was my boss — he was features editor, assistant managing editor for features, something like that. It turned out to be — well, probably one of the worst bosses I have ever had because he didn't trust me and he didn't trust my judgment.
Paxson: I don't think he trusted any woman's judgment. His style of management was to send notes to me. He didn't like face-to-face conversation. He handled everything by memo. As features editor, he was in charge of the women's section, the travel section, and the books and arts page, things like that. And while there was an art editor and a travel editor, we had a staff of fourteen or fifteen in the women's section but he insisted on getting a copy of every story that every one of those people wrote.
Gentry: Before it went in.
Paxson: At the same time that I got a copy of it, before it went in the paper.
Gentry: And he read them all?
Paxson: He would pick and choose and go after the women's feature something — and he would do his best to get it read before I had a chance to. And then send it to me with a memo criticizing it. The memo was always, "Miss Paxson" — because while we called each other by our first names face-to-face, everything at the Bulletin was very formal. Any memo was addressed to Miss Paxson or Mr. Davis or whoever and signed with initials. And he would critique the story and "Why are we allowing this?" when I hadn't had a chance to fix the story before he read it.
Gentry: Did he realize how unfair that was?
He didn't care?
Paxson: I don't think he cared. So what I had thought was a terrific, prestigious job was not nearly what it was cracked up to be, and it was very difficult.
Gentry: So every day was a big pain, really?
Paxson: Yes, except when he was on vacation.
Gentry: Which wasn't very often.
Paxson: It wasn't very often, no. No.
Gentry: Did you ever have any chance to change the pages and do new things under that kind of scrutiny?
Paxson: No, it was what he wanted to do. If I came up with an idea that agreed with what he wanted to do, that was fine.
Gentry: There was nothing of the freedom you'd had in Florida.
Gentry: What about your staff? Was it a good staff?
Paxson: We did have a good staff.
Gentry: And you had camaraderie among them?
Paxson: To some extent. They had him over their heads, too, yes. I really did not make any close friends among that staff the way I had done previously.
Gentry: Did you see a regional difference in the people up in the East compared to the South, less friendly or more formal?
Paxson: Oh, they might have been a little more formal. They were very friendly around the office but we didn't get together socially in each other's homes. The good friends that I made in Philadelphia — and I made a lot of them —
were through meeting people through what was now Women in Communications, what I had preached when I had been national president, and from the church I went to. But the paper itself, no.
Gentry: By the way, did Women in Communications and their professional seminars and meetings take up this problem about women's editors and the women's movement? Did they have seminars on that?
Paxson: I don't think anybody did. I don't remember any. I just remember seeing the casualties because I think the women's movement itself thought this was a step forward, the leaders in it. After all, yes, I had eventually been fired from St. Pete but I'd gotten another job which was a better job at more money — I mean a bigger newspaper and more money. And they still didn't like the fact that I was running a women's section. You see, we had knocked down one newspaper but we had so many more to go.
Gentry: Was your staff — were they unhappy? Did they see these memos that you got?
Gentry: They didn't see it?
Gentry: They didn't get that flak?
Gentry: I see. I looked at some of those memos yesterday. It was like Journalism 101.
Paxson: Oh, you're right.
Gentry: You know, just rudimentary things.
Paxson: Oh, he would circle grammatical errors. Or a misspelling.
Gentry: It was like the rules of grammar and it was almost like a beginning textbook.
Paxson: Yes, if he put one in his typewriter, he would use half sheets — you know, 8-1/2 by 11 paper torn in half — the memos and they were usually pink. He had pink memo pads like this. You could get pink and blue and yellow, I think, from —
Gentry: Pink for women, huh?
Paxson: I don't know. I really don't. But sometimes it would be handwritten, sometimes it would be a three-paragraph lecture that filled the entire note pad. One of the biggest mistakes I ever made was throwing that collection of memos out because I saved them for about a year and I would say I had a collection in a desk drawer that was about three inches thick.
Gentry: What would you have done with them?
Paxson: I don't know but when the changes were then made at the Bulletin three years after I came and I was just about as low as anybody could be, I came across this collection of these memos. I threw them out. I should have saved them along with all the other good things that I have saved over the years because I think I could look at them now.
Gentry: Certainly they would go in your media collection at Missouri.
Paxson: They would. And that's where they should have gone, to document what I'm saying and the treatment, yes, exactly.
Gentry: So then what happened in 1973? They abolished the women's section again, didn't they?
Paxson: They sure did. It was the — well, I'm being frivolous, it was the same song, second verse, because for the second time in my life on the same weekend, the Philadelphia Bulletin made the change from the women's section to what they called the Focus section on the day after Labor Day, on Tuesday, September whatever it was. And they named a man as the editor of the new section. And I was exiled back to the Sunday magazine as associate editor. I was also supposed to be women's news editor for the paper.
Now, we had a new editor at this point, a man named George Packard who had a lot of ideas, who wanted to make a lot of changes at the Bulletin and to make it a more progressive and responsive paper. And I could understand all that. And when they moved me back into the Sunday magazine, he wanted me to continue as women's news editor. By that he meant that he wanted me to go over the wire budgets, which are summaries of all the day's stories, and look for any stories that were of particular women's interest, to suggest any topics that I thought we should cover, to watch the paper for sexist comments, that kind of thing. He wanted me to attend the daily news meetings at — usually about four o'clock in the afternoon. That would be for the first editions early in the morning because the first edition of the Bulletin went to press at ten o'clock. And he wanted me to make sure that even though we didn't have a women's section, news that was of interest to women got into the paper. Well, of course, that sounded fine —
Gentry: Did it happen?
Gentry: Why not? Why did he have you do all that if nothing was going to come of it?
Paxson: Because I had no authority, all I could do was sit there and suggest.
Gentry: You wrote him big memos. I saw some of them.
Paxson: Yes. We came to that. I did try but you see, he would then pass my memo to the city editor and if the city editor was real busy, and this was some women's story — "We've got more important things to do than that." It would get lost in the shuffle. You know, it wasn't something they had thought of, it was something that Marj Paxson sitting over there in the magazine and good heavens, what does she know about it? Even with the experience and they weren't taking that into consideration at all. It was just simply that I had no clout, no influence — all I could do was make the suggestion.
Gentry: It must have been terribly discouraging to keep making these suggestions and never have anything happen.
Paxson: You're right. I spent fourteen months back there and they were the worst fourteen months of my life. It was dreadful.
Gentry: Now, your title on the Sunday magazine was —
Paxson: Associate editor.
Gentry: What did that involve? What were you doing for that?
Paxson: Well, I read page proofs.
Gentry: You read page proofs the entire time, that was your job?
Paxson: Yes. The Sunday magazine editor didn't know what to do with me. As I say, I was there for fourteen months —
Gentry: Reading page proofs.
Paxson: Reading page proofs. He never once gave me —
Gentry: Not writing?
Paxson: Not writing. He never once gave me a freelance manuscript to read.
Gentry: Didn't trust you.
Paxson: No, he didn't. He had a part-time freelancer from New Jersey who came in three days a week and she read the manuscripts.
Gentry: No wonder it was the blackest fourteen months of your life. I can understand that.
Paxson: That's true. It was.
Gentry: I know you just found one of the memos you wrote George Packard as women's news editor. Tell me some things you mentioned to him.
Paxson: This one that I found was dated March 8, 1974. Now, the change had been made in September of '73 so I'd been trying to do this for about six months now. Is that right? Six or seven months. And the memo, which is a full page single-spaced, is addressed to Mr. Packard — the Bulletin was very formal, as I said, and this is to George Packard who was the editor. The previous editor that I got all the memos from was the features editor, B. Dale Davis. And here's what my memo said.
"Mr. Packard: Today's paper upsets me as women's news editor. It is completely male-oriented. In fact, looking through the pages of the B section, I wonder if women do anything but sing for the president and produce babies. This male dominance of the paper is happening so regularly that I am concerned. It's a mistake, a big mistake." I should interrupt here to say that this isn't the first memo I wrote him. I'd been doing this now for six months.
At any rate, to pick up, to go on with the memo. "Today, for example, I skimmed the section break (front) pages. Play (prominent) stories and photos throughout were all men. Inside is just about the same. The general news pages are all male. Focus is all male except for a story on page fourteen on women and psychiatric care, which is pretty much old-hat now. Time Out on page twenty-two has a small feature on a woman who did a TV divorce documentary. Sports is all male. Motor World is all male.
"The image of women in today's editions is, to say the least, very limited. On page one, it's of a beauty queen and of an unidentified 'baby's mother.' On page three, it's entertainer Pearl Bailey and on page nineteen, it's another entertainer, Margaret Hamilton. On page five the image is of a wife. I hear over and over again that this is the era of the emerging woman, that she is moving into new areas doing new things, accomplishing more, but our readers seldom know it.
"It was great last week when two Camden women who sued RCA made page one. Ditto the policewoman seeking equal opportunity."
[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]
Paxson: "These were good hard news stories but somehow we're going to have to get back into the Bulletin the soft news feature or background story that puts what's happening to women into perspective. For example, why not a story on the policewoman's battle for equal treatment, pointing out just how backward the Philadelphia police are compared with other police departments in the U.S. Why not a story on the suits for equal pay and equal opportunity women are filing and winning around the country pegged on those two Camden women? Or a profile of those two who had the courage to sue a major electronics firm? Why not a 'woman in the news' feature on June Wood who apparently is a leader of the nurses at Temple?
"I keep suggesting stories such as these to various editors but they are not interested. I think we need to be interested because I think a lot of our readers are interested. After all, we do have more women readers than men. And women are doing interesting things these days.
"I am trying to function as women's news editor but if today's paper is any indication, I am striking out. I need your advice on how we can get some of these women's stories into print. Thanks."
Gentry: I imagine you wrote a lot of these memos.
Paxson: Yes. And I tried to be very positive, always to have the story suggestions in. There's another one here, I suggested that we pick up a New York Times story on the increase of women students in medical schools. That was on page one of the New York Times, but we didn't pick it up. Then the Bank of America was ordered to pay a huge sum of back pay to women not getting equal treatment. The Bulletin buried that story and hadn't done any follows on any of the suits women have been winning against big business. It just went on and on like this.
Gentry: What was in the Focus section that sort of took its place, just general features?
Paxson: General features.
Gentry: Dropping women?
Paxson: Where we just make a big point that it wasn't going to be a women's section. There was a great deal of emphasis on men — which is, you know, I like men, but —
Gentry: Women were pretty well dropped from the paper, period.
Paxson: Yes. It was really the very, very old-fashioned approach of newspapers to women. As one memo of mine said, "It seems to me that unless women are wives, mothers, entertainers — and I include beauty queens in this category — or freaks, the Bulletin does not admit that they exist."
Gentry: Boy, that's a good line. You would think one of these lines would zap this man and make him do something. But it didn't.
Paxson: It didn't for a number of reasons. The politics in the Philadelphia Bulletin newsroom were fierce. And eventually there were potential labor problems and George Packard and Mr. Davis became the editor of the paper.
Gentry: Davis, the memo writer.
Paxson: Yes. That was after I had left but that's — at any rate, but then of course eventually the paper folded.
Gentry: But he landed on his feet, didn't he?
Paxson: Yes, he did.
Gentry: Life is not always fair.
Gentry: How, at this time, did you feel about the women's movement, that's supposed to mean equal opportunity for all women and here you were in the blackest period of your life trying to help women — by this time were you antagonistic toward the movement?
Paxson: Never quite got antagonistic although I at times was pretty fed up with it, particularly when I was at a meeting one night when a woman that I thought was a friend of mine said — I was telling her what was going on and she said, "Well, you just have to realize that you're one of the casualties of the women's movement." Well, of course, that's true and lots of other women were casualties, too, but I'm sure they had just as rough a time as I did.
Gentry: It still hurt you just as much whether there were ten other casualties or not.
Paxson: That's right. And it still makes me mad fifteen years later — twenty, whatever it is.
Gentry: Did you at this point start looking around for another job?
Paxson: No. This was '74.
Gentry: You stayed there until '76.
Paxson: I stayed until '76. Times were not so good then, particularly not in Pennsylvania. Jobs were very hard to find and I also thought that age was beginning to be against me.
Gentry: How old were you?
Paxson: Well, by that time I was fifty. I liked Philadelphia and the Philadelphia area.
Gentry: You had bought another house there, too?
Paxson: I had bought a house there and a couple of years after I bought it, my good friend Dorothy Jurney was transferred from Detroit to the Philadelphia Inquirer and she ended up buying the house next-door to me.
Gentry: That made it nice.
Paxson: That made it nice and it helped to have her there although I didn't want to cry on her shoulder too much. At any rate, at this point I wasn't, no. I was just going to tough it out.
Gentry: At any rate, you got a better job within the Bulletin than Sunday proofreader.
Paxson: Well, yes, because I finally was rescued from purgatory. George Packard did have a lot of ideas for the paper and he wanted to reorganize the city desk into a metropolitan desk and a number of reporters with specific beats. So he worked this out with the two young men who were going to handle it, a man named Jim Tunnell who was going to be metropolitan editor and Bill Kennedy who was going to be his assistant. And then they reached back into the Sunday magazine section and brought me out of there as a lower assistant metropolitan editor in charge of the beat reporters. And these were the people who wrote about education and medicine, the state capital bureau in Harrisburg, transportation and things like that. There were fourteen of them. And this was one of the happiest days of my life, when I got out of there. These two young men were bright, energetic, capable and really a great deal of fun and I began to feel much better.
Gentry: And they trusted you.
Gentry: And you were dealing with all these young reporters, too, under you —
Gentry: — so you had responsibility.
Paxson: Yes, I did.
Gentry: Was that a pretty interesting job?
Paxson: It really was. I liked it.
Gentry: What did you like about it?
Paxson: Well, just working with these people and working with their stories. I loved being editor and I could get along with these reporters — I could always get along with reporters pretty well. I got a great compliment one time when I reworked a story and the reporter was not around and it had to go in the paper so I couldn't go over it with her. And it got in the paper and I called her over the next day and said I wanted to go over the changes that I had made in her story. And she had read the story in the paper and had not realized I'd changed anything. So I thought that was a pretty good compliment.
The biggest problem when I first moved out on the metro desk, even though I was doing fine with the reporters, was the fact that I had to regain my self-confidence. I was just super-cautious. Every detail I ran over to either Jim or Bill to get cleared. And finally Jim Tunnell one Saturday just laid his pencil down and looked at me and shook his head. And he said, "You're wasting time. You're acting like somebody who's been badly burned. Don't ask me. Just go ahead and do it. I trust your judgment." That was the beginning. That gave me a lot more self-confidence.
Of course, I sat in sometimes on these daily news conferences. And every now and again I could win one. One story that comes to mind was the time that there was a threatened measles outbreak and the health officials were trying to get people to get measles vaccine and most of the men in the news conference thought
that this really wasn't very important and they wanted to bury it in the back of the paper somewhere. And I started arguing for it and George Packard agreed with me and it ended up on page one.
Gentry: And that made you feel good.
Paxson: That made me feel very good.
© 1991, Washington Press Club Foundation.
Washington, DC. All Rights Reserved.