Washington Press Club Foundation
Marjorie Paxson:
Interview #4 (pp. 90-118)
January 17, 1991, in Muskogee, Oklahoma
Diane K. Gentry, Interviewer


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[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

Gentry: Where we stopped yesterday, we were in the midst of your views at the Philadelphia Bulletin between 1970 and 1976 and somewhat unhappy years. I know you found a memo that interested you yesterday and wanted to add it.

Paxson: Yes. This was one about the budget. You had asked me earlier whether I was aware of the budgets or had any control and I said I didn't. And I did not at the Bulletin. However, on one occasion my boss, Dale Davis, asked me whether I thought we should send our fashion editor to Paris to cover the openings. We were kind of going through a budget squeeze at that moment and so I told him that I could make a much better decision on that if I knew what the travel budget for the women's department was. And his response was, "Aren't you glad you don't have to worry your pretty head about things like that?"

Gentry: And what did you say?

Paxson: I just shrugged. What else could I say? He made the decision, of course, I didn't. He didn't even give me any basis on which to make it intelligently.

Gentry: And did he send her to Paris?

Paxson: Yes, he did.

Gentry: That was a big event, under the circumstances, considering what he thought of women.

Paxson: Well, fashion was awfully big and in Philadelphia there were some high fashion stores and so it was kind of important that they continue this coverage. She went twice a year. That was a big thing.

Gentry: In the midst of the Bulletin years, you were named editor of the eight-page daily tabloid published in Mexico City during the United Nations World Conference for International Women's Year back in 1975. How did that come about?

Paxson: That's another one of my lucky breaks. By that time I was out on the metro desk. My days off varied; I would work Saturday and maybe have Sunday and Monday off, or Tuesday and Wednesday or something, you know how newspapers work. This particular time I had Monday off. I was at home and the phone rang and the woman on the other end of the phone identified herself as a volunteer working for the Non-Governmental Organizations at the United Nations that was trying to put together plans for this conference I'll get into more of that later.

At any rate, she told me that they wanted to put out a newspaper during this ten-day conference and they were looking for an editor and she wanted to know if I might be interested. And I sort of caught my breath, got more details about it. She explained that it would be an eight-page daily, that it would be bilingual in both Spanish and English. And I said, "Well, I don't speak Spanish." Well, they would have Spanish writers and they would have a translator. They wanted an editor and a staff of six reporters, three writing in English, three writing in Spanish, the translator and a photographer. That was the kind of staff they were looking at. They knew that it would be printed by Novidades which also prints the English language paper in Mexico City.

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They had gotten that far with the arrangements. This was in early April. And they really needed to find their editor.

Gentry: How had she found your name? How did she research to find you?

Paxson: This particular woman who called me was living in New York City but she was from the Philadelphia area and she had attended Temple University. And while she was at Temple, she had taken a course in journalism. She was not a journalism major this was one of the electives that she took and apparently liked the teacher whom she had. So when she got this assignment to start doing research for finding the editor, she thought of calling this journalism professor at Temple. And she called him and he suggested me. Well, that's the way it happened. I barely knew the man. I mean I had met him but I did not know him very well.

So at any rate, the next day we talked and I talked with the two women who were heading up this organization to do the paper, which was a volunteer committee from the NGOs [non-governmental organizations], and went into the paper the next day to talk to them about possibly getting a leave of absence to do it. And the first people I sat down with were the metro editor Jim Tunnell and the I guess he was called deputy, I think I said assistant, I think his title was deputy metro editor, Bill Kennedy. And I told them about the telephone call the day before and these two young men who were probably in their mid-thirties at this point were just jumping up and down. And they both just looked at me and they said, "Marj, you have got to do it. You have got to do it."

Gentry: It's great that they were so supportive.

Paxson: They were. They were marvelous.

Gentry: They weren't thinking about your loss on the staff like a lot of people would.

Paxson: No. No. That's right. So through them the request went to the higher-ups on the paper and I did get a five-week I guess I put two weeks of vacation in it and the total trip was five weeks. But I got the leave to go down the first part of June to Mexico City to hire the Spanish writers that I needed and then put out the paper.

Gentry: Did you also hire the English ones beforehand?

Paxson: Yes, I tried to line them up before I went.

Gentry: These were all women, I assume.

Paxson: No. One of them was a very fine young English writer who had worked on some previous United Nations conference papers. And he was excellent.

Gentry: For the sake of history, tell me about the International Women's Years, the conference and what it set out to accomplish.

Paxson: Well, basically the conference itself was established by the United Nations and it was set up along the lines that every UN conference is organized under. It had about thirteen hundred delegates from countries all over the world.

Let me back up just a bit and say that as I said, this was organized like all the United Nations conferences. There were two concurrent meetings. The official one was the World Conference on the Status of Women. It was attended by thirteen hundred delegates from 103 nations. You have to keep in mind that these delegates,

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both men and women, were appointed by their governments. They were instructed what to say by their governments, just as any diplomat is instructed. And they didn't say anything else. They hewed to the official governmental line.

The other meeting, which is an unofficial meeting, was called the Tribune. Meetings like this are held, as I said, at every one. There was an unofficial Tribune at the World Food Conferences, the World Population Conferences, this is just automatic. At the women's meeting, it was originally intended for members of the NGOs. Now, NGO means a Non-Governmental Organization. And these are the groups that work with the United Nations. They may have contracts to do certain projects, like the Red Cross, the Business and Professional Women's groups, a number of service clubs are connected in this way. The World Federation for Planned Parenthood is very active with the UN in population control and statistics.

So these were the groups who pulled together this Tribune, the unofficial meeting, that was originally intended for members of the NGOs only. But the response from women around the world was so great that they finally gave up and decided that registration would not be limited and that the Tribune would be open to anyone who wanted to attend. And it drew 5900 people.

Gentry: A little bit more.

Paxson: A little bit more, that's right. And the largest attendance was from Latin American countries and next were about thirteen hundred women from the United States. A group of two hundred women in Japan chartered a plane and flew to Mexico City. There were women from Russia, from Red China, from many countries in Africa, Europe and Asia. And the women from all of these countries, particularly Africa and Asia, were the most colorful because they always wore their native costumes and it was quite something to see.

Gentry: I'll bet it was.

Paxson: So there were these two meetings. The newspaper was sponsored by the NGOs but we set out to try to cover the leading events, both at the conference and at the Tribune. So we had a big job.

Gentry: And how many reporters did this?

Paxson: Six.

Gentry: How did you hire this staff of yours for the paper?

Paxson: I set out doing my own search for staff, calling around the country, contacting friends, particularly in the Southwest because I thought I might stumble across a reporter there who spoke Spanish. I ended up hiring two young women. As I mentioned, we already had the young staffer from England.

And then I went to Mexico City very early in June. The conference itself started mid-month. I worked with a young woman from the Mexican foreign ministry who helped me find the three reporters. There was also a photographer, a man, who had also worked on UN papers.

Gentry: Was he Mexican?

Paxson: No. No. He was English, too.

Gentry: And I take it your Spanish reporters also spoke English.

Paxson: Yes. That made it very handy. Then we also located the interpreter.

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Gentry: Now, as editor what were your primary duties on this newspaper?

Paxson: My title was editor but actually I was functioning more as publisher. I made the final arrangements with Novidades for the printing, worked on the distribution, decided how many papers would go to each of the conferences and how many should be delivered to the big hotels where the majority of the delegates and visitors were staying. I would have a staff meeting every morning and decide what everybody covered. We did have to have some duplication because there were stories in both Spanish and English. Then I edited the copy and wrote the headlines and the captions. The interpreter then would translate into Spanish the captions. Sometimes the headline in English about the major event at the conference could be translated into Spanish and sometimes she would have to explain to me what she thought should be said in Spanish and then we worked it out that way. Then all of the hard copy got delivered to the newspaper where it was set in type. While that was being done, I would relax a little bit, have dinner and then go down to the newspaper.

Gentry: You didn't watch them set it in type.

Paxson: No. But there they were and I was reading type upside down and backwards, just like I had in the old days, that's right.

Gentry: That's what I was wondering.

Paxson: Then we finally put the paper to bed.

Gentry: What was the name of the paper?

Paxson: The name of paper was Xilonen. There's a little bit of a story about that, too. In talking with the NGO leaders, the two women that I worked most closely with were Roz Harris and Mildred Persinger. And they were sort of ramrodding this particular phase of the Tribune and conference activities for the NGOs. And we decided that we wanted a name that had some connotation. We didn't want to give it a Spanish name like Diario, anything like that.

Gentry: La Prensa.

Paxson: La Prensa. No, no, no. We didn't want that. But we did want some kind of a Spanish name or connotation since it was in Mexico City. So when I got down there and after I was pretty sure about who I was going to hire, I began to think about the name. And I think it was the young woman at the foreign ministry who just asked me offhand if I had ever seen the fabulous museum of anthropology and archaeology in Mexico City. I said no, I hadn't and she said, "You should take some time out to look." And that sort of triggered something and I thought maybe we could give it an Aztec name or a Mayan name or something connected with Mexican history. You know, would go all the way back.

So I hopped a streetcar and went out to the museum and tracked down their director of public relations who turned out to be a charming woman who spoke excellent English. And when I told her what I was after, she was with me from the start.

Gentry: Great!

Paxson: So she started going through the list of the Aztec gods goddesses, not gods. And she knew every name and of course they were all about a yard long and very difficult to pronounce. "Oh," she said, "you can't choose that one, she's too horrible, and you can't use this one because she was too warlike. And you can't use this"

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Gentry: It's a good thing you had someone who knew their history.

Paxson: Oh, she was marvelous. She just caught on like that. She was with me from the moment we started. And I just walked in unannounced and told her what I wanted. So she came up with finally this one, Xilonen, which was the goddess of the tender corn.

Gentry: And her history was?

Paxson: I don't remember that. They knew what she was and that's about it.

Gentry: A gentle lady.

Paxson: Gentle, yes. Much gentler than most of them. So the next day I sent the photographer out to see her. She promptly took him to the place in the museum where a statue of this goddess stood and we got her picture to run in the first issue of the paper explaining where the name had come from and this is what she looked like.

Gentry: What kind of space did you have for your office for this newspaper?

Paxson: Oh, now there! We had no news room, no private office facilities whatsoever. The Mexican government was helping with this but they took the view that there was much too much emphasis being put on this newspaper, that it really wasn't that important. And so there was no need for us to have a special phone line. We could simply use the pressroom that was set up at the Tribune and we could use their phone. There were two or three phones in there and that was all. We could share typewriters with reporters.

Gentry: This was probably hundreds of reporters.

Paxson: Well, there were quite a number. I'm not sure hundreds. But anyway, this was a fairly good-sized room. On the first day that we got there which was the day before the conference opened, we counted twelve desks and twelve typewriters. On the second day when we came in to really get down to work, there were still twelve desks but there were only eight typewriters. Now this is the pressroom. This is not for us, this is for the entire group of reporters as well as us. On the third day there were ten desks and eight typewriters. I don't know where they got to but they did disappear.

Gentry: To hotel rooms probably.

Paxson: We tried to move the furniture around a little bit and to sort of set up a barrier of a couple of tables and a metal bookcase so that I had someplace to sit and edit copy and use a typewriter. And my reporters could come talk to me and bring me their copy and all that.

Gentry: Wasn't it difficult just to get in there and meet your deadlines when everybody else had deadlines?

Paxson: It was incredibly difficult. It was a fight the entire time. And of course, it wasn't only reporters who were coming in there. A lot of the women who had come to the Tribune wanted to come down there and use those typewriters, too. They would write statements and then deliver them to the conference. The official conference was held in a magnificent auditorium right next to the Mexican Foreign Ministry building. And the Tribune was about three miles away across town in a medical center auditorium with a number of conference rooms around it. It was a big building so there was room for large meetings. But the two were widely separated.

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Gentry: So under these circumstances of having to share all this equipment, what kind of hours did you keep on this paper, trying to get it out every day?

Paxson: They were very long. The first couple of days I was there oh, between nine and ten in the morning and I would finish up around two the next morning. When we began to settle into a little bit of a routine, I realized that I really didn't have to be there probably until eleven o'clock or noon so that cut it to a fourteen-hour day instead of

Gentry: No wonder you said this was the hardest job you ever did.

Paxson: Oh, it was. Let me go on here with our facilities. I have found some notes which I made in Mexico City and I'm so delighted that I uncovered them because I never would have remembered these little details. I mentioned that we tried to set up the barrier with tables and a metal bookcase. When I came in the next morning, there were no tables, there was no bookcase, I had to scrounge around the building to find a small table that I could set a cardboard box on for contributions to the paper.

Now, in addition to all the coverage that we had, we had allocated one page and possibly more for letters to the editor or for contributions that both men and women attending the Tribune wanted to make. We didn't get any from the conference because they were official delegates and, as I say, they were instructed and they really weren't paying that much attention to women's issues, anyway. And it was kind of important that we have this box that people could leave contributions in. The next day I came in, the table was gone, the box for contributions had trash in it by this time. That disappeared another day.

The best day for working on this paper was the Sunday production. There was nobody in the building we had to have a special pass to get in there was no noise, there were no interruptions, we could just have at it, get it done in a hurry, and that was delightful.

Gentry: I'll bet.

Paxson: In addition to all of this, putting it together, I had to worry about the distribution. Again, the Mexican government had said they would deliver them to both conference sites and to several of the very large hotels where the delegates were staying. But they didn't always do that. For instance, on Thursday, June the 19th, we discovered that they had not been picked up. And so one of the reporters hired a cab and went by the newspaper that printed them, got them and delivered them.

Gentry: How many newspapers did you put out?

Paxson: We started out printing five thousand. And there was such a demand that we took the press run up to seven thousand.

Gentry: And this reporter hand-carried all these seven thousand newspapers around town?

Paxson: She piled them into the taxi and several thousand at the foreign ministry at the conference site and another three thousand someplace else. We didn't always have copies for ourselves. They didn't get delivered to our hotel and our staff was staying in one place.

Gentry: It must have been frustrating.

Paxson: Yes. Another day we discovered that the van that was supposed to pick them up was used for TV filming and so the papers wouldn't be picked up until 10:30 p.m. It was a morning paper. It was hectic. Another morning we discovered that the van had picked up all the papers, had delivered them to the Tribune

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and delivered them to the hotels just exactly as they had planned, but they never took any out to the Foreign Ministry for the official meeting. It was wild.

As I say, it was the hardest work I've ever done. On the other hand, it was certainly the most fascinating and I think the most important thing I've ever done.

Gentry: And the paper, you were proud of its contents as well. What were some of the things it contained?

Paxson: I'm very proud of its contents because we managed to keep it I won't say objective because I don't like that word but we covered what was going on and I think we covered it very fairly. And I think we caught the highlights. Certainly with that many people and particularly with that much going on at the Tribune, we couldn't do it all. We couldn't cover everything. We did invite the contributions, there were times when our people simply couldn't cover everything. And I just simply one day turned around to the woman reporter from the New York Times. She wrote me a story. She had covered this event and we hadn't had anybody there. And I was tearing my hair over it. The women reporters, the professionals, were very supportive.

Gentry: They could see what you were going through.

Paxson: They knew exactly what I was going through. I think we got it covered. And this is the official meeting as well as some of the concerns that a lot of the women at the Tribune had. Now what went on at the official conference, as I said, was almost like a mini-United Nations general assembly meeting. The Soviet Union and the Red Chinese at that time were not on speaking terms, shall we say. And as soon as each country makes an opening statement, as soon as the Soviet Union had made its opening statement, the Red Chinese delegate was at the microphone charging that the Soviets were a threat to world peace.

Among the prominent first ladies who were there and this was back in '75, remember were Mrs. Rabin of Israel and Mrs. Sadat of Egypt. And when Mrs. Rabin got up to make the opening statement from Israel, all the Arab nations got up and walked out, just like the United Nations assembly in New York City. There was no difference. So that the people who really wanted to say something about the feminist and the women's movement and their concerns and the problems were pretty much centered at the Tribune. And a lot of these women wanted to get things into the newspaper. And they would make contributions and write statements. We tried to use as many as we could to get a variety into it. If we had two or three on the same subject, we'd use only one, that kind of thing, so we could really give them a chance to be heard.

On the very first day, when we still had a number of typewriters and a number of desks in the pressroom, we had just begun work on the first edition when a very tall woman strode into the room. And I mean she strode. She was more than six feet tall and when she walked in, you knew it. Very attractive. She walked over and began talking to the English reporter who had covered a lot of these things before. And the next thing, he was up to me. He said did I want something in the paper written by Germaine Greer, the feminist author. And it didn't take me half a second to say yes. And you know, put her at a typewriter and let her write it.

About a half hour later, she was back with her copy. We'd been introduced, you know. She handed it to me and then turned around and walked to the other end of this pressroom. And as I read it, I could see sort of over my glasses that she was just pacing back and forth because she was watching me. And when I finished, I beckoned to her and I said, "I like this." And she said, "I thought so. I was watching you and you smiled at the right places."

Gentry: She was really worried, huh?

Paxson: I think she was worried that I wouldn't catch the humor and the satire.

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Gentry: I see. What did she write about, do you remember?

Paxson: No. You see, I don't have any of that now. It's all been given to the collection at the University of Missouri. So some of this can be fuzzy.

I've talked about how hectic it was and how hard it was to get things done in that pressroom, news room situation with the emphasis on pressroom because we were definitely the second-class citizens in there. And on the next to last day, a very attractive young American came in and she wanted to write a statement. I said, "Sure. Take a typewriter" we've got to have it typed so, you know, sit down and type it. And she sat down.

About half way through writing whatever she was writing and I don't remember what that was, either she came over and she said, "You look awfully tense. Let me give you a neck rub." And she did. And believe me, she knew how to do it. That was the most beautiful feeling and I could just feel the knots disappear while she worked on the back of my neck and my upper back. And I thanked her and we both went back to work and before long her copy came over, she put her name and hotel on the top of it and dropped it in the contributions box and walked out. When I picked it up and looked at it, the name at the top of the copy was Susan Chafee, the U.S. skiing star.

Gentry: Who was also very good with sports medicine.

Paxson: Yes, she was. I would like her as a masseuse any day, I'll tell you. That was good. But this was quite an experience.

Gentry: When you finally got your last issue out, did you have a big celebration?

Paxson: We were all so tired.

Gentry: Did you immediately go back to Philadelphia? Or did you have some follow-up material?

Paxson: No, there really wasn't anything to do once it was over. We cleaned up, took what files we wanted. I came back with two complete copies of the papers, sets of the papers, and came home.

Gentry: One of which is at the University of Missouri.

Paxson: They're both there.

Gentry: Oh, they're both there.

Paxson: Yes. And then, of course, when I got back here I checked through the papers and the exchanges at the Bulletin to see what kind of coverage the meeting itself had gotten. And of course, that was a big disappointment because the newspapers the emphasis was all on the confrontations, the walkouts and the official meetings, the shouting matches that sometimes took place at the Tribune because there were women with very strong feelings there and they didn't hesitate they wanted to be heard and they sometimes raised their voices. And this is the thing that got into the newspapers.

Gentry: Not the substance.

Paxson: Not the substance, no. A little bit of that but very little.

Gentry: So didn't you write your own series of articles on the substance?

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Paxson: Yes. I came back and did a four-part series in which I tried to explain what the conference was all about and some of the main issues that came up when it came to women's issues. Some of the things I've been saying right here, trying to explain the difference between the official conference and the Tribune and how the delegates at the conference were instructed and all that kind of thing. And I went through the Editor and Publisher yearbook and got the addresses of about twenty women's editors that I knew over the country and sent it off.

I also submitted it to the Philadelphia Bulletin. And the Bulletin refused to run it because they felt they had had enough on this conference they had really carried very little because I had looked through the back copies. As a matter of fact, they didn't even announce that their own assistant metro editor was going down to be editor of the paper.

Gentry: That never came out?

Paxson: It was never printed in the Bulletin, no.

Gentry: You would think they would be proud of that.

Paxson: That's what you get for thinking sometimes. I sold the series to four newspapers so I was real pleased with that. I think I sent it to some who'd had their own correspondents down there, for instance, which I didn't know. At any rate, I felt pretty good about that and I did write about it.

Gentry: Well, certainly when you came back, with all these problems, after running a successful paper and being the editor, you must have felt very pumped up and regained all that self-confidence you lost years before, even though they didn't run your series.

Paxson: That's right. Doing this was a great shot in the arm because I really am very proud of what we did. And I think we did it the way it should have been done.

Gentry: I suppose at this time you also saw the handwriting on the wall at the Bulletin and started to look around.

Paxson: Yes. Well, the Bulletin was beginning to be in financial trouble and there were some people around town who were giving it ten years, at that point. So the idea that you really shouldn't stay was in the back of my mind. And then when they didn't announce that I went and wouldn't run what I had written about it, I decided that this is it, let's face it, let's get out. And once again I started the job search. By this time I was fifty-three and getting jobs at that age is harder. I wasn't sure whether I could even find one in the newspaper business at that age.

Gentry: Even with all your experience?

Paxson: Well, yes, but there were young people coming up. You know, when you get to be that age, they really don't want to hire you. That's true throughout all industry. You know, those are the people, in the fifties right now, who've been in sort of middle management who are finding the difficulties in getting jobs. They want to hire younger people. They're generally cheaper, among other things. I thought I might have to go into public relations, something like that. Then I thought about Al Neuharth who by this time was head of the Gannett company. And so I wrote Al. And I remembered his advice to me years ago, that nobody's going to look after me but me, and I thought well, he gave me pretty good advice that time, so I'll write him again. I asked him at this point if he thought a person my age could still get a job in the newspaper business. And the letter came back to me with his scribble

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across the bottom that I should call him collect in Rochester, New York, which is where the Gannett headquarters was at that time. And I did. When he came on the phone, he said that was the silliest question he'd ever heard. Of course there was. "And we must make arrangements for you to come talk to us at Gannett."

[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]

Gentry: So after your telephone conversation, did you go to Rochester to interview with Gannett?

Paxson: We worked out the schedule and I was to go up on a Monday, on my day off, and everything was set. I had the plane reservations and went by the travel agency to pick up the tickets on the Friday before. And when I got into the office, on my desk was a wire story saying that the airline that I had tickets on and I don't remember which one it was, except it was the only direct flight from Philadelphia to Rochester was about to go on strike, Saturday. And of course, this was on my desk because I was in charge of the beat reporters and one of those handled transportation.

Gentry: Not because they knew you were going because I'm sure they didn't.

Paxson: They didn't. No. No. But it was a story that I would have to have this reporter develop. So I got on the phone to my contact in Rochester who was a woman named Gloria Biggs whom I had known in Florida. She had at one time been women's editor of the St. Petersburg Times and then had gone on to other things and was now with Gannett. She was working with personnel in their corporate headquarters in Rochester. And I told her that the airline was going out on strike and that I had checked with the travel agent for other ways to get there and it was simply impossible. This was the only direct flight from Philadelphia to Rochester and in order to get there any other way, it would have taken me ten or twelve hours and two changes and sitting in airports for a couple of hours in between planes. And I told her we were just going to have to put it off because I learned a long time ago not to go on a job interview when you're tired. I flew from Miami to Chicago maybe it was St. Pete to Chicago because I wasn't looking that much in Miami. At any rate, I had flown all night and I was exhausted and did terribly on the job interview because I was so tired. I learned you just don't do that. And Gloria said, "Well, let me see what I can do." And Sunday about noon she called and she said, "If you can be at the North Philadelphia airport" which is a private airport "at eight o'clock tomorrow morning, the corporate jet will pick you up."

Gentry: How nice!

Paxson: They didn't send the corporate jet just for me. It just so happened that there was a meeting of the board of directors in Rochester that Monday and one of the directors lived in Camden, New Jersey, which is just across the Delaware River from Philadelphia. The corporate jet was coming down to pick him up and I could hitch a ride. So I was there at eight o'clock, I was picked up, he and I got introduced, we got on the plane, and there was a cabin attendant who was immediately there with coffee and doughnuts. We went on down to Washington, D.C., picked up two more directors, one of whom I kept staring at tall, white-haired man who is he, who is he? I know I ought to know who that man is. It turned out to be the former secretary of state William Rogers. We got to Rochester, the three directors wished me luck on my interview. They went one way, I went another. I went through the job interview and talked to several people, had lunch

Gentry: Did you talk to Neuharth for that kind of interview?

Paxson: No.

Gentry: No?

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Paxson: No. I saw him and he said hello and patted me on the back and said, "Good luck." But he was busy with the directors. And of course, they had a personnel director and personnel staff handle that. And about mid-afternoon or maybe four o'clock, the directors' meeting was over and we all went back out to the airport and I got on the plane with the directors again. There were a few more this time, they dropped off a few in New York and then they went down to the North Philadelphia airport and dropped me and the Camden man off, and then went on South. So I got a ride up and down on the corporate jet. Very exciting.

Gentry: How had your interviews gone?

Paxson: I think they went very well. I got a letter from Gloria, probably a couple of days later, in which she told me that "We're interested and we liked what we saw. So now we want to know from you what you want to do, what you think you can do." The job you want is what she was asking me to tell her. So I answered by telling her that I thought with the experience that I had, I could be a managing editor and I think at that point Gannett had probably sixty, sixty-five papers, something like that that I could be a managing editor.

Gentry: Let me stop for a second. How many women managing editors were there at that time? That was rather rare for a woman to obtain that position, wasn't it?

Paxson: I really don't know. I don't think there were very many.

Gentry: Because you always spoke before about the men managing editors.

Paxson: That's right. But as long as she was asking me what I thought I could do

Gentry: Sure. You could reach for the top.

Paxson: You're right. So I told her I thought I could be a managing editor or I could write pretty well. And I thought I could probably be an editor of an editorial page, handle that aspect of it because I'd been around a good bit. And finally, I said I also thought I could probably be a publisher. And by January, the word came back from Gannett that "We're very interested and we'll just keep an eye out. When the opening comes along, we'll contact you."

Gentry: So you knew you had a job or you were pretty sure.

Paxson: I was pretty sure that something sooner or later would work out with Gannett.

Gentry: So you didn't look around at anything else during that period.

Paxson: No.

Gentry: So what did you do? You had quit the Bulletin, I assume.

Paxson: No, not yet. I quit there it seems to me it was in February or early March. Dorothy Jurney comes back into the picture at this point. Dorothy had a number of contacts in Washington, D.C. She was friends with Catherine East who was head of the Women's Bureau. She knew Virginia Allen who had chaired the second Status of Women committee. And by now, President Ford had appointed yet a third Status of Women commission. This time it was chaired by Jill Ruckelshaus. Virginia Allen was on the commission.

Gentry: Can you explain to me what the Status of Women commission is?

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Paxson: This is simply a commission that is supported by the government to study a particular issue. And they do it quite frequently. And this is one of those commissions that then gives a report to the president, makes recommendations for certain actions either executive actions or legislative programs, something like that. And hopefully something will come of it.

Gentry: This is for the whole Status of Women in the United States.

Paxson: That's right.

Gentry: That's a big report, then.

Paxson: This was a very big report, much bigger than the previous two. The first Status of Women commission had been established by President Kennedy and it was chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt. Then the next was Virginia Allen's and then the third was this one, headed by Jill Ruckelshaus. And they were beginning to get to the point where they were going to produce their report after holding hearings and interviewing a lot of experts on all kinds of issues from child care to job discrimination to equal pay. They covered the biggest women's issues.

Anyway, Dorothy had retired by now. So she began to work with the commission to write this report. And they were coming up the report was to be presented to President Ford in June and so they were getting to the point where they wanted to get the report laid out and printed. Dorothy thought of me. She knew that I was chafing at the bit at the Bulletin. And she got me involved. The upshot was that I went to work for the commission and left the Bulletin. I worked for the commission for three months.

Gentry: In Washington?

Paxson: Yes. What I did was rent a one-room apartment in Washington and I would be down there during the week and come back to Philadelphia on weekends. Things are so close back East. We forget that when we're out here in the Middle West and Texas but Oklahoma and Texas, I should say but it was about a two and a half or three-hour drive. No more than that. And so that worked out just fine. And I spent three months we had offices in the basement of the State Department building. And we finished up the report and I was there when it was

Gentry: You edited mostly and rewrote?

Paxson: No, no, no, no. This is a government report. Mostly I was handling production because any government report, you write it and then one person after another, it has to go up the chain of command, everybody sees it, makes changes if they think it should be changed, it goes to the next higher-up, it is finally approved and you don't touch it. And the top person is the one who's aware of all the political ramifications of everything and who is the one who makes sure that it is couched in exactly the proper language.

Gentry: And I'm sure there are a lot of political ramifications in a report like that. Did you run into any of that?

Paxson: Personally, no, no. No, I was working on pictures and writing cut lines. And then it was printed at a government printing office. And I was involved in some of that.

Gentry: And then for that three months of work, what salary did they give you to do that?

Paxson: I got $13,000.

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Gentry: That's fantastic.

Paxson: That's fantastic. That's right. I was temporary, of course, or not permanent civil service status. I forget which rung of the ladder I was on but it was pretty well up.

Gentry: And at the time that you left the Bulletin, what were you making per year, approximately?

Paxson: My salary there was $22,000.

Gentry: So $13,000 for three months was quite good. And tided you over just very nicely, I'm sure.

Paxson: It tided me over very nicely is right.

Gentry: Now, before I get to your work with Gannett, I want to look back for a second. During all these years, you witnessed tremendous changes in women's sections of newspapers. The forties and fifties were the strictly society page. The good years in Florida when you were making the changes and getting hard news on the pages. And then the demise of women's pages for feature sections. If you were to try to communicate to women in the newspaper now, what kind of women's section or what kind of women's pages would you create in a newspaper?

Paxson: Well, if I were doing it, the subject matter would be a little bit different because this is 1991 instead of the 1960s. But I would still try to do the section that appeals to the typical woman, just exactly what Edie Greene and I talked about to the managing editors in Florida so many years ago. People are not going to read your newspaper if they're bored with it, if the stories don't interest them. And with everything that's going on today, there are lots and lots of stories that would be of interest to women and they're probably very much the same as they were back then.

The situation is a little different but women still have to feed their families and they worry about their homes and they worry about their clothes, they worry about the health of their children and the health of their husbands. Many, many more of them work so they're trying to juggle the home and the job. It's the same thing, only more so, is what I should say right now. The whole key is to appeal to your readers and to write the kinds of stories that they can relate to. Then I think you'll produce a section that they just can't live without.

Gentry: What advice would you give young women journalists coming in now and wanting to write these kinds of pages, write these kinds of stories?

Paxson: First of all, I would tell them that the battle is not won, girls. And we could very easily lose ground. History does have a way of repeating itself. Not quite the same way but it still does and the struggle for the women's movement and for many of the things that the women's movement has sought to accomplish is not over by any means.

On a personal basis, I would tell them first of all not to be afraid to speak up. You've got to speak up and be yourself and do the best job that you can do. I think it's dreadful if a woman tries to be like men, like a man. There is a difference. And I think women make a great mistake when they try to be one of the boys. I think these young women should decide where they want to go, they've got to show initiative, and if things get too bad, speak up and say, "Hey, I won't stand for that. I don't like being called a broad, I don't like being treated this way." And I think on a personal basis, any young woman getting into any phase of journalism should do what she needs to do in the way that is most comfortable for her, which goes back to what I said of "Be yourself." That's about it.

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Gentry: That's true in any field.

Paxson: That's right. I don't think this is necessarily restricted to the newspaper business or media in general. It's the only way I could have done it.

Gentry: But you feel that these newspapers could regress if women aren't on top of it all the time.

Paxson: Yes, I think they could. I think women have made a lot of progress but there is a still a long, long way to go. And there are still a lot of men who are very uncomfortable with promoting women, who look down their noses at stories about women. After all, we still haven't elevated the ordinary housewife and mother to anything above the lowest category. You know, "She's only a housewife, good heavens. She doesn't work." When we can change that, then maybe we'll get somewhere, really get somewhere.

Gentry: And I know you were saying that when you look at the hierarchy of most newspapers, it's still white male.

Paxson: Still white male, yes.

Gentry: The women haven't broken in that much yet.

Paxson: No. Now, I haven't seen in the last year or so the annual surveys that are done on the number of women executives. But they weren't making that much progress.

[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]

Gentry: I'd like to start out and continue with when Gannett got in touch with you after you finished the report on the Status of Women. Tell me about that.

Paxson: That was in June of '76. I had interviewed with them in December and in January they said well, they would keep their eyes open and find a spot. And so I knew it would come sooner or later. And in June the senior vice president for news at the Gannett company, a man named John Quinn, called me and told me there was this spot in Boise and wanted me to go out and have a look. I was still at the commission so I took a couple of days off and flew out to Boise, met the managing editor whom I had met several years earlier at an API seminar for city editors. The Bulletin had sent me to that.

Gentry: What was his name?

Paxson: His name was Gary Watson. At any rate, everything worked fine

Gentry: The spot was for you to be managing editor?

Paxson: The spot was to be assistant managing editor.

Gentry: Assistant managing editor, under Gary Watson.

Paxson: Under Gary, that's right. So at any rate, I said yes, I would take it and went back and finished up my work at the commission. And the report was printed and presented to President Ford, around the end of the month, just before the bicentennial celebration and all the big hoopla over July the 4th. And I spent most of July packing and cleaning up odds and ends and getting my house rented because at that time I thought I would retire back there. I had twelve years to go at that point? Yes, to sixty-five. And went out to Boise.

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I drove out there with my brother. I think maybe really secretly he just wanted to see some of the West that he had never seen but he argued that he just didn't think his sister should drive all that way across country by herself. And since he was a college professor and wasn't working in the summertime, why, he drove with me. He taught at a school in northwestern Pennsylvania, Edinboro University.

So that was fine. We took about oh, four days, maybe a little more, four and a half, to drive out there and saw a little bit of Salt Lake City along the way. We had to go through there and then head north to Idaho. We saw the Craters of the Moon national park, the lava flows there, and just had a good leisurely drive out.

Gentry: And Boise's quite a beautiful town, isn't it?

Paxson: It is. I liked it.

Gentry: Surrounded by mountains?

Paxson: Surrounded on the north and east by the Boise front. That's where the big skiing area, Bogus Basin, is. On the west and south are plains, very fertile, lots of fruit orchards, apple orchards, all kinds of vegetables grown there, a great many seed crops grown there for the seed companies. That is, lettuce seed and corn and beans.

Gentry: A very different environment than you had in Philadelphia, certainly.

Paxson: Very different. Right. Exactly.

Gentry: Did you enjoy it? Did you enjoy working there?

Paxson: Yes. It was a good paper.

Gentry: How big a paper was it?

Paxson: The circulation was let's see, I think it was about sixty thousand, so it was smaller than what I had worked on up to that time because I'd been on metropolitan dailies, much larger than the later papers that I worked on for Gannett.

Gentry: Now, Gannett is known for their fairness to women, aren't they?

Paxson: That's right. That's one reason I was delighted to get to work for them.

Gentry: So you had the same salary as any man would in that job.

Paxson: I think so. Yes.

Gentry: And the chance for promotion.

Paxson: And the chance for promotion, yes.

Gentry: I guess you looked at this as probably just a step up in the Gannett structure. This wasn't supposed to be a job that lasted for the rest of your life, was it?

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Paxson: No. No. I regarded this as kind of a training ground. And this was the first time that I learned about working with budgets because I worked with Gary on preparing the budget for the news room, for the whole editorial department. He was a great teacher.

Gentry: And he had no problem with working with a woman, like some of your managing editors?

Paxson: No. If he did, he never showed it, let's put it that way. But I don't think he did.

Gentry: He gave you quite a bit of responsibility.

Paxson: He did. Of course, I was in charge whenever he was gone. I was on the news desk as the news editor Friday and Saturday nights. We had another news editor that the regular news editor handled it Sunday through Thursday. I got a different kind of makeup experience there because that was putting the front page together on deadline every night. So it was totally different. But I did like it.

Gentry: Good. Then you learned a lot there.

Paxson: Yes.

Gentry: That is I'm sure what they intended you to do.

Paxson: That's exactly what they intended to do, yes.

Gentry: Were the Western people quite different to work with than those you had experienced in the East and in the South?

Paxson: They were about the same to work with. I think the thing that I first noticed out there and it's the same here in Muskogee is everybody is called by their first name. You go into a store and hand somebody a charge card and they don't say "Miss Paxson," they say, "Thank you, Marjorie." That's the way they do it.

Gentry: And your memos aren't written "Miss Paxson"?

Paxson: No. No. No, they weren't.

Gentry: They don't bother with memos out there, do they? More face-to-face communication.

Paxson: A great deal more face-to-face, which was much more pleasant. The only time you wrote a memo was for something to go back to corporate or possibly to the publisher if he wanted some kind of a report that he was going to send on.

Gentry: Now, you were only there eighteen months, correct?

Paxson: That's right.

Gentry: During that time, didn't you receive, in 1976, a Headliner award?

Paxson: Yes. I got the Women in Communications national Headliner award in '76 for the work that I did as editor of the paper in Mexico City.

Gentry: Which was a great honor.

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Paxson: Which was a great honor and I was

Gentry: Where was it presented?

Paxson: It was presented at the national convention of Women in Communications in Milwaukee and the Idaho Statesman paid my way to go collect up my prize

Gentry: How nice!

Paxson: which certainly pleased me very much. That organization, of course, had meant a lot to me and I had put a lot of myself into it. So to get this kind of honor from Women in Communications meant a great deal.

Gentry: Certainly. And I imagine it meant a great deal to the people in Boise, too, to know that you got it.

Paxson: Well, they were certainly supportive on congratulating me all over the place.

Gentry: Did you get into that community quite a bit while you were there, even though it was a short time?

Paxson: Not too much because I was really not in a visible position where I got asked to do a lot of speaking. The publisher did ask me to speak on one occasion at one of the colleges nearby but that was about it.

Gentry: Did you buy your own home then?

Paxson: Yes. Again I was sort of lucky because I had gotten paid $13,000 for my work at the commission and my salary at the Bulletin at that point was about $22,000. So that $13,000 was a lot more and I had extra money left over, so I just put that into the down payment for the house there. So I bought my house. And never having lived out West, I spent all the free time I had trying to see the mountains and everything around Boise, the Snake River Canyon that was south of there, the Twin Falls well, Twin Falls, Idaho, and the spectacular falls there. I got to some of the ski resorts.

Gentry: Did you ever ski?

Paxson: Didn't learn to ski, no. No. That's beyond me, no way. And the biggest event was signing up to take a five-day float trip down the Salmon River through central Idaho. And of course, this was on a rubber float and we camped out at night and slept in sleeping bags. Didn't have tents didn't need tents because the weather was warm. And we had a fine time with that. Of course, that was something the minute I got out there, I wanted to do. And when I found out how to line up one of these trips, I did. My brother and another friend went with me. And I was amazed at the number of people around the paper who were native Idahoans who told me, "Gee, I've always wanted to do that but I never have." So Boise was a very pleasant experience all the way around.

Gentry: And you really stayed close to your brother all those years then. He and his wife helped you move a lot over the years.

Paxson: That's right. That's another thing that I did there that I think was one of my smarter moves, shall we say? Gannett, when it moved somebody and they paid for my move and everything out there they, of course, will pay for a trip of the spouse to the new location. And it struck me that I don't have a spouse but I have a very nice sister-in-law so I asked the corporate personnel officer I said, "Well, you would pay for a spouse to visit the new location." "Oh, yes." And I said, "Well, I don't have a spouse, would you pay for my sister-in-law to help me move?" There was a pause for a minute and then he said yes.

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So my sister-in-law was there to help me unpack boxes and hang pictures and do all those things that you have to do. And she did it on the subsequent moves that I made.

Gentry: That's great. Now, were your parents still alive at this point?

Paxson: Yes. While my father died while I was in Boise, my mother was still alive, living in Houston.

Gentry: I'll bet they were proud, watching you go up the ladder.

Paxson: Yes. Yes. They got a great kick out of it. I think they decided my college education maybe had paid off.

Gentry: Right. What were you able to accomplish on the Boise paper that you're most proud of?

Paxson: I don't think there was anything that I did there, specifically that I accomplished by myself or that I initiated. I felt like that was more of a training ground and absorbing everything that I could from the managing editor, who was a very aggressive and forward-looking managing editor.

Gentry: It was a staff that really ran well, though. There was no in-fighting like the Philadelphia Bulletin?

Paxson: No. No.

Gentry: A staff that runs smoothly. I guess it was good for you to see a situation that ran well.

Paxson: You're right. You're right. Self-confidence was coming back more and more.

Gentry: You mentioned you only stayed eighteen months in Boise. How did you happen to leave? What happened?

Paxson: What happened is that in very late January the publisher walked into my office and he said, "They want you in Rochester next Monday and they want you to pack winter clothes and be prepared to stay a week." And that was all I knew.

Gentry: The publisher of the Boise paper

Paxson: The publisher of the Boise paper and of course, this was a Gannett paper.

Gentry: Did he have any idea what was going on?

Paxson: He swore that he didn't. Except it was obvious that when you got a call for somebody to come to corporate headquarters

Gentry: You were going to move.

Paxson: you were going to move. His secretary, by the time he walked in there, I think she had made all the plane reservations and everything else for me. And I went into Rochester on Sunday and I think it was Sunday. At any rate, I got in there sort of late in the afternoon and met with Jack Hesleden who was one of the senior vice presidents and a man named Tom Dolan who was the regional president for the eastern region. That's when I found out that they were offering me the job of publisher at the Gannett paper in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. And the plan was to fly me down there on a corporate plane the next day and install me as publisher.

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Gentry: The next day?

Paxson: The next day. Yes. And that's what happened. It didn't take me long to say yes, I would do it.

Gentry: Of course. You finally got to be publisher.

Paxson: They had me set up in a hotel room and I got on the phone that night and called my mother and called my brother and said, "Well, you're talking to your daughter, the publisher." And "your sister, the publisher." And the next day, Tom Dolan and Al Neuharth and I got onto a corporate jet and flew into Chambersburg. There was a reception arranged at the airport, which was a small airport near Chambersburg. I guess actually it was down in Hagerstown, Maryland, which was only about twenty miles away. The publisher who was leaving there had arranged this party with the department heads at the [Chambersburg, Pa.] Public Opinion which was the name of the paper. And so the three of us walked into the room and Al Neuharth made the announcement that I was the new publisher, I met the old publisher, we shook hands all around and I met the department heads. Al Neuharth and Tom Dolan were there for about half an hour and then they took the former publisher and he got on the plane with them and they flew him to his new assignment in Western Pennsylvania. And there I was, in a room full of strangers and I was the boss. But that's the way they did it.

Gentry: Fascinating. That's the way Gannett works. And they're very secret, they don't tell you where you're going, and all of a sudden you're there the next day.

Paxson: I was there the next day.

Gentry: Fascinating.

Paxson: The retiring publisher, as he left, handed me the keys to his car. The publisher got a car that was one of the perks, the company car, for personal use they got the car. And he handed me the keys.

Gentry: You were able to go back to Boise and pack up, weren't you?

Paxson: Oh, yes. As I say, I was there for a week and then went back to Boise and began to pack up and make the moving arrangements and get everything set to go to Chambersburg. And went back to Chambersburg and looked for a house and found one and bought that. Put the house in Boise up for sale. The first person who looked at it bought it. I had bought it for $37,000 and I sold it for $44,000. Things were booming in Boise at the moment. In the time between the closing of that sale, of course, I wanted to close on the house in Chambersburg.

And Gannett has a program of giving you a bridge loan so that I could make the down payment on the new house and get that set. And then when the house in Boise was sold and the check came, then I could pay off the bridge loan, which they gave you at no interest.

Gentry: Very nice.

Paxson: They had a good, solid program. They bounced people around in a hurry and it was all very quiet but

Gentry: But they took care of you.

Paxson: they did their best to take care of you. Yes.

Gentry: Tell me a little bit about Chambersburg, the town, and the Chambersburg Public Opinion, the paper.

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Paxson: Well, Chambersburg the town was about 17,000 people. It's in south central Pennsylvania, about fifty-five miles almost due south of Harrisburg, the capital of the state. That part of Pennsylvania there are sort of mountain ranges and then valleys, and then there's another little mountain range and then a valley. And Chambersburg was in Franklin County which was in the next valley west of Gettysburg. So we were in very historic country. We were in a valley, a very narrow valley, which if you headed on south, it would get wider and wider and the mountains would get higher and it would be the Shenandoah Valley that was the very top point. They didn't call it the Shenandoah Valley.

Gentry: Pretty country.

Paxson: Beautiful country, yes. Lots of dairy farms and very scenic, bucolic landscape around there. It was nice. The paper itself was an old paper. The town itself had been founded in something like the 1740s it went way back. It was mostly agriculture. There was some industry but not a great deal. It was just a nice place to be, a nice town.

Gentry: What kind of circulation did the paper have?

Paxson: The paper circulated throughout the county. The county had a population of about a hundred thousand and so our circulation was about seventeen thousand, although we went far beyond the town itself. The town is fairly well known because it's the location of Wilson College which is a prominent girls' school, women's college.

Gentry: You must have had an amazing flexibility to move as many times and as fast as you did and to settle into a town.

Paxson: Not all the moves were as fast as this one. I mean, this was really rapid. But I just had to get on with it, to face the fact that here I was, a woman publisher in a brand-new town, I didn't know anything about the town, they didn't know me. The town leaders were very quick to come by and introduce themselves the mayor, the city councilmen, the executive director of the Chamber of Commerce, things like that. And then the invitations to speak began to come and you just gradually got around and met people. The department heads could help, the advertising director would take me around to the retailers, store managers, things like that. You got to meet people that way. That's the way you did it.

Gentry: Did you have any flak from anyone there about being a woman publisher? They probably weren't used to that. Was it any problem with that at all? You're only the fourth Gannett woman publisher.

Paxson: Fourth woman publisher of a daily paper with Gannett.

Gentry: So you were a pretty rare breed.

Paxson: Yes. I don't remember any particular flak about it.

Gentry: They accepted it.

Paxson: Yes. It is a very reserved community, kind of hard to get to know they were very friendly but not much social interaction. It was all sort of on a business level.

Gentry: Now, one thing you've told me in conversation that when you come in as a publisher of a new town, you have to establish your identity immediately. Now, what did you do in Chambersburg?

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Paxson: In Chambersburg, I repainted the walls of the advertising and the business office. They were a wild orange, about the color if you had an orange marker, they were about that color orange highliter, you know. The wife of let's see, not the publisher I succeeded but the one before him so that was two publishers back from me she had fancied herself an interior decorator and she had particularly picked out this color which she thought was marvelous and everybody in the place hated. So I had the walls repainted an off-white.

Gentry: Was this the first week?

Paxson: No, not quite the first week. That took a little longer because on that one I was kind of in a state of shock for a couple of days. I didn't do anything that quickly, it was just you can't do it exactly the first day all the time. You just have to kind of wait until you've been there long enough to see what needs to be done.

Gentry: That is your philosophy, isn't it, to establish an identity and independence right away when you come in?

Paxson: Oh, yes.

Gentry: Tell me a little more about that.

Paxson: Particularly if you're a woman, you just need to let people know that you're the one who can get things done when you come in as a boss. And I know a lot of other people who felt the same way, women who just think you have to look around and do something special. A lot of men will do it, too. Some slight indication that you know what you're doing, that you can make changes if you want to, and that's the way you do it.

Gentry: And don't you also have to sell yourself to the community in some respects?

Paxson: Oh, absolutely. That's what making the speeches is all about.

Gentry: Okay.

Paxson: And that's what going around and meeting the advertisers and getting to meet the bank presidents and the directors of the Chamber of Commerce who are the leaders in the business community accomplishes. You've got to do that.

Gentry: How did you take to your new role as publisher after being an editor for so long?

Paxson: Well, the department heads at the Public Opinion cued me when I was moved from there. They said, "We've just got you trained to be a good publisher and now you're moving." I had to depend on them a lot to teach me, particularly the financial the accountant, all the financial aspects, the monthly reports, the budgets. I had seen the budget in Boise but it was just a news room budget. Now I had the entire budget from five different departments. And some of these areas, while I had a vague knowledge about them, I didn't know the specifics and I simply had to ask questions and get these people to tell me what all was going on and what their problems were then get to the point that I might be able to anticipate them.

Gentry: Were there special problems there at the paper you had to troubleshoot when you came?

Paxson: No. It was just a matter of learning the ropes.

Gentry: Then later, you were there during Three Mile Island. You had some special problems then. Can you tell me about that?

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Paxson: Well, that was a hair-raising couple of days, first of all. Our main problem with that was that Chambersburg is probably only about fifty miles south of Three Mile Island. And not a few people from the Harrisburg area Three Mile Island is very close to Harrisburg panicked and got in their cars and left. A lot of them stopped at motels around Chambersburg and the nearby area. We, of course, were reporting what was going on. We had a Gannett bureau in Harrisburg so we didn't send anybody from the paper up there. In the states where Gannett has a number of papers, it will have its own capital bureau to cover the specific interests of those papers. And of course, we had the wire service, too.

But we were very concerned, so many people were frightened, so while we had to report this, give it big play in the paper, we didn't want to scare anybody. We had to just give them the news straight and not be inflammatory in any way. The biggest problem with that for the couple of days was doing that right. I got a little upset a couple of weeks later because Gannett has a monthly competition called the Best of Gannett the best of the month and then it ends up for the year, the best of Gannett. One of the things they wanted to enter in that month was the coverage of the Three Mile Island incident. And of course, we were the closest Gannett paper to Three Mile Island. So we entered everything that we had done on it. And we came out number two in the competition. And the reason we came out number two was because the judge liked the headline on a paper in Bellingham, Washington, better. And that headline read "Nuke Plant Spits Hot Steam." And I just went through the roof because if we had written that kind of a headline in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania, with people in that town the people who lived in Chambersburg, a lot of them were very afraid.

Gentry: Of course.

Paxson: Plus the people who had fled from the Harrisburg area. I think if we had run that kind of a headline, it would have been one of the most irresponsible things we would have done.

Gentry: That's for sure.

Paxson: That's right.

Gentry: When did Three Mile Island come? How long had you been there? This didn't come the first couple weeks or anything?

Paxson: No, no. I'd been there a year, I guess. I don't remember exactly the dates of Three Mile Island. If we had them, we could pinpoint it.*

Gentry: So that incident was really a test of your responsibility and fairness as publisher, wouldn't you say?

Paxson: I think so. I tried to make myself very familiar with every operation of the paper there. I worked one day in the pressroom and another day I rode one of the motor routes from the circulation department and we drove 136 miles delivering papers. It was just this kind of thing that acquainted me with the town, with the people, with the staff, with some of the problems that they ran up against. It was interesting.

Gentry: You really enjoyed being a publisher, didn't you, from the beginning?

Paxson: I did. I guess you'd call me a closet boss. Once I got the hang of it, I really liked it. And I have on occasion compared it to being the conductor of a symphony orchestra because you have to make everybody in tune and playing at the right tempo. And when everything is set and you really get them all together, you can make beautiful music. Making a paper run smoothly was the same thing.

______________________
* March 28, 1979.

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Gentry: I guess you wish you had gotten into Gannett a little earlier and moved up in the ranks.

Paxson: Yes. Although I'm not sure it would have happened much earlier.

Gentry: No, because women just were not in publishing much before you were.

Paxson: Women weren't in it, no. They weren't. But I was delighted to have the opportunity and I think, looking back, my experience as president of Theta Sigma Phi was one of the things that contributed to it, the experience in Mexico City certainly helped, plus all the newspaper experience. But those were volunteer experiences that would help you do a more professional job anywhere.

Gentry: Both Dorothy Jurney and Mary Jane Snyder talked about your excellent managerial ability through the years, something that had developed in you through the years. And what they said to me is you were a take-charge woman without being threatening.

Paxson: Oh, that's a new one!

Gentry: And you were a very fair boss. Did you have a philosophy about that? Or the way you work with people?

Paxson: I'm not sure that I've ever sorted it out as a special philosophy.

Gentry: Well, you know that if you're too much of a take-charge woman, then they don't like you.

Paxson: Then they don't like you. That's right.

Gentry: So you must have met that middle ground where you could take charge without being threatening. I'm just wondering how you did it.

Paxson: I guess so. I'm not sure I do know.

Gentry: It just came natural.

Paxson: Well, it did sort of. I want to get things done. I tried to delegate whenever possible but you still have to push people to get things done, to get them done your way sometimes. I wasn't aware that I was supposed to have that great talent.

Gentry: Well, that's what your friends say, anyway.

Paxson: I'll take it with thanks.

Gentry: Did you ever have to fire anybody at Chambersburg?

Paxson: Yes, I did. Of course, this was a totally new experience for me because I had never had the authority to fire anybody up to this point. We had a circulation manager there who apparently had been a problem before I got there and we had put him on probation. The regional president, I'm sure, sensed that I had never done anything like this before. So we talked to this circulation manager through a conference call. I did the talking about what we wanted to do, that we were putting him on probation, that if he didn't accomplish certain goals within the next two months, he would be terminated. And the regional president was on the other end of the phone, on the third phone, backing me up.

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Gentry: Now, what was the problem with the circulation manager?

Paxson: He just wasn't doing the job.

Gentry: It was falling?

Paxson: It wasn't necessarily falling but the deliveries weren't being handled right and he'd get a lot of complaints from people who didn't get their papers because certain things weren't being followed up on. It was apparently something that had been going on long before I got there. We did this a couple of months after I arrived.

Gentry: So what happened on the day that you did fire him?

Paxson: Well, I simply had to call him in and tell him that he had not met the goals and he was being terminated. And that was it. I think he fully expected it. We found out after we had this conversation in which he was put on probation that he left the office and played a round of golf.

Gentry: That's interesting.

Paxson: So I think he knew it was coming. I think he'd lost interest in the job. I don't know. But at any rate, yes, I did have to fire somebody in Chambersburg, not too long after I got there.

Gentry: Any more than that? Was he the only one?

Paxson: He was the only one, yes.

Gentry: Wasn't it while you were at Chambersburg that you were associate editor of the daily paper for the UN Mid-Decade Conference for Women in Copenhagen ?

Paxson: Yes, it was. It's hard to believe that five years had passed between the time I'd been in Mexico City and all of a sudden the Mid-Decade Conference is coming up. A lot had happened in that time. And one of the things was that anti-American feeling had grown very much in Europe. And the NGO leaders and again this was Mildred Persinger and Roz Harris who had worked out everything for Mexico City. The situation had changed enough that these women felt that it would be impossible for an American to be the editor of the paper at this Mid-Decade Conference.

Gentry: Otherwise you probably would have been editor.

Paxson: Well, I might have been. And so they said they really wanted me on board and they wanted me to come to Copenhagen that summer for three weeks as an associate editor. And so I sent their request through the channels to Gannett and Gannett said yes, I could go.

Gentry: How could you leave when you were the publisher? Did they put a temporary publisher in?

Paxson: Well, you always had an acting publisher one of the department heads would

Gentry: Oh, would sub for you. Was this another five-week thing?

Paxson: No. This was only three. Not quite three, really, about eighteen days, something like that. I didn't have to do anything, any of the advance preparation at all just simply go over, do my job during the conference and then come home.

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Gentry: The conference was organized on the same terms as the Mexico City one?

Paxson: Yes. They had the official conference and then the unofficial meeting over there in Copenhagen was called the Forum. Both meetings operated just about the same way. The official conference again was just a mini-UN Assembly with the same kinds of things political arguments brought up that occurred in Mexico City. The Forum was much more attuned to women's concerns than the official meeting with the diplomats. My job over there was to coordinate the coverage of the events and meetings and all of that at the Forum. So I was there at that meeting place most of the time. I did get to the official session a couple of times but usually I was out there. The job in Copenhagen was much easier because once we got our copy done for the day, it was sent into the printing place where the editor was working and I was done.

Gentry: Did you have sufficient typewriters?

Paxson: Yes. Everything was well-equipped. We had our own little office with a couple of typewriters and our own telephone line and everything. The facilities in Copenhagen were fine. We couldn't have complained about anything.

Gentry: Now who was the editor?

Paxson: I guess I should amend that that I couldn't have complained about anything except the editor. The editor was an English journalist who had been the editor of some other papers at UN conferences because they have these little newspapers every time the UN has a world conference. The NGOs sponsor it. And his approach to covering it was to seek out the controversy, to write articles which were sort of confrontational and critical of some aspects of the women's movement. He wasn't nearly as interested as I had been in Mexico City in actually covering what went on and in reflecting what was happening at the conference.

He really didn't want me on the staff to begin with. When we met for the first time the day before the conference opened, and he was introducing everybody around the room, he made a point of mentioning that he had edited three world conference newspapers, that this reporter had worked on three of them and this one over here had worked on two and the photographer had worked on three. And he got to me and he said, "And this is Marj Paxson," and he went on. That's when I interrupted to remind him that I had edited the paper in Mexico City. He wasn't going to get away with that.

[End Tape 2, Side A; Begin Tape 2, Side B]

Gentry: Was it an eight-pagea tabloid as in Mexico City?

Paxson: Yes, it was the same as Mexico City. Same size.

Gentry: Did it end up being confrontational like your editor seemed to want it to be?

Paxson: Yes.

Gentry: So it was not a paper you were particularly proud of.

Paxson: No.

Gentry: Didn't have your stamp on it like the other one did.

Paxson: No, it didn't. It just wasn't my style of journalism and I really kind of felt that he was doing the conference a disservice for covering it that way. But that's the way he wanted to do it and he'd been hired to do it.

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So I handled the coverage from the Forum and got the copy in to him by the copy deadline which was around 5:30 in the afternoon. And then I was free to see Copenhagen, see a little bit of Denmark, ride the ferry across to Sweden at least get into Sweden and then come back, that kind of thing.

Gentry: So it wasn't all loss, then?

Paxson: No, no. It was a lot easier than Mexico City but I got to see a lot more.

Gentry: Do you feel that you had accomplished what you set out to accomplish in Chambersburg before they moved you again? Let's see. You were there from 1978 to 1980. So what, about two years altogether?

Paxson: No, more than that. It was two years and eight months because I went to Chambersburg in February of 1978 and moved to Muskogee in October of 1980. So you see, two and a half years, plus or minus. I guess I must have accomplished what Gannett wanted me to do and that is to learn how to be a publisher because all of a sudden they moved me.

Gentry: They don't move you unless you've accomplished

Paxson: I think they move you when they think you've learned how to do the job and can move on. Or they shift you to some other spot. In September now this was '80 and we were having there seemed to be some belt-tightening going on around the company, that was sort of standard. But they didn't throw money around is what I'm trying to say. But I had the feeling that I really had settled in in Chambersburg and it was very unlikely that I would be moved anywhere for a while. And so in the first part of September I had enclosed two sides of the carport that was up against my house and over the weekend of September the 14th I had painted it, myself, after it was enclosed. And it was the next day that I got the call, saying

Gentry: It gets confusing after a while.

Paxson: It does.

Gentry: Saying?

Paxson: Saying that we want you to think about going to Muskogee, Oklahoma. This time it wasn't quite as sudden because they asked me to come out to Muskogee and take a look. And so without telling anybody in Muskogee that I was coming, I flew out here, rented a car at the airport, got a room at the Holiday Inn overnight and came out here and looked around the town. And talked to a few people at the tourist bureau and the Chamber of Commerce, things like that.

Gentry: But they didn't know who you were or what

Paxson: They didn't know who I was, no. In 1980, the city maps that were available were not the best in the world. Among other things, they didn't have Wall Street on them and the address of the newspaper is 214 Wall Street. It's a very small street that only runs a couple of blocks and it's very narrow, right downtown. At that time, there was no sign on the back of the newspaper so I never

Gentry: You never did find it.

Paxson: Never did find the newspaper office, no. But at any rate, I went back and said that yes, I was willing to move to Muskogee, Oklahoma. And so on Monday, October the 6th, I got on the corporate jet and we flew to Muskogee, landed on our Davis Field out here, with my new regional vice president, Vince Spezanno. And he took me to the paper. Well, we were picked up by the man whose family had owned

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the [Muskogee] Phoenix for three generations and he had sold it to Gannett. And he had stayed on for three years as publisher and I was coming in as the first really Gannett publisher because he'd been here. His name was Tams Bixby III. Tams met us at the airport. And we got in about 11:30, quarter to twelve, something like that. So he brought us into town and we went by a local restaurant, Okie's, for lunch.

Gentry: Tell the full name of Okie's.

Paxson: The full name of Okie's is Okie's Dust Bowl Diner. It was probably the best restaurant in town.

Gentry: With the poorest name in town.

Paxson: All right. Now, no editorializing.

He was telling us about the paper and all this. And then we went down to the paper and I met everybody and the announcement was made that I was the publisher and that was that.

Gentry: That day.

Paxson: That day. Now, Tammy stayed around because, of course, he's a native Muskogean and this was his home. So it wasn't as if I mean, he knew the change was going to be made, you see. And he wasn't leaving town, it was simply that he was giving up the job of publisher.

Gentry: And he had no problem with that. He didn't mind doing that.

Paxson: No. No. He was having some health problems and I think he was just as glad to get rid of the day-to-day operation, that kind of thing.

Gentry: Now, you said three generations of his family had the paper.

Paxson: That's right. His grandfather, Tams Bixby the first, or Tams Bixby and then it became Tams Bixby II and Tams Bixby III, you know. His grandfather had bought the paper in the early 1900s. It had been established in the town way back in the late 1800s, in the 1880s somewhere, when the town was first founded. Back then there were, I think eight different newspapers in this little frontier town in Oklahoma on the Arkansas River.

Gentry: Eight newspapers?

Paxson: One by one they folded, of course, but you know, back then, anybody with a printing press could establish a newspaper and often did. The paper got its name of the Phoenix because the founders of it watched as the town of Muskogee, a wooden shanty frontier town, had one of those famous fires that so many of these early towns had. That fire was in 1897. Two men owned the paper. After the fire, they were standing there looking at the whole city block or whatever that had been burned down in the conflagration. And the story is that one of the owners turned to the other and said, as he looked at the smoke rising from the ashes, "We will rebuild our newspaper and we will call it the Phoenix."

Gentry: And that's how it started?

Paxson: And that's how it got its name. I can't think of any other reason why it would have gotten the name except that ancient legend of the bird rising from the ashes. But the paper had been in the Bixby family for three generations.

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Gentry: Now, was it difficult to come in as publisher when all they had known was Tams Bixbys for all those generations, to see a new face and a person who wasn't from Muskogee? Did that make it difficult at all?

Paxson: Probably in some attitudes. I found out oh, six or eight months later, that one of the very bright young reporters on the paper had very seriously considered quitting when he found out he was getting a woman publisher. His reasoning was that he thought this was a halfway decent paper and he couldn't understand what it had done to deserve one of Gannett's token women. He admitted this to me to my face and then he said he'd changed his mind.

Gentry: Good.

Paxson: And yes, you had attitudes like that. It wasn't as if I had come in as a Gannett publisher the day after Mr. Bixby sold the paper because the paper had been operating, even though he stayed on as publisher, they were still instituting the Gannett changes and learning the Gannett system and all of this. So I didn't have to buck that too much.

Gentry: Right. Right.

Paxson: The opportunity to establish my identity this time came on the very first day. And I established it on the second day. As we sat at lunch after Tams Bixby had picked us up, before we even got to the newspaper office, he was telling me and the regional president about the newspaper and about some of his policies. And then he turned around and looked at me and he said, "You might as well know that I have a policy that women can't wear pants." And I said, "What?!" And he said, "They can't wear pants. The only day they can wear pants is the Dress Western Day when the junior livestock show opens."

So I got to the motel that night and I thought, "This is one you can do." Because I had come to Muskogee you know, I knew I was coming, it was planned, I had found out about it several weeks before the actual move. And so I had come prepared to look every inch the lady publisher five different suits, matching you know, several pairs of shoes, hose, different blouses, the whole bit. But I did have one pants suit with me, a black pants suit. And I've still got it and I should show it to you. At any rate, I had the one pants suit which I thought well, you know, you can at least get comfortable a little bit of the time and go out and look at houses or whatever.

So the next morning at eight o'clock, wearing that pants suit, I walked into the Muskogee Phoenix through the pressroom, through the back door at the pressroom, through there, through the composing room, through the news room. Mr. Bixby was still in his office; I was using the conference room upstairs as my office. So a great many of the people on that newspaper saw me walk in. By noon the publisher's secretary, who was still working for both of us until the final transfer was made, came upstairs and she said, "Everybody is asking if there's been a change if they can wear pants. I told them they'd better wait until there's an official announcement of a change in policy." She wasn't going to get caught in the crossfire, either. So I said, "All right."

So we had a meeting of the department heads that afternoon and I announced a change in the dress code. And my instructions were that they could wear pants, that I really was not going to dictate what either men or women wore, as long as they were neat, as long as they were clean, and as long as they were dressed appropriately for the job they were supposed to do for the Phoenix.

And Wednesday I walked into the news room, to the newspaper, and about ten o'clock I walked around through all the offices and started to count. Of the about forty-five women who were working on the day side of the paper, twenty-nine were in pants suits. And I found out that some of them had even gone out Tuesday night

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and specifically bought brand-new pants suits to wear to the office. So that identity was easy to establish.

Gentry: Sure was.

Paxson: And that story got around town very quickly.

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