Washington Press Club Foundation
Marjorie Paxson:
Interview #5 (pp. 119-141)
January 18, 1991, in Muskogee, Oklahoma
Diane K. Gentry, Interviewer


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[Begin Tape 1, Side A]

Gentry: When we left off yesterday, we were talking about your arrival in Muskogee and changing the pants suit rule. Tell me about the town of Muskogee. What kind of town is it? How big is it?

Paxson: It's about 40,000 population. I think it's in a beautiful area of Oklahoma. It's on the Arkansas River about fifty miles from the border with Arkansas where the Ozarks are, so we're rolling country, a lot of it heavily wooded. We have a number of small plants in the town. We're not completely dependent on any one industry so our economy is probably a little more stable than other cities. It's mostly a blue-collar town, fairly strong union town. I think the people are very friendly. I like it so much I decided to stay here.

I was talking about the plants. The largest employer here is the Fort Howard Paper Co. And then we have a Brockway Glass plant here, a Container Corporation plant here, a couple of small steel mills along the river, that kind of — sort of light industry type thing.

Gentry: And that huge veterans' complex.

Paxson: And then, of course, outside of Fort Howard, the biggest employers are governments. We have a veterans hospital here, a regional Veterans Administration office is here, a lot of state offices here for northeastern Oklahoma. So between those two we have some pretty stable employment.

Gentry: I was impressed with the new shopping center downtown, the renovation of downtown. Is this a pretty heads-up community where people are —

Paxson: Well, not as heads-up as I would like it to be, let's put it that way. We did redesign downtown, what we call the Streetscape, and we do have the downtown mall, which is three years old now, going on four. In a lot of ways, though, they're still very conservative and really don't understand what it takes to get into economic development. But I think that will come.

Gentry: How big is the paper? Or how big was the paper when you got there?

Paxson: Oh, it's just about the same now. It's a circulation of a little over twenty thousand.

Gentry: So half the town, so to speak.

Paxson: Well, you can't say it quite that way — because we circulate outside in a number of surrounding counties. But it's been about that ever since I came.

Gentry: How did you go about getting settled in this town — you've talked about some of the other towns you've gotten settled in — when you first came and how did you go about getting known?

Paxson: Well, everybody was curious about the new publisher. Here it was quite a switch when Tams Bixby relinquished the publisher's role. They'd never had a Gannett publisher before. In Chambersburg the paper had been owned by Gannett for a number of years and people there had seen publishers come and go.

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Here not only was I the first Gannett publisher to be at the paper but I was a woman to boot and they were just dying of curiosity. The pants suit story got out in a hurry.

Gentry: So they would think, this is a pretty independent woman.

Paxson: That's right. I remember being in Sears and giving the clerk my charge card. And she looked at me and she said, "Are you the new lady at the paper?" And I said yes. "Oh," she said, "I'm so glad you let them wear pants." So when I say that it got around, that was exactly right. People here were very friendly. I had found a house and was able to close on it and move in on October 29. I had a borrowed roll-away bed and borrowed dishes and kitchen utensils and a folding chair. And I think that was about it until my furniture came from Chambersburg. That got here about two weeks later. And once again my sister-in-law came down to help me get settled. I guess I'd been at the paper — well, I'd bought the house. I'm not sure we'd closed on it yet. So I'd been at the paper two or three weeks.

Gentry: So this was quick.

Paxson: This was very quick.

Gentry: Just a few weeks from when you first got here.

Paxson: Yes. I stumbled onto the house and fell in love with it. And I looked up one day and the town travel agent was standing there in the door. She said she just wanted to introduce herself and to say welcome to the neighborhood. She lives across the street. On election night in 1980 she had a neighborhood party and we were going to watch the election between Ronald Reagan and Jimmy Carter. So that right off the bat — I had now been in the house four or five days — I got to meet all of my neighbors, every one of them was there. Those election results came in so quickly and that was over so fast that instead of being glued to the television wondering how things were going to come out, we sat there and got acquainted. So that helped a lot. Then I began to get invitations to speak to the civic clubs and women's clubs all over town.

Gentry: This is something you always do, isn't it, to get known?

Paxson: Yes. You can hardly avoid it.

Gentry: As a publisher or did you do it as a journalist as well?

Paxson: Well, you didn't get the invitations when you were just a journalist unless you'd written some special story. But when you come in as the publisher, every one of the civic clubs and the large women's clubs invite you to speak because they're always looking for speakers. And the new publisher is a good one to ask.

Gentry: Right. So people got to know you very quickly in the first few months, probably.

Paxson: Well, a lot did, yes. Yes.

Gentry: Did you often get interviewed or get asked crazy questions like "What does it feel like to be a woman publisher?"

Paxson: Oh, gracious. Yes. I got tired of hearing that question.

Gentry: How did you answer it?

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Paxson: I would tell them that first of all I was a publisher and that frankly I thought it was just about the best job that I had ever had. I just loved it. And then I would go on to say that I really can't answer that question — what is it like to be a woman publisher — because I'd never been a man publisher.

Gentry: That's a wonderful answer.

Paxson: It's true. There is no difference, you know. Just because I wear a skirt that shouldn't have any bearing on the case whatsoever.

Gentry: Weren't you once called a barracuda?

Paxson: Yes. I picked this up second-hand. We were looking for an advertising director on the paper — I'd been here several years at that point and been to some state press association meetings. At any rate, I found out that the advertising director at the paper at Claremore might be looking for a job. So I contacted her and she came down and we talked. She knew our ad director who was leaving. Later on she told him that apparently her publisher had found out that she was interviewing with me. And he told her, "You don't want to go to work for the Muskogee paper. She's a barracuda." I'd met this man once at a press association meeting and wouldn't have known him again if he'd walked into the office.

Gentry: What did he base that on?

Paxson: I have no idea. I really don't. I had been called a bitch and a broad but barracuda was a step up, I guess.

All the politicians came around very quickly to get acquainted with the new publisher and try to make a good impression. One of them came through, stopped off in my office and we chatted for a few minutes. And then he went on into the news room for an interview. At some point, the reporter asked him whether he had stopped off and met me. And he said, "Oh, yes. She was much more ladylike than I expected and much less aggressive."

Gentry: Hadn't you heard that a thouisand times before?

Paxson: Same old stereotypes die hard, I guess.

Gentry: Still alive and well, I'm afraid.

Paxson: Yes.

Gentry: How big a staff did you have in Muskogee, in the news room, for instance?

Paxson: The news room had twenty-two people. That would include the managing editor, the city editor, the features editor, the sports editor — there were three people on the sports desk, two people in features, that includes the editor, editor of the editorial page, and then the cityside reporters. That's it.

Gentry: And it was a pretty good paper.

Paxson: Yes.

Gentry: Is a pretty good paper.

Paxson: Yes. I think it is. We have a pretty good record of winning in the state competitions.

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Gentry: Did you find when you got here any clash with anybody on the staff?

Paxson: No. Not clash per se. We didn't always agree on things. The man who was the editor of the paper when I moved in was a man named John Lewis Stone. And "Stoney," as we called him, had been here — oh, I want to say thirty or thirty-five years, something like that, and had moved up in the paper. And he was now writing the editorials, doing the editorial page, he did a column, and he was at that time a very influential and very powerful man around town. Probably the first week that I was here, maybe the second, when I was finally to the point where I could sit down and have long conversations with various staff people, Stoney and I sat down to discuss the editorial policies of the paper. I had been reading his editorials and had looked back on some and I really had no quarrel with any of them.

And he said, "Well, the Phoenix has been noted consistently for three editorial stands. First of all, we have always supported liquor by the drink." At that point, Oklahoma was not dry — they did have liquor stores but there was no liquor by the drink. And it would come up, probably every two years in an election, and always be voted down. So he said, "We have always supported liquor by the drink." And I said, "That's fine with me. I have been known to take a drink."

And he said, "Our second consistent stand is being that we have always supported horse racing and parimutuel betting." And I said, "Well, I don't play the ponies but I really don't have any disagreement with that, either, having lived in Florida and a few places where horse racing was very popular, that's all right with me."

And he said, "We have always opposed the Equal Rights Amendment." And I said, "Stoney, that's going to change." And it did.

Gentry: How did you change it?

Paxson: Well, the next time there was a reason to write about it, we supported it.

Gentry: Who wrote it? He didn't, did he?

Paxson: No. No.

Gentry: You said he was writing editorials.

Paxson: Well, yes. Actually, the managing editor at that time, Jack Willis, wrote it, in consultation with me.

Gentry: And he believed in that.

Paxson: Yes.

Gentry: Good! Did you get any backlash in the community about that stand?

Paxson: None to speak of, no. I think the community, by and large, agreed with Stoney's stand. One of our local state representatives was one of the leaders in opposing the Equal Rights Amendment and equal rights legislation whenever it came up at the state capital. And I just have the feeling that a lot of people agreed with him. But they really didn't take issue. Maybe one or two letters to the editor but that was about all.

Gentry: Did you once have a problem with unions on the paper or a union threat?

Paxson: Yes, that one hit in March of 1981. And this was right after it became known that John Lewis Stone was going to be retiring from the paper to go to work for Fort Howard Paper Co., as their public relations expert

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and their lobbyist in the state capital and also in Washington. I think when that news got out, some organizers began to think about trying to organize the paper.

Gentry: It was non-union.

Paxson: Well, that's what I was going to say. You have to go back. It was most definitely union in the forties, earlier than that. The paper went through a very bitter strike in the late forties. It lasted about four years. And one of the most prominent anti-union figures at the paper at that time was John Lewis Stone. He continued to be very anti-union and everybody in town knew it. And I don't think any union organizer really wanted to tackle Stoney. But when it got out that he was retiring, suddenly they began to circulate the petitions and the cards to try to organize the entire plant. When the organizers got into the news room, the managing editor got wind of it. When I walked into the office one morning just after eight o'clock, he was already there. He came in the office behind me, shut the door behind him, walked across and shut the door that opened to my secretary's office and the reception area and proceeded to tell me that there was an organizing campaign going on in the paper.

Gentry: Was this done rather quietly?

Paxson: Oh, they always tried to do it very quietly. You don't want management to know about it. But we did pick up on it. I got a great deal of advice from Gannett corporate people, the labor experts on the corporate staff.

Gentry: And what was their advice?

Paxson: We started — well, you have to be very careful because there are all kinds of laws governing what management can say and so on. They outlined for me what I needed to say and I started having a series of meetings with every department — now, this is not just the news room, this is the production side, the composing room, the pressroom, the circulation people, the advertising department, the accounting department upstairs, all five departments. And one day we had one meeting after another about an hour apart — and of course, you would have daytime shifts and nighttime shifts, so it took many hours. I never talked so long and so hard in my life. And it was steady, one meeting right after the other.

But we did manage to blunt the drive, if that's what you want to call it, and the union never did get enough cards to try to bring it to a vote. So the organizer didn't walk into my office with the cards and say, "We have fifty or sixty percent of the people in this place who want to vote on whether we can be their representative." So I didn't have to go through that.

Gentry: Did you have to give them something in order not to be interested in the union or —

Paxson: What we were trying to do is explain what organizing a union would be and what it would mean to the staff and how it could affect the benefits that they had already because if you get into union negotiations for the first time, you have to renegotiate everything, whether it be vacation time or sick benefits, or whatever. At the same time, I was also trying to find out what their complaints were, why a union drive would be attractive. One of the things we discovered was that they felt the pay scales were very inadequate.

Gentry: Across the board?

Paxson: Across the board, yes.

Gentry: Press men to news writers, huh?

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Paxson: Yes. Once the union threat began to die down, the comptroller and I launched into a survey of the salaries. And they were right, some of it was appalling, they were so low and inconsistent. Now, the news room was better than any other department because Jack Willis had really gone to bat for his people.

Gentry: Jack Willis being?

Paxson: The managing editor. That's one thing that Gannett was very much interested in, getting particularly editorial salaries up. Now, you've got to remember, this was ten years ago. In the years after that, Gannett hired salary specialists and established salary ranges for every department. They hadn't gotten that far yet. But they had done it for the news department. And when Jack was trying to push for his people, he got support from the corporate and so the news room salaries were better than any of the others. But some of the others were extremely low and they were inconsistent. You might almost say some people looked like they were the publisher's favorites. For no particular reason, their salaries were better.

And the upshot of that was that with the corporate personnel people, we did work out salary ranges for every department on the paper and start to get them up. We couldn't just give everybody a $50 a week raise, we had to phase it in. We planned every position, not person. We tried to get job descriptions which were not in existence before. Ad salesmen, for instance, fit a certain job description and then we worked out if their salaries were low how, say, over a two-year period, through larger increases than they usually would have gotten, we would get them up to where we thought they ought to be.

Gentry: And this made them happy?

Paxson: It helped. It avoided the union. I wouldn't say it made them happy, you know.

Gentry: That was a major crisis, so to speak, very early on in your publishing years here. It was like six months after you came?

Paxson: Yes. Five months, because I came the first of October and this was —

Gentry: You really had to deal with a serious problem?

Paxson: Yes. Yes.

Gentry: You learned a lot about being a publisher right then.

Paxson: I sure did. It's not all fun and games.

Gentry: I have the impression from talking to you that this was your favorite job of all, here in Muskogee, and being a publisher. Of all the variety of things you did, this is where you really found your niche, didn't you?

Paxson: Yes, I really enjoyed it. And the longer I've been here, the better I like Muskogee. So that this was just a great way to finally end a career.

Gentry: But running things, as a publisher.

Paxson: Oh, yes. Yes.

Gentry: Troubleshooting, running all these things, that appealed to you, didn't it?

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Paxson: That did very much and I really didn't miss writing at all. I don't always have patience with these people who say, "How can you stand not to write?" I've found out there's more to life than writing, that when you become a publisher, you really need to become a generalist instead of a specialist because you're dealing with so many different areas. And while you don't want to try to run each one yourself, you need to know enough about what's going on to be able to ask the right questions. And that means you've got to educate yourself on it.

Gentry: Didn't you have a beautiful, elegant office here?

Paxson: Yes. And I'm not sure how many newspapers in this country have offices like that.

Gentry: Can you describe it?

Paxson: I'm not sure exactly what the dimensions were but it was a paneled office with cherry paneling, with a very elaborate chandelier, lighting that covered the whole ceiling. It wasn't really a chandelier, it was a lighting fixture that covered the entire office. I had a desk that was a specially made executive desk that cost about $5,000, stainless steel and polished walnut. There was a couch that would hold three, four people, upholstered in leather, a beautiful blue carpet on the floor, a television set in one corner, and I added to it by buying a Salvador Dali print of Joan of Arc and hanging that on the wall opposite from my desk where I could look at it.

Gentry: And you brought your little dog to work, didn't you?

Paxson: I did bring my dog to work, that's right. This was a miniature dachshund named Tiger. He was a small dog and so I thought he needed a name that would boost his ego. That's the reason he was called Tiger.

Gentry: Did you bring him every day to your office?

Paxson: Yes. I started that in Chambersburg, partly as a joke and partly because of the very popular Lou Grant television show and his woman publisher, Mrs. Pinchon, who had her little dog in her — it was her out basket, I believe. My dog didn't stay in the out basket, he stayed on the floor. But he would come to work with me and lie there quietly, and had a little box with a rug in it. I found out after I left Chambersburg that sometimes when I would leave him in the office, he would howl. They didn't tell me that while I was there.

At any rate, I did take the dog and it was kind of a joke around town. Sometimes I would call him my attack dog.

Gentry: The people in Muskogee that you worked with, did they find that amusing?

Paxson: Oh, yes, they thought it was great.

Gentry: Did you take the dog to lunch, too?

Paxson: No, he stayed in the office. No, that would get too complicated. You can't take dogs in restaurants, anyway, unless they're guide dogs, you know.

Gentry: I was amused by your mother's comment on taking the dog to the office. Can you tell me about that?

Paxson: Yes. I told my mother that I was taking the dog to the office. Of course, my mother was of the old school and she was sort of taken aback by this, even though she had seen the Lou Grant show.

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And she finally said, "Well, I don't know about your taking that dog to the office, Marjorie. What will they think?" And I said, "Mom, I am 'they.'" That's when it got through to her that her daughter was really the boss. That did it.

Gentry: That was terrific. I love that.

Did you have any other crises later on in the paper that you had to deal with that were serious? Didn't you have a crisis about — well, I don't know if you'd call it crisis but some circulation problem?

Paxson: That's just part of running the job. Yes. I had a circulation director who really was a very nice guy and full of bright ideas but never delivered on them. And eventually you've got to get results. Circulation had slipped a little bit but we were getting a lot of complaints about misdelivery and things like that, that the routes weren't being run correctly and he wasn't supervising right. But I wouldn't call that a major crisis.

Another time I had a comptroller who had come from another Gannett paper to replace one of ours who was moved up. And this man just couldn't do the job. And of course, I couldn't be the comptroller so I had to let him go.

Gentry: You had to end up firing both of them, didn't you?

Paxson: Yes. But that's not a major crisis. The crisis that stands out for me was the pressroom crisis. The night that I got a call at two a.m. in the morning that a bolt had broken loose on the press and fallen through the folder and that our press was broken down. I dressed as fast as I could and got down to the paper. We couldn't get it fixed and so we had to have the paper printed at Fort Smith which is about seventy-five miles away, and then trucked back. That I call a crisis —

Gentry: That is a crisis.

Paxson: — not the others.

Gentry: And you made it in a reasonable amount of time?

Paxson: We had the printed papers back here about ten o'clock in the morning, yes. Notified the radio stations and got on there, telling people that the press had broken down?

Gentry: Was it fixed after a day?

Paxson: Yes.

Gentry: That is definitely a crisis.

Paxson: At two o'clock in the morning, when something like that has happened, you can't always get a repairman in here. It took — oh, five or six hours to repair the press.

Then there was the time that the computer system broke down and we couldn't set type. Then it would come back up, we could get it up, get some things out, and then it just kept going up and down for about three days. Part of that time we typed stories on the typewriters and pasted them into the pages, to get the paper out on time. It went out on time.

Gentry: Did you then need an overhaul of all the equipment?

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Paxson: Well, we had been begging corporate for a new system because ours was — as computer systems go, ours was seven or eight years old and that's pretty old. The following year we did get an entire new system for the news room, for advertising. It all goes back into the composing room now. It's got the capability to set ads on the computer and set headlines on the computer with stories — the latest technology, which we didn't have before.

Gentry: So for a paper that size, it's in pretty good shape with the technology it has now.

Paxson: Yes, I think so.

Gentry: What did you like most about being a publisher? Now you've been publisher twice. What was it that was the greatest appeal to you?

Paxson: Basically it was just making things run and making things run smoothly, working with people and getting them all to pull together and get the job done, getting the news room to understand the composing room's problems, getting the advertising department to understand the news room's problems and vice versa, because there are frequent clashes between the news room and the advertisers, if a story gets in that some advertiser doesn't like. It's very satisfying when you can get everything going together and see the paper reflect the community and on occasion have an influence.

Gentry: And this skill of getting people together and meshing people together probably began when you were an editor, maybe way back in Miami. You know, you were certainly learning skills, weren't you?

Paxson: I think so. I think being national president of Theta Sigma Phi helped.

Gentry: Sure. And running the newspaper in Mexico City.

Paxson: Yes. The whole thing.

Gentry: As you said, you were its publisher, really, even though you were called editor.

Paxson: Yes. That's right.

Gentry: And you had all kinds of problems.

Paxson: Oh, we did.

Gentry: Delivery, office space—

Paxson: Yes, you're right. When you think about it that way, I really was the publisher.

Gentry: Now, you were publisher of the Phoenix from 1980 to 1986 and you retired at age sixty-three. Since you liked the job so much, why did you retire early?

Paxson: Well, there's an interesting story to that, really. By this time I'd been in the newspaper business for forty-two years. That's a long time. In the last couple of years at the paper, the recession really hit Oklahoma. The oil bubble burst, the oil boom burst in 1982 and the ripple effects began to come and the economy got worse and worse and there were more and more problems to be solved at the paper, trying to keep the advertising lineage up and things like that. And I suppose by early '86 I really was — it was pretty tough. You did an awful lot of worrying.

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At any rate, at that point I was sixty-three. Gannett has mandatory retirement for top executives like publishers at sixty-five so I knew that retirement was two years away. And it was in the back of my head, you know, partially. Then I got a notification from our regional vice president that in the end of July, I think like July 27, something like that — it was a Friday — the corporate vice president for our newspaper division was going to come through Tulsa and wanted to talk to me. He was really [going to be] at that airport, the airport fifty-five minutes away, that's no problem.

So yes, I could be there. What do you want me to bring? What do I need? What are we going to talk about? "Oh," he said, "he just wants to talk with you, you don't have to bring anything." And I began to try to figure out what was going on if I didn't have to bring anything because normally whenever you met with corporate executives, you brought financial statements and you brought projections and all kinds of information.

And it didn't quite make sense to me and this was my old friend, Gary Watson, from Boise. He had moved up very rapidly in the company, I think he's brilliant, and he was the one who was coming to see me — or wanted me to meet him. And I couldn't quite make sense out of it.

And then, about a week before, I got a card from Madelyn Jennings who's the senior vice president for personnel at Gannett. Madelyn and I have always gotten along very well. This card simply said, "Congratulations on your tenth anniversary with Gannett." And suddenly I just had a hunch. With ten years at Gannett, you're vested. You get all the benefits. You still continue to get the health insurance and your retirement is secure. And I began to think, "I wonder if they're going to want me to take early retirement." And that's what he had in mind. And like Gannett always does, it was very quick. This was the 27th on a Friday and the following Tuesday, my retirement was announced and a new publisher was in place.

Gentry: Wow!

Paxson: Wow. That's right. It was a little bit of a surprise but in about two months I was completely adjusted to it and have been having a ball ever since.

Gentry: They put together a very handsome retirement package.

Paxson: Yes. Yes. It was the kind of an early retirement package you couldn't refuse. Let's see, I got a year's salary, the pension that I would get would be equal to what I would have gotten if I'd worked those last two years, all my stock options remained in place. Normally when you leave the company, you lose them — they remained in place. Health insurance continued and until I reached sixty-five I also got the additional coverage that they give employees. It's less for the retirees — not a whole lot. It's medical — dental and visual insurance that you don't get. I had a company car. The publishers got a car as one of their perks. I was allowed to buy the car which was a Buick Regal, two-door Buick Regal, for one dollar.

Gentry: That's wonderful. You would have been crazy not to retire.

Paxson: I would have been crazy not to retire. Exactly. It just came on very suddenly and took a little bit of time to adjust to but I have no regrets and I think they were very fair with me. My life has been a lot simpler since then.

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

Gentry: Now, after you retired you decided to stay in Muskogee and I know a number of your friends and associates think this is unusual, that here you have been all over the country and quite a few high-level jobs and you've chosen to stay in a small place in Oklahoma, a small town in Oklahoma. Why did you decide to stay?

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Paxson: It was a very easy decision. I had been here, first of all, six years. I had my house fixed up the way I wanted it, finally it was my house and not the house of the people I bought it from. I had added a greenhouse to the side. And I had made a great many friends. That last point is really the most important. When you come into a town as a publisher, you meet everybody. You have the opportunity to get acquainted and really develop a circle of friends rather easily. And I had done that. If I were to move away, wherever I moved, I would be coming in simply as a retiree not knowing anybody, with no credentials, if you will. I would be starting over totally. Besides which I had moved three times in four years before coming to Muskogee and I just thought, "That's ridiculous."

People have to understand that I don't live in western Oklahoma where it's flat and they have lots of wind where you get dirt in your teeth when you smile. This is what they call Green Country. As I said, it's rolling, we've got five lakes within a fifty-mile radius of Muskogee. We're only fifty minutes to an hour from Tulsa which is a very sophisticated city. It has its own opera company, its own ballet company, its own symphony, gets a lot of traveling road shows. And I do have friends over there so it's very easy to go over there to attend these things, to go shopping if I want to. And I really think I have the best of both worlds. Muskogee's forty thousand so it's not a little bitty burg, if you want to call it that, and it's a very pleasant place to live. At the same time, if I want to go to the symphony or art museums or whatever, Tulsa's not that far away and Tulsa has a good airport with connections all over the country so it's easy to get on an airplane when I want to travel somewhere.

Gentry: And you've also established yourself actively in the community with a lot of civic work. I don't know if that started when you were a publisher or after you retired but United Way — tell us some of the things you've become involved with.

Paxson: The publisher as the representative of the paper gets involved in a lot of civic things anyway, particularly the United Way and the Chamber of Commerce. I was president of the United Way one year while I was publisher. I was on the board of directors of the Chamber of Commerce. I also ended up on the Fair Board which is the organization that puts on our Muskogee State Fair every September and also runs our fairgrounds facilities all year round. We have a building out there that's used for rodeos, an exhibit hall, grandstand, we have auto races.

Gentry: You're still very active in that?

Paxson: Yes. I got into that while I was a publisher and then really I've spent a lot of my time lately on the Fair Board because I guess growing up in Texas I fell in love with rodeos and I loved the fair. So for two years I was president of the Fair Board. I went out of office in November last year. You served two terms one year each and that's it.

Gentry: When is the Muskogee State Fair?

Paxson: It's in September. It starts over the Labor Day weekend.

Gentry: So how many people come into this town — what is it, about a week-long run?

Paxson: Yes. Our attendance has varied from seventy-five to ninety thousand people coming in over the run of the fair.

Gentry: Good.

Paxson: One thing I discovered, by the way. I was on the Fair Board but then I got on the executive committee and began really to become involved in the management of the fair and of the fairgrounds on a year-round basis

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because those buildings are used throughout the year. And I discovered that really running the fair and the fairgrounds business wasn't that much different from running the Phoenix. Really, everything put together, it was a business, you needed to run it profitably and the thing that mattered was the bottom line. And it's just as true for the fair as it was for the newspaper.

Gentry: And you really enjoyed that.

Paxson: Yes, it was fun.

Gentry: You've done some fascinating things after your retirement and some valuable things. Tell me about setting up the National Women and Media collection at the University of Missouri.

Paxson: Well, I get a lot of credit for that and I like to tell people right off the bat that while I was being generous, I also had a very special reason for doing that — special motivation, I should say. My salary with Gannett was very good. And Gannett offers its publishers stock options and it also has a program for some of its top employees at the newspaper in which they give you what they call stock incentive rights which meant that they would give you a certain number of shares of stock outright if you stayed with the company for a certain number of years. It was usually a four-year period.

In 1985 and then 1986, between the stock options and the stock incentive rights, both of which are considered ordinary income, my income skyrocketed. It was over six figures. And I spent a lot of time talking with my tax man about what we could do to cut this extraordinary hit in just one year. When you get that stock, it's considered ordinary income and it's a big hit.

And he considered various options and finally he said, "Are you planning to give any money away?" And I said, "Well, I've got it in my will that I'm going to give something to Rice University and to the University of Missouri because I got a good education and I just feel like I ought to do something for them. The only family I have is my brother and his son and daughter and they're taken care of in the will, too." I'm not fabulously wealthy, I don't mean that, but they're taken care of and I had something set aside for Rice and Missouri, too. And he said, "You ought to think about doing something this year and you ought to find out about their trusts."

So I contacted both schools and found out about their trusts. This really is a very good deal, a very good idea for women in my situation because I gave Gannett stock to both schools and with that they established what's called a unit trust in my name. Once I gave them the stock I couldn't get it back. They could do whatever they chose with it. But they had to preserve the principal and under IRS regulations for my age at the time that I gave it, they were to pay me no more than seven and a quarter percent interest on the principal from that stock. I say no more because I don't have the agreement in front of me and there're all sorts of IRS regulations in there about they can pay you this and no more than this and so forth.

Anyway, basically it works out to around seven percent interest, if that's what you want to call it. And I don't know what they've got it invested in. I get quarterly payments. They help tremendously for my retirement. When I die, then the money goes to the schools to be used for the purposes that I specified. At Rice I specified that the money be used to buy books in current affairs, political events, this kind of thing, for the library. Rice has no journalism courses of any kind. And at the University of Missouri the money will go to this National Women and Media collection, to really help expand that fund.

But that's all in the future. The thing that made getting the National Women and Media collection started right away possible was the fact that the Gannett foundation will match a portion of money that you give to colleges and universities for such a trust. And there are no restrictions on that Gannett money except that it's to be used for this collection. And that was available immediately.

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Gentry: Very nice for them.

Paxson: And so with that we were able to do the official announcement of the collection on October 29, 1987, in a little ceremony at the University of Missouri during journalism week.

Gentry: What will the collection hold?

Paxson: It's going to hold personal papers, professional papers, of women in media and also information about all the lawsuits. One of the biggest initial collections that was given to them was the papers compiled by Dr. Donna Allen who did a newsletter about conditions of women's rights for years. Donna's papers document the history of media sex discrimination. Her papers chronicled the lawsuits against the Associated Press, ABC, Newsweek —

Gentry: Wow, that's pretty valuable stuff.

Paxson: She had accumulated these. She was publisher of the Media Report to Women for fifteen years. Donna just had box after box.

Gentry: Fascinating material.

Paxson: She has the texts of legal challenges to FCC licenses, documents noting the integration of the National Press Club and the Gridiron Club, discrimination complaints against the New York Times and the Washington Post. Donna was extremely well-known in this field.

When we decided to establish this and people at the university, particularly Jean Gaddy Wilson at the School of Journalism there, were asking me who I wanted to try to invite to send material to this.

Gentry: You did some choices of who would be included.

Paxson: She wanted ideas. It's not a choice. I'm not saying this one can and this one can't.

Gentry: That she would be a good choice.

Paxson: That she would be great. And they keep sending out invitations to women all over the country all the time to give their papers.

Gentry: Are they women in all the media — broadcasting, magazines, newspapers, the whole thing?

Paxson: Magazines, oh, yes. Yes. And I kept saying that Donna Allen ought to be one of them to get. Well, this was in October and in September I had been out in Colorado at a gathering of about fifty or sixty women in journalism, newspapers. And Donna was there. So was Peg Simpson who started this oral history project. That's where I first heard about it, as a matter of fact. And I kept saying to Donna, "Have they said anything to you? Have you thought about it?" "Oh, yes," she said, "I've thought about it."

What I didn't know is that they had very carefully planned as a surprise for me the announcement that after I stood up in the auditorium at the journalism school and announced this collection — they wouldn't even give me the program, as a matter of fact, because they didn't want me to see the name that Donna Allen had already given her collection.

Gentry: Her whole collection?

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Paxson: Her whole collection to the university to launch this project.

Gentry: And then you gave your own material as well, of course, to start out.

Paxson: Yes. Technically I started it out by giving them all the information, copies of the papers, everything that I did in Mexico City.

Gentry: And will you add to that?

Paxson: Oh, yes. I just have to go through and sort things out. Everything, all my papers, whatever is here — photographs, if I can get them identified. Everything concerning my career and things that I've done will end up in that collection.

Gentry: I see. Now, how about some of your friends, Dorothy Jurney and some of the other people you've admired? Will they be in that collection as well?

Paxson: Dorothy is going to be in it, yes. After she retired, Dorothy got into a fascinating project, going through the Editor and Publisher yearbook, counting the number of women executives on the newspapers. And she set a certain — I think city editor, I guess, and above. Now, the only thing she could do would be to tell by the name. And there might be a Marion, for instance, that would throw her but you know, names like that that would be both male or female.

Dorothy did that, I guess, eight or nine years, something like that. The results of that survey were published every year in the American Society for Newspaper Editors magazine. So Dorothy has given all of the information that she collected in that survey, along with a lot of her other papers, but that was one thing that she felt really should go into this collection.

Gentry: Are there other people you can think of that you would want to name, other journalists, that have their papers in that collection? Of course, this is fairly early on.

Paxson: It's fairly early on, that's right. I understand that Sarah McClendon has said that she may be able to contribute some things. And there are a lot of others. I don't have the latest list — Sarah is pretty well known but I hate to single out anybody.

Gentry: How will these be catalogued or how are they catalogued? It will be easy for scholars to go into a room of the library or something where these will be filed?

Paxson: Yes, they're becoming part of the Western Manuscripts Collection at the library of the University of Missouri. That collection is housed in a special area of their big library building there. The shelves and the stacks where everything is kept are temperature and humidity controlled. And when something comes in, the staff there of this Western Manuscripts Collection, they go through it, they catalogue it, they organize it and eventually, as you say, yes, there will be a card catalogue or I am sure it will eventually be on computer.

Gentry: So I imagine that's a wonderful place. If someone were writing a book on women's impact on journalism that would be a wonderful place to do some research.

Paxson: There's going to be a lot of very solid information there, yes. That's what I wanted. I said early on I'm a history nut and that's why this kind of thing appealed to me.

Gentry: It's a very valuable thing. Is that a philosophy of yours, giving something back to journalism?

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Paxson: I think you have to give things back, yes. I just feel like I was lucky, I felt like the two schools that I attended gave me a very good education so let's give something back and help somebody else. Yes, I guess it's my philosophy. I've never really articulated it but I just felt like it was the thing to do.

Gentry: I think you've done a wonderful thing, an important thing.

Now, some other things you've done in your retirement, certainly keeping your hand in is your weekly column for the Phoenix. Can you tell me about that?

Paxson: Well, I started that in December of 1986 so I've been at it for four years now. It's between 450 and 500 words, I guess, on any subject that I choose to write about or any several subjects that I choose to write about. I really started out, I was going to be the great commentator. And I thought, that's foolishness. There are editorials in the paper every day and you get letters to the editor. Gradually over probably the first six months, I realized that the column, if I was really going to be successful at it, should be about subjects that people in Muskogee and Muskogee County and the surrounding area can relate to. So I would talk about the weather —

Gentry: Dogs?

Paxson: Talk about the dogs in the neighborhood. Talk about planting the garden. Talk about the lack of stop signs at certain intersections or the way potholes are or are not being fixed. Or I complain about people not taking care of the trees in the medians on the highways. It's that kind of thing. I try to make fun of myself occasionally. I did one just a couple of weeks ago about it was feel-stupid time because I went shopping and didn't have my charge cards with me so I couldn't buy a thing when I got to the checkout counter with a basket full of stuff. And I made myself a fresh pot of coffee and forgot to change the coffee in the filter. If you like coffee, you know how dreadful that tasted. Go to get out of the car and forget to unbuckle my seat belt.

Gentry: There was the time when you were sledding down to the mailbox in an ice storm.

Paxson: That was very recent. If you live on the side of a hill and have to walk down to the mailbox, which normally is fine. Even when it snows, you can get traction in snow. But this particular siege of cold weather we had freezing rain and sleet and then the temperature got real cold and everything froze across the lawn. Then we got snow. Then it warmed up just enough for the snow to melt and then it got real cold again. Then we had some more sleet. We ended up with about an inch of solid ice, not only on my driveway but all across the lawn. And it was just as hard as the ice on the driveway and it was just terrifying to try to walk down there to the mailbox. So I took a cardboard box and cut one end out of it and sat down on the cardboard box and slid down the hill. And that's the way I got my mail and my newspapers. It was easy to walk up. I was leaning the right way and I didn't have any trouble walking up.

That's another time that I got to the — I guess I was at the grocery store that time and gave the clerk a check and she looked at the name and "Oh," she said, "I liked your column and I had to laugh about you sliding the hill on a cardboard box." That's another benefit of living in a small town. You never know when somebody is going to say, "Oh, I love your column," or make some comment about it like she did.

Gentry: It keeps your hand in the way many retired publishers probably don't have an opportunity to do. It keeps your name in front of the people, it keeps your hand in writing —

Paxson: Yes, it does.

Gentry: It keeps you involved with the paper.

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Paxson: Yes. I have a good time.

Gentry: It sounds like, from reading them, that you had a good time writing them. One subject that reoccurs in your columns is your many travels around the world. You've been practically everywhere, I think, since retirement —

Paxson: Not quite everywhere but I've done pretty well. It all began at the retirement party that the Phoenix gave for me which was a big event at the country club. And there were some Gannett officials here and Gary Watson was back — this was in November of '86. We had to set the date when Gary could come.

Gentry: He was so busy by this time, I suppose.

Paxson: He was president of the community newspapers. He's now president of the newspaper division of Gannett so he really has a top job. But he wanted to come to the retirement party and so it had to be arranged around his schedule because he does a lot of traveling. At the party, he presented to me from the paper a trip to Hawaii with a rental car with expenses for the rental car and the hotel and airlines all paid.

Gentry: Another perk.

Paxson: Of course, this was November and as I said, the travel agent lives across the street from me. She didn't recommend that I go to Hawaii until spring because she said December, January and February are the height of the tourist season and the place is just crawling with people and you don't want to do that. Furthermore, I have been to Hawaii three times and had visited most of the islands and wasn't that keen about going again just to Hawaii.

The upshot of it was that we took that retirement gift of the trip to Hawaii and added some of my own money to it and I ended up flying all the way across the Pacific, stopping off at Tahiti and then seeing New Zealand and Australia and stopping off for three days on the way back in Hawaii. That started my travels and there's been one each year. And when I come back, I write about them and I write — oh, four or five, six columns. And they only run once a week so that people really have the feeling that I'm traveling a lot more than I am.

Gentry: However, you had two major trips to Russia.

Paxson: I did.

Gentry: In '89 and '90?

Paxson: Yes. One of the things that I had always wanted to do was ride the Trans-Siberian railroad. And I uncovered this tour that would let me do just that. So I went off to the Soviet Union in May of '89 and got to Leningrad and Moscow and rode the train about two-thirds of the way across Siberia to Irkutsk. Then we flew back to Tashkent and Samarkand in central Asia for a very brief stay there. And I got home and I thought, "Gee whiz, that was great but I really want to see some more of it."

Gentry: That was three weeks?

Paxson: Yes. That was about eighteen days, not quite three weeks. And then I uncovered — I kept looking through travel brochures and found one that went to more of the cities of central Asia and you got to see more than what I had seen on the first one, plus they would visit Armenia and Georgia. So in late September of '90, I went off on this trip, which was about twenty-four days, to see more of the Soviet Union.

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I wrote a lengthy series of columns about it and got so carried away with that that I reworked the columns and put them into a little book. And I'm now in the self-publishing business.

Gentry: Tell a little bit about your book.

Paxson: Well, the book follows my approach to writing my column. It's not a travelogue. What I tried to do in the book was to answer the questions that people asked me about being over there because it's real funny — I get back and I have been these fabulous places and people don't really ask me about all the sights that I see, about these fabulous mosques or golden palaces inside the Kremlin. They've asked a few questions and they'll look politely at my pictures. But they'll sit there and the same time they say, "Well, how is the food?" That's just a foregone conclusion that you're going to get that one. "What were the hotels like?" They don't quite ask me if they had indoor plumbing but that's really what they're driving at. "Were the people friendly?" "Did you have any problem taking pictures?" was always one that came up with the Soviet Union. So that's the kind of thing that I have tried to answer in the book plus describe some of the things out of the ordinary that happened on the trip. I try to keep it light and humorous at the same time.

Gentry: It's very witty and very easy to read. Short, punchy statements.

Paxson: Thank you.

Gentry: Having just read it. This was self-published in December of 1990.

Paxson: 1990. That's right. It came off the press on December the 7th. I got the first copy. I had returned from the Soviet Union to Muskogee on October the 16th.

Gentry: That's pretty good.

Paxson: So I wrote seven columns about the trip and put the book together. A friend with an Apple computer and all the equipment designed it and laid it out and did camera-ready copy. And away we went.

Gentry: That's got to be just about as fast as a book could possibly come out after a trip.

Paxson: Just about, I guess.

Gentry: There's one more book that we should mention on the subject of books you've written. You wrote a chapter on your career for the book New Guardians of the Press by Judith Claves. And it was selected profiles of women newspaper editors and publishers. I guess it was published in 1983.

Paxson: 1983. That's right. Yes. Judy was an editor whom I knew slightly. I knew of her, shall we say. And she had the idea of putting together this book on women editors. She got it when she had to do a program for the ASNE, American Society of Newspaper Editors. She put together a list and then she wrote to a number of us and asked us if we would contribute one chapter on ourselves and on our careers. So I was highly flattered and I wrote it. And I think the book is very interesting. It's got a number of prominent women journalists in it and it's kind of interesting to see what happened to them along the way as well as tell them what happened to me.

Gentry: As a writer, I think that's a wonderful way — a painless way to write a book, to have everyone write their own chapter and put your name on it.

Paxson: That's right. Judy did a section on herself. She was editor of the Sunday Courier and Press in Evansville, Indiana. So she worked on it, too.

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Gentry: That's a fascinating book.

Paxson: Yes.

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

Gentry: When we left off, we were talking about some of your retirement activities. I want to talk again about your column for a second. Your column is called "Nobody Asked Me But—."

Paxson: That gives me free rein to write about anything I want. And of course, I do.

Gentry: What are you paid for that?

Paxson: I get paid $7.50 a week for it. I started out at $25 a week with the UP and end up writing a column for the Muskogee Phoenix at $7.50. I don't know if that's going forward or backwards.

Gentry: We're talking about women's progress here.

Paxson: Right.

Gentry: I want to reflect on some things in your forty-two-year career now that you've retired. In your career what do you think was the happiest, most fulfilling time and why?

Paxson: Well, I'm not sure I would say "most," but certainly one of the happiest was that first job I had with United Press. That was an exciting time and there weren't very many women doing that kind of work, even in the war. And I really felt that I was on my way to a great career. I thoroughly enjoyed those two years in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Gentry: Interesting you say that.

Paxson: In a way it was very exciting because I never expected that my first job would be with a wire service and be in a state capital bureau, be doing the kind of things that I did.

Gentry: It was a great way to break into journalism.

Paxson: You're right. It was a great way to break in.

Gentry: Can you remember what you would say would be the most unhappy time?

Paxson: Well, we talked about that at great length. The time at the Philadelphia Bulletin, particularly the fourteen months that I was on the Sunday magazine.

Gentry: Certainly I would think that.

Paxson: I don't think we have to say any more about that.

Gentry: Looking back, is there anything along the way that you would do differently in your career?

Paxson: Not anything major. I think pretty well I tried to take advantage of the opportunities as they came along and I was very lucky on several occasions with the jobs that I got. I would do some of the minor things differently probably.

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But the big decisions I think they were the decisions that should have been made at the time.

Gentry: Some career women look back and say, "I wish I hadn't devoted so much time to my career. I wish I had lived a more balanced life." That's a comment you hear from a lot of women these days. Would you have come up with that kind of comment or do you think you've achieved a balance throughout the years?

Paxson: I guess most people would say I have not achieved a balance because I never got married, didn't have a family. But really, I don't think — the way things evolved, it's just not ever been a major problem. I've been able to make friends of both sexes and have people around when I needed to have them. I've always had close friends nearby.

Gentry: You've had that balance between work and leisure time.

Paxson: Yes, I have had the balance there. And I have tried to keep it that way. I have never quite approved of the workaholics who put a tremendous amount of time in. If it's necessary, if there's something that really demands that you put in a fourteen-hour day, that's fine for a week but then let's quit.

Gentry: Such as Mexico City?

Paxson: Such as Mexico City. Or such as when I was in Idaho, I made a point of getting out and seeing that part of the country which I had never seen before. I try to get around here in Oklahoma to see the lakes and some of the mountains down in the southeastern part of the state which are so famous for the color of their fall leaves. You know, just find out about the community and take time to look. One of the great things to do around here in the wintertime, for instance, is go down to the lake that's closest to us, just below the dam and look at the bald eagles. And that's a great thing to do early in the morning. Right now, during January, is when they're here. That's the kind of thing that helps you keep the balance, I think.

Gentry: Definitely. It also helps you in getting to know the area that you're working in very well.

Paxson: Yes.

Gentry: Is there one job or activity that really stands out in your mind as the best? Or one story you've written?

Paxson: What do you mean exactly by "the best"? If you were to ask me — and I think I said it — I think the most important thing I did was that job in Mexico City. I wouldn't say that was the best job. The publisher, I think, was probably the best job that I've ever had. When it comes to writing, you said "the story," I haven't done very much writing except for speeches since I went to the Miami Herald in 1956. So doing this column now that I'm retired is a great deal of fun. And this little book that I've put out about our travels in the Soviet Union and what happened to us over there right now I would say is my favorite piece of writing because I had a ball doing it.

Gentry: Over the years, whose journalistic work have you admired the most and why?

Paxson: I would have to put Dorothy Jurney's name on that. I just thought she was tremendous. I think she still is. I learn more from her than anybody else. She was certainly a leader. She could get things done. She had tremendous imagination and started a lot of changes and has stayed with her great interest in journalism right through the years and, of course, has been instrumental in establishing this program headquartered at the University of Missouri, the New Directions for News. So it's Dorothy hands down.

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Gentry: Tell me a little bit about what New Directions for News is.

Paxson: I'm not that familiar with everything they're doing now. Basically it started out — oh, six, seven years ago — with an idea that Dorothy had and some other editors had that we maybe need to redefine our definition of news. So many people think that it's merely covering the police and the fire departments and covering government. And looking beyond this to the many trends — and of course, they come and go so fast now that it's hard to keep up with them. But what's happening which is changing our lives that doesn't make the headlines day after day in the newspaper.

And the idea, the whole aim of this, is to try to bring readers back to the newspapers to give them stories that are relevant to what's happening in their lives today. I do get periodic reports on what the program is doing. They've had seminars for editors around the country. And they're doing some experimental work with some newspapers. This was all Dorothy's idea and she worked and of course had connections with some of the top editors around the country because of her splendid reputation. And she finally got it off the ground and I think it's marvelous.

Gentry: Sounds like a great idea to me. Do you think if Dorothy had been younger she might have gone the same path as you into publishing?

Paxson: Probably. It's just too bad because she would have made a great newspaper publisher. And she could have done it and been one of the most outstanding editors and publishers in the country.

Gentry: That's what I thought from what you've told me.

Paxson: Yes. Yes. Exactly.

Gentry: And I imagine you've stayed in touch and she's watched your career with interest.

Paxson: Yes. We still stay in touch, don't write as much as we should. But we keep up with each other.

Gentry: You've seen women in journalism from World War II to the present. Do you think women have finally achieved the recognition and status they deserve in journalism?

Paxson: Oh, I think they're getting there. More and more women are moving into top management and getting the recognition. I still think there's a lot more that needs to be done. A few more doors are opening and that's good. The young people coming along and the women in middle management today just have to hang in there and keep pushing and prodding and trying to demonstrate that they can do the job.

Gentry: That's what's going to happen before they get there.

Paxson: That's what's going to have to happen. You can't slacken up in the fight or you go backwards.

Gentry: If you were advising young women today — you know, women that are going into journalism, what would you tell them? What are some of the main things you would tell them?

Paxson: You're talking about the very young ones, just beginning their careers —

Gentry: Young, after they got their degrees.

Paxson: I think the first thing I would tell them is that they need to make sure that they learn every aspect of their jobs and how to do it thoroughly and be able to do it very well. For instance, I keep kidding the

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editorial page editor at the Muskogee Phoenix because she sometimes forgets to send the voucher up to the business office for me to get that fabulous sum of $7.50 a week for that column.

Gentry: That's going to provide a wonderful retirement for you.

Paxson: Tomorrow's lunch. No, that's very minor. But I'm not the only columnist that she has to send up a voucher for. There are other local contributors sometimes. That's part of her job. She's had the job now for about three years, three and a half. She shouldn't be forgetting that. It ought to be paid once a month. It's simply — that's the kind of thing, if you going to learn to do your job, you've got to learn to do everything and do it right and on time.

Gentry: Dot all the "i's," cross all the "t's."

Paxson: That's exactly right. And then once you have learned that, then start to learn about the jobs that are all around you, that touch you in some way. For instance, in the news room what you write goes out into the composing room. And if you're going to broaden yourself, learn about the composing room. You don't have to know every detail but learn enough that you can understand the operation and understand some of their problems.

On a newspaper you also have advertising which news people regard as sort of a dirty word and the advertising side snaps back and says, "Well, we pay your salaries because we raise the revenue," and around and around they go. If you're going to really learn all about the business, learn your own job, then learn those jobs that are around you, and find out what goes on in the advertising department, too, and what they go through to sell an ad. Not that you have to go out and do it but just that you can understand.

The same way with the business office and with the circulation department. And then when you do move up, you'll have a better understanding. And if you get up in management and get to the point that you're dealing with department heads from these other areas, you'll get along with them a lot better.

Gentry: You can never start too early to learn those things.

Paxson: No. That's right. And of course, if you really want to move up in management, you have to be able to move from being a specialist to being a generalist. Of course, I had no trouble at all dropping the business of writing. Not that I didn't thoroughly enjoy it, but getting into copy editing and learning how to do layout from excellent layout people at the Miami Herald was a whole new avenue that opened up to me. And I never really have missed the writing. It's good to get back to it now, but I didn't miss the writing because writing isn't the only thing that has to be done on a newspaper.

Gentry: That's for sure.

Paxson: Or radio or television or anything else. And you can have a good career in many areas. So I guess that would be my advice.

Gentry: This is a rather broad question but what do you think are some of the most important attributes any journalist must have to be successful? Not only a woman but any journalist?

Paxson: Any journalist?

Gentry: Because I think they're relatively the same.

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Paxson: Yes. You're right. We're not drawing any lines on account of sex. I think the main thing, they have to have a tremendous amount of curiosity, they have to be interested in people, they have to be willing to ask questions even if they sound like they're dumb questions. There is no such thing as a dumb question and the worst mistake any journalist can make is assume that he or she understands what the subject is talking about and doesn't double-check to make sure there's not some nuance there that they may be misunderstanding. I really think they ought to have a very good knowledge of grammar and spelling and syntax and know how to put a story together. That's part of the craft and you're not born with it. You have to learn how to do it. I have no patience with these people who are going to go off one day and write the Great American Novel.

Gentry: Oh, there are so many of those.

Paxson: You know, writing is hard work and any journalist needs to understand that and they need to practice at it. That's probably why I've never written any Pulitzer prize winning stories because I didn't practice at it enough. But it does take practice and concentration.

Gentry: What do you think are some of the most difficult roadblocks a woman journalist is likely to face today?

Paxson: Well, there's a lot of talk about equal opportunity and fairness in advancement but the subtle prejudices are still there. And they're probably the — not probably, they are the same kinds of prejudices that I faced. I keep hoping that as the younger generation of male editors comes along, they may have different attitudes. I'm not sure they will. This goes back for a long time and is a very deep-seated feeling. And I just think we're going to have to work and work and work at it.

These roadblocks would be anything from the publisher who wouldn't let his women wear pants even if it was the female chief photographer who had to go out on a ranch and climb barbed wire to the young reporter who didn't want to work for me. He confessed to me later that he'd never worked for a woman except for his mother.

These attitudes about women are there. Life styles are changing. But I don't think the deep-seated attitudes are changing that much. I don't want to sound unduly pessimistic because basically I'm a great optimist. But I just think it's going to take a long, long time.

When you look at the newspaper business — and that's what I'm familiar with — you really look at the number of male editors versus the number of female editors in the year 1990, the percentage of male editors is going to be very, very high. And it will not have changed that much in the last ten years or the last fifteen years. The percentage points may have gone up three or four percentage points and that's all.

Gentry: That's a little discouraging. Do you think a woman would still get the kind of comments that you've been talking about several times, about she wrote a good story and she was a good publisher and she's still rather feminine? Do you think that kind of comment is still seen?

Paxson: You still see it, unfortunately, yes. You still hear — occasionally you're reading the newspaper and a woman will be referred to as a girl. And why? These are the old attitudes that I'm talking about and they're going to take a long time to erase.

Gentry: And the fact that a woman cannot be successful and run something or do something that men do without saying that little thing, "but she's still quite feminine"?

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Paxson: Oh, yes. She hasn't lost her femininity.

Gentry: That's it.

Paxson: Yes. Yes. Yes. Now, we have made progress but I just hope the young women don't give up the fight and don't think that they've got it made and think that they're not going to have any problems. And I also hope that they realize somewhere along the way that they are where they are today because a lot of women put up a tremendous battle since the sixties to try to change things and make it better for them.

Gentry: I hope they do, too. There are so many things you've done and you've contributed so much to journalism. What would you like to be remembered for?

Paxson: The first thing would be Mexico City and that paper. I have always thought that was the most important thing that I've ever done. I'd like to be remembered for that. And for what I did in changing Theta Sigma Phi into a more professionally oriented organization.

Gentry: Those are very fine things.

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