Washington Press Club Foundation


Ruth Ashton Taylor has spent nearly fifty years in broadcasting, a career connected from its beginning to CBS News. This is remarkable in an industry which today uses thirteen-week employment contracts for most on-air employees. This also is remarkable in an industry that, as Taylor observes, does not particularly encourage women to stay in the business past the age of fifty.

At seventy years old, Ruth Ashton Taylor is still technically employed in broadcasting. After her 1989 retirement from KCBS-TV in Los Angeles, she remained on retainer, reporting an occasional story and continuing her weekend "Newsmakers" program. In 1990, she moved from the Los Angeles area to Lincoln, a small town forty miles northeast of Sacramento. This arrangement puts her on call for occasional reports from the state capitol, but requests for reports were infrequent in 1992, and she is readying herself to truly retire.

Retirement doesn't seem possible for someone whose career has demanded constant movement--whether she was covering the fires and floods of Los Angeles or the mercurial moves of California politics. Even in the serene Lincoln countryside, she is planning her next projects--to change the landscaping on the six-and-a-half acres surrounding her hilltop house, to play the piano and, perhaps, to write about her career. Her quick movements reflect someone who is accustomed to constant deadlines. Her wide-eyed concentration represents an ability to focus quickly on a subject. "I've been created by my work," she says.

Ruth Ashton Taylor's career began in 1944, when she graduated from New York's Columbia University with a master's degree in journalism and was hired immediately by CBS. In the era of Edward R. Murrow, Douglas Edwards, and Robert Trout, Ruth Ashton was at the center of CBS radio's most notable decade. (She added the name Taylor later, when she married her second husband). Women weren't allowed on the air because CBS management "just didn't like those squeaky voices," she says, but Ashton welcomed the chance to write news copy for her male colleagues.

In 1951, when she returned to her native Los Angeles to take a job at KNXT (now KCBS)-TV, she became the first woman on the West Coast to work in television news. She was hired for the "woman's angle," she says, but that requirement didn't restrict her because she reasoned that women were interested in the same subjects that interested men.

Through most of the 1950s, Ashton worked simultaneously in radio and TV until the pace became too hectic and she left in 1958 to work as a college public information officer. She returned to KNXT in 1962 to join a program produced by Ralph Story called "Storyline" and she also co-hosted "The Ruth and Pat Show" radio show with comedian Pat Buttram for a year. In 1966 she turned exclusively to television, where she has worked primarily as a general assignment reporter and, more recently, also as co-host of the weekend news interview show, "Newsmakers."

The many honors she has collected during her career include the prestigious Governors Award for Lifetime Achievement from the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, the Los Angeles Sigma Delta Chi 1981 Journalist of the Year Award, and the Diamond Achievement Award from Women in Communications, a special recognition created for the group's seventy-fifth anniversary in 1984. In 1990, Los Angeles honored her with a Star in the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

To be a good broadcast journalist, she says, someone must first be a good journalist. Then she adds that to succeed in broadcast journalism, someone must be strong and dedicated and "plunge forward, even if it's hard."

The only difficulty I encountered in conducting these interviews was the complexities of working around the schedule of a very busy person. The interviews took more than a year and a half to complete.

Taylor's home in Lincoln is roughly an hour's drive from my home in Fair Oaks, but at the time we were trying to schedule these interviews, she was on call from KCBS to cover stories in the Sacramento area, most notably reports from the capitol. She was leaving town most weekends to do her "Newsmakers" show in Los Angeles. And some weekends Taylor was needed to babysit her grandson, who lives with his mother in Marin County. So many appointments were scheduled and then re-scheduled two or three times before we actually met to do the interviews.

All of the interviews took place at Taylor's home, with its 360-degree view of the Sacramento Valley and the Sierras. Often we were interrupted by phone calls from story sources and from the KCBS news desk, making arrangements for the next day's story. Always by our side was Sadie, Taylor's twelve-year-old (when we began) golden labrador.

Shirley Biagi
August 19, 1992

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