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What News Looks Like When Women Matter: Profiles of Rita Henley Jensen and Victoria Graham of Women’s Enews – Part IV

And we always look at the news and ask: How will President Bush’s proposed $1.6 trillion tax cut affect women? Why should women be concerned about some faith-based charities? What does the emphasis on marriage in so-called welfare reform mean for women? An economic shotgun marriage. In the old days, the gun was pointed at the father; now it’s pointed at the single mother.

SS: What is it like to work with the Internet as the medium?
VG: I think it is great. We can reach so many people so easily and they can reach us. We publish one story a day, and I like the immediate results. Some people say Internet stories should be really short and punchy, but we think a lot of news stories are too short to tell the story in a meaningful way. This affords us the opportunity to look carefully at some issues, and if necessary, we can write longer stories.

The Internet helps us do better journalism.

SS: How do you find your writers?
VG: Anyone can write for us, including men. We like to see a resume and writing samples. And we are always looking for good journalists, not that professional journalists always are the best writers. But we stress solid reporting, lively writing, strong organization and structure. It is our experience that journalists, or those with some journalism experience, do better than activists.

SS: Who is inspirational to you?
VG: I worked over the years with so many good people in The AP and with many news organizations. But my great foreign editor, the late Nate Polowetsky, was one of the very best. An intellectual, a wit, a man of extraordinary qualities of heart, legendary irascibility. He encouraged me and taught me a lot about critical writing. When the AP decided to send a girl reporter to China—and I know I was chosen because I was a girl reporter—a great many people said, ‘Oh, no. She’ll fail.’ I’m sure some people even hoped for that. But Nate supported me. We did good journalism, often beating the New York Times, the Washington Post and others.

I know this sounds trite, but my mom, Vera Graham, inspired me. We all have our own experiences with our mothers, good and bad, but in addition, my mother was a reporter for a suburban newspaper in the San Francisco Bay area for many, many years. She was loved and hated. She covered the courts, the city council, the planning commission and the police. And she took me along. At 6:30 in the morning, we’d be reading police reports—but she removed the juicy, sordid ones, alas. But I got peeks.

She was divorced and reared my younger brothers and me, with help from my grandmother and great aunt. Parenting was done by really strong women. And their examples were powerful. Some rather uncharitable women said: “Well, your mother isn’t at home ….” But I always thought my mom was very cool. She advised me to go into television and make money, but I guess I had printers’ ink in my veins.

SS: She must have been one of a small group of women in the newsroom at that time.
VG: Yes. She started out as being a ‘girl in classified’ at the old San Francisco News and then the News-Call Bulletin. Then the guys were going to war and well, she really wanted to write, and she got her chance—and disproved many people who said she couldn’t do it as well as men.

SS: What was your experience as a woman in the news business, at the AP?
VG: The AP was, and still is, mostly men, but women were coming aboard when I started in 1972. I was always the ‘first woman journalist to do X,’ which I admit I liked. I felt that I was well treated and my talents were appreciated. I was also a beneficiary of a sex-discrimination class action lawsuit, as a member of the class, although I personally had no grievances.

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