A Pulitzer (almost) lost to history

I spent a weekend last fall in the basement of a public library in rural Maine, picking through century-old letters between two sisters, Laura Richards and Maude Howe Elliott.  They were both writers and both living the kind of creative existences that were rare for women in that era.

Together, they produced a sweeping biography of their mother, the abolitionist and suffragist Julia Ward Howe. (If that name takes you back to grade school history, it’s probably because she also wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic.)

In 1917, her daughters became the first women to win a Pulitzer Prize but, as I discovered in my research, neither was associated with the honor until recently. You can read the full story here.

The best Christmas story I ever got to tell

This was the type of bomber 1st Lt. Enoch Perkins flew to Europe in December 1944. Photo/Wikimedia Commons
This was the type of bomber 1st Lt. Enoch Perkins flew to Europe in December 1944. Photo/Wikimedia Commons

Seven years ago, I helped tell a Christmas story that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I shared it with my students earlier this month, and I now I’m posting it here.

I’d spent months working with my former boss Mike Pride to interview dozens of local World War II veterans for a series of stories that would eventually become this book. The project focused on the memories of people still living in our community, but we also pulled a handful of narratives from journal entries, poems and letters left behind by veterans when they died.

Such was the case with 1st Lt. Enoch Perkins, who took command of a new B-17 bomber in the final weeks of 1944. Perkins had died about a year before we started our work, but his daughter had a copy of his journal, and she wanted to share some of it with our readers. Perkins was a great writer, and he kept a careful, vivid account of his travels – including an unexpected stopover at Grenier Field in Manchester, NH

Before I go any deeper into the act of human kindness that makes this tale so special, here’s a bit of backstory:

Many of the heavy bombers that helped the Allies win the war were assigned newly-trained flight crews at air fields in the Midwest. Those crews would hopscotch the planes across the U.S., then north to Canada’s east cost. From there, they’d fly to cold, remote airstrips in Iceland and Greenland, eventually landing in Scotland. One of the last places these crews would land on American soil was Grenier.

Perkins remained in Manchester for several days longer than planned because his copilot needed to recover from an ear infection. While he waited, he worked with a few Red Cross volunteers to make sure his crew and, as it turned out, dozens of other airmen would experience some holiday cheer thousands of miles from home.

Here’s the full story as it appeared in the Concord (NH) Monitor. Please take the time to read; you won’t forget it, either.

See the gap

Here’s an impressive  -and depressing – interactive graphic that shows the extent of the racial and gender inequalities at the top levels of American media.  The project was commissioned by Stratch and includes some impressive research into the leadership history of big-name publications. Do give it a read and spend a few minutes clicking around.


‘Not just a battlefield story’

I stumbled across this trailer on Twitter earlier this week, and I’m hoping to watch the full documentary sometime soon:

The correspondents featured are remarkable for their courage, but their work is also a reminder of why a diverse press corps matters. Women, the film argues, see war differently — and that’s important when we’re trying to fully understand complicated geopolitical events.

Women were digital media pioneers, but there’s still a gender gap online

USA Today launched its first website just days before the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, and its staff helped create a new kind of crisis storytelling in the aftermath. Rapid updates, photos, and story indexes made the Web, for the first time in human history, a significant source of information for understanding national tragedy. Two years later, another major paper continued to shape our understanding of online news when a Web producer at Philly.com assembled the multimedia version of Black Hawk Down. On the West Coast, meanwhile, the San Jose Mercury News unveiled Good Morning Silicon Valley in the mid-1990s, and it quickly became a popular proto-blog focused on the booming tech industry. (Read more at The Columbia Journalism Review.)

I was getting ready to write something about this…

… but Josh Stearns from Free Press beat me to it.

Numbers like these are frustrating and bad for democracy. A press corps that’s diverse in terms of race, gender and socioeconomic background is crucial for the kind of dignified but dogged journalism Thomas exemplified for so many years. Different backgrounds means different — and, hopefully, difficult — questions about topics those in power would rather ignore.

One of the better pieces about Thomas that I’ve read so far today is this obituary from the Washington Post. Among other great details, it includes this quote:

“I respect the office of the presidency,”  (Thomas) told Ann McFeatters for a 2006 profile in Ms. magazine, “but I never worship at the shrines of our public servants. They owe us the truth.”

And that truth must reflect the realities of all segments of the population.

Meet the “Ladies of the Press”

305919_10151390014587913_619961207_nIn 1936, a reporter named Ishbel Ross did something extraordinary when she wrote the first formal history of female journalists. It’s imperfect in many ways:  the book features only white women and Ross devotes many pages to praising reporters who get the story without sacrificing their feminine charm. Still, it’s full of fascinating tidbits, especially a chapter devoted to the rural press.

Nowhere, Ross writes, “is the newspaper woman more active than in country journalism” where she “practically raises her babies in the waste-paper basket, cooks rice pudding to the friendly thud of the linotype or chronicles the town doings from the cracker box stance.” At the time the book was published, Ross counted more than 300 female editors and publishers working at small papers across the United States.

Some of these woman worked alone; others came to power through family ties, operating the papers alongside their husbands or fathers. Many filled their newsrooms with women, just one example Ross cites of how their publications differed from their urban counterparts:

The country newspaper woman has a freedom of expression denied the metropolitan reporter. She can push a local cause, mix freely in political fights, write what she likes and continue her job until she is eighty years of age, if her eyesight is good and she so desires.

Quote of the day

“Management can’t meet the challenge of discrimination against women by just promoting one or two women to highly visible jobs while the rest of the corporate structure remains a male preserve.” –  former Washington Post publisher Katharine Graham while speaking to a group of male business leaders in the 1970s.