What Was It Like Being a Lady Journalist in the '70s? Pretty Bad.


NPR’s Nina Totenberg has been a political journalist for forty years, and now the iconic journalist is taking a look back and sharing with us young’uns what life for a female reporter was like “back in those days.”

Totenberg told Medium that as a writer at The National Observer in the 1970s, her male coworkers simply “ignored me. It’s really simple. … I was not one of the guys. They didn’t invite me to lunch. They just didn’t acknowledge me.”

She says her feeling were hurt by the newsroom’s actions, but she was used to that type of emotional warfare by then since job opportunities for women then were so few and far between. Every newsroom was ruled by men, whether she was at her paper or covering the White House.

But there was a silver lining. Totenberg says many of her subjects and colleagues thought she was a joke so they weren’t paying attention during their interviews and let all kinds of exclusives slip.-

The bad news was you weren’t one of the guys so you didn’t chum it up with them and go drinking. The good news was they assumed you were young and stupid. I was young. I wasn’t stupid. They would very often say the most incredible things to me because they weren’t concentrating on the fact that I was concentrating on them.
I probably scored a number of scoops that way. It’s just hilarious. One time I was doing a story about junkets on Capitol Hill. I think Northwest [Airlines] had inaugurated a new line to Japan and Korea. They had taken on their maiden voyage most of the members of the Senate Commerce Committee, which of course controlled regulation of the airline industry.
So I did a bunch of interviews with people who went, and then I asked the people who didn’t go why they didn’t. I remember [Montana Democrat] Mike Mansfield said something of great integrity. He just said, “Don’t do that kind of thing.” But there was a senator, [New Hampshire Republican] Norris Cotton, who said, “Oriental food gives me the trots.” And that was the subhead in the story! It was just too good.

For Totenberg, the journalism field is a much better place for women now than during the 1970s and the glass ceiling has been pretty much conquered.

From a time when I was first looking for a job and people would say to you, “We don’t hire women,” to a time when that’s definitely not the case in our profession.
It’s not that sex discrimination is gone from the workplace. It’s hardly gone. But it is probably more gone from journalism than it is from a lot of professions.

Image via Getty.

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