On the high wire Lynn Povich was named the first female senior editor of Newsweek in 1975. Here she is in 1977 with fellow editors (from left): Ed Kosner, Larry Martz, Peter Kilborn, Russ Watson, Dwight Martin and Povich. (Note the circus poster.)
Forty years ago in July, Ms. debuted as a stand-alone magazine. Thanks to the efforts of Gloria Steinem, Suzanne Levine (a former editor of this magazine), and their colleagues, a woman is now, by default, addressed without reference to her marital status. It is hard to overemphasize how important (and to be blunt, how unlikely to succeed) this campaign seemed at the time. And Ms. is still on the stands, having staved off a few near-death experiences.
So how about the media industry itself? Have we, to paraphrase the old Virginia Slims ad, come a long way, baby? Lately, there has been a flurry of data showing that major media outlets still overwhelmingly cite men as experts, even on women’s issues such as reproductive rights: A media watchdog called 4th Estate says, for example, that in six months of election coverage by major print and broadcast outlets, 81 percent of those quoted about abortion were men. As recent stories by CJR’s Erika Fry about the work of OpEd Project and VIDA have shown, women still write only 20 percent of the opinion pieces in traditional media, and even fewer on hard-news topics such as the economy (11 percent). There are still many more men’s bylines in the heady publications once staffed mostly by graduates of the then-all-male Ivy League (The Atlantic, Harper’s, The New Yorker, etc.). And stunningly, there were no female nominees this year in the major categories of the National Magazine Awards.
But there’s no denying that there has been progress since Ms. came on the scene. For a salute to 40 women who’ve changed the business in the past 40 years, click here. We also tip our virtual green eyeshades to 20 women we’d bet on to chart the future, as well as to Katherine Boo, a stubborn iconoclast who’s on her own singular mission.
A bit more than 40 years ago, several dozen young women at Newsweek sued for sex discrimination, paving the way for similar suits at The New York Times and Reader’s Digest. One of those who sued Newsweek, Lynn Povich, went on to become the magazine’s first female senior editor (and later, editor in chief of Working Woman and a senior exec at MSNBC.com). Her memoir about the suit, The Good Girls Revolt, will be published in September by Public Affairs. Povich has been in and around journalism since birth: Her father, Shirley Povich, was a renowned sportswriter at The Washington Post; her brother and sister-in-law are TV anchors Maury Povich and Connie Chung; and her husband is Steve Shepard, the longtime editor of Business Week who has since founded a new J-School for the City University of New York (and has a memoir of his own coming out). CJR editor in chief Cyndi Stivers spoke to Povich in June about what it was really like to sue her boss—and win.
How did you get your start at Newsweek?
When I graduated from college, half of my class got married—they earned their “MRS” degree. I wanted to go to Paris, and the only way I could get hired was as a secretary, so although I was a great typist, I had to take shorthand at night at Dutchess County Community College. Two weeks after I graduated college, I went to the Newsweek bureau in Paris as a secretary.
I met some wonderful correspondents there. One of the great influences of my life was a woman named Elizabeth Peer, the first woman correspondent in Paris. I would type their files at night on a Telex machine, which would send them back to the New York office; actually, I learned a lot by retyping things.
[In 1966,] I came back to New York as a researcher at Newsweek. Women were hired first on the Mail Desk to deliver mail, then on the Clip Desk to clip newspapers. If you were really good, you got promoted to be a researcher; at the end of the week, the women fact-checked all the stories. Only women would be hired as researchers, and only men would be hired as reporters and writers. Very few women had been promoted [from within]—there were maybe three or four. So, we were being good girls and doing our work. And then the women’s movement happened.