Opportunity Deferred: A 1952 Case Study of a Woman in Network Television News

Article excerpt

By 1952, the American television networks had established themselves as the major source of news in television homes (Advertest, 1952). NBC's Camel News Caravan was the highest-rated news program (cited by McAndrew, 1952). In New York City, more than 40% of survey respondents said they viewed the program regularly (Advertest, 1952). One primary reason for the popularity of the program and other NBC news services was the network's commitment to filmed coverage of news events (Karnick, 1988). NBC was the first network to provide battlefront film of the Korean War, almost from the very beginning of America's involvement in 1950 (Frank, 1991). The network and its New York flagship station committed significant resources to their news-oriented programs, several of which ranked fairly high among survey respondents. Their primary competition, CBS, did not begin hiring news photographers until 1953 (Matusow, 1983, p. 64).

In addition, the Truman administration combined forces with NBC in a 1951 television series exploring post-war Europe's relations with Washington. The program, Battle Report--Washington, was popular and newsworthy enough to warrant a second season (Bernhard, 1999). In August 1951 Gallup found 64% of survey respondents thought the United States should continue to send military and economic aid to Europe (Gallup 1972, p. 1004). A month later 56% indicated that war and foreign policy, Russia, threats to peace and the Cold War were more important than the domestic problems facing the United States (p. 1018). NBC used much of the material from the series for Camel News Caravan (NBC, 1951).

The team responsible for filming and interviewing foreign leaders consisted of twin brothers Charles and Eugene Jones. They had also provided NBC with reports from Korea. Newsweek ("Double Trouble," 1952; "The Jones Boys," 1950) celebrated their work, and NBC (Thoman, 1952a) prepared to send the twins back to Europe. Little known outside the relatively small news division was the addition of Natalie Jones, wife of Eugene, to the team. Mrs. Jones subsequently served as interviewer, photographer, and sound operator during early 1952.

Although women had served as radio war correspondents, and Pauline Frederick had been covering the United Nations for ABC radio and television since the 1948 political conventions, by 1960 it was "occasionally possible to see Aline Mosby reporting from Moscow, Phillis Hepp from Turkey and Athens and Lee Hall from Cairo and Havana" (Marzolf, 1977, p. 165). When NBC asked Far Eastern Bureau Chief George Folster to report on potential independent news reporters (stringers) in the Middle East, Southeast and Far East Asia, his account noted that though there was a lack of American voices available (along with a scarcity of photographers) he was hesitant to recommend any females unless the network would accept a woman's voice (Folster, 1952). This opinion prevailed despite inroads made by female reporters during World War II, and women, "with few exceptions, were expected to cover women's news" (Hosley & Yamada, 1987, p. 81). But was announcing and reporting the extent of a woman's career possibilities?

Using taped and telephone interviews, photographs, network correspondence, and personal letters as evidence, this case study examines Natalie Jones' interviewing, filming, and recording duties; her contribution to the production of news material provided NBC; and her acceptance by newsmakers in the gathering of news. The assignment handed the Jones reporters in 1952 was compared with the previous venture, when only the brothers produced the content. If, as this essay suggests, Mrs. Jones' participation was substantial and substantive, it adds to the testimony of other broadcast pioneers who disproved the early belief that news gathering could only be undertaken by men.

Meeting the Jones Brothers

When the United States committed troops to South Korea in mid-1950, the Jones brothers, award-winning newspaper photographers in Washington, DC, convinced NBC news director Frank McCall to hire them to cover the war. …