Academic journal article Journalism History

AP's First Female Reporters

Academic journal article Journalism History

AP's First Female Reporters

Article excerpt

As of 1926, the Associated Press had not hired women to work as reporters. With the appointment of Kent Cooper as general manager, the first woman reporter was hired in that year, followed by the hiring of seven more women who worked at either the AP's New York or Washington, D.C., bureaus between 1928 and 1931. These women reporters provided American readers with numerous stories of women's activities, their style of dress, and other social news. They covered women athletes, women active in politics, and wives of officials, but they did not cover the most important assignments because that territory was claimed by their male counterparts. For the first time, AP assigned women to cover the wives of the presidential candidates, women at the political conventions, and women in the presidential inaugurations.

The 1926 headlines that appeared over Ethel Halsey's interview of Helen Wills, the Olympic gold medalist in tennis, spelled out the news that featured the Associated Press as prominently as the subject of the story. "The Associated Press Gets the Exclusive Story" declared the Lancaster, Ohio, Daily Eagle. "Helen Wills Tells Training Secrets, Her Rise to Fame as Champion in Interview with Associated Press," noted the OakUnd Tribune.1

The story about Wills required explanation. The Associated Press prefaced the story by stating that AP's general manager had asked Wills to participate in the interview conducted by Halsey, AP's first woman reporter, a member of its New York staff. Wills granted the interview, the preface explained, because she had read a similar AP interview of golfer Bobby Jones, the winner of the U.S. Open in 1923 and 1926. Later, AP affixed a copyright notice to Halsey's story about golfer Glenna Collett, the winner of the U.S. Women's Championship in 1925, signaling to editors around the country that AP thought the story was special and did not want it rewritten.2

AP did not hire Ethel Halsey to integrate its all-male staff. At least four women had worked for AP as telegraph operators in the early 1920s and it had hired women for specific assignments. AP hired Margaret Buchanan, who wrote editorials for the Chicago Times and the Chicago Chronicle, to cover the Universal Exhibition in Paris in 1889,' and Sallie Picket contributed society coverage from Washington in the late 1920s.4 Halsey's hiring was novel because just two years before, M. Elizabeth Briggs of San Francisco applied for a reporter's job at the AP's local office, but AP told her it did not employ women except in clerical jobs.5

AP hired Halsey to help introduce new styles of writing. Kent Cooper, who had been named AP general manager in 1925, wanted his reporters to abandon AP's proscribed, stylized form of writing that barred individuality. Cooper wanted a more conversational style. He lifted the ban on personality-profile type interviews, which the AP had imposed as far back as the 1890s, and he personally planned nine interviews, with Halsey's interviews of Wills and Collett as two of the nine.6

Cooper, who joined the AP in 1910 as a traveling inspector, was well acquainted with newspaper practices by the time he became the general manager. He knew the AP could no longer ignore the photographs of the front-page girl reporters displayed prominently in the nation's newspapers. The stodgy Associated Press had to modernize. Women reporters had been added to newspaper staffs as the yellow journalism of the 1890s shifted into the jazz journalism of the 1920s. Nellie Bly, the pen name of the most famous American newspaper stunt reporter, Elizabeth Cochrane, initiated the sensational role of women reporters in the 1880s. The trend continued into the 1920s with such women as Elizabeth Gilmer, who used the pen name Dorothy Dix and specialized in covering the trials of women charged with murder.7 Women who wanted newspaper jobs reporting material that went beyond wedding and club news had a choice in the 1920s, to perform stunts for stories as Nellie Bly had, or cover sensational topics as Dix did. …

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