The Norman Transcript

June 14, 2014

Oklahoma has its share of pioneer women journalists

By Andy Rieger
The Norman Transcript

NORMAN — Sue Hale begged her Kansas newspaper editors to let her tackle the crime beat. They hesitated, fearing she couldn’t handle seeing the seedy side of journalism. Surely, a woman would cringe if she had to see a body, they reasoned. Even one tucked in a bag.

At a homicide scene, she lost track of her partner, a man who accompanied her. He had run away in fear. She found him hiding a few blocks away.

“I just can’t handle this,” he said. So much for the weaker sex.

Hale didn’t back down and spent a career in the rough-and-tumble world of newspaper and broadcast journalism where women were once routinely assigned to the society pages. She retired from a senior management position at The Oklahoman and now works with a journalism foundation created by Edith Kinney Gaylord.

“I really believe it took both the terrific gals who blazed the way and it took men who believed we could do it,” Hale said.

She was one of five pioneer Oklahoma journalists who discussed their lives and careers at the Oklahoma History Center Friday afternoon. It was a sidebar of sorts to Friday evening’s showing of “The Quiet Philanthropist: The Edith Gaylord Story,” at the Dead Center Film Festival. The film, which will be shown again today at 2 p.m. at the Fred Jones Theatre at Harkins, 150 E. Reno, chronicles Gaylord’s publishing family, her reporting for the Associated Press in Washington and the lifetime of charity that continues today through two foundations.

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Local television news anchor Linda Cavanaugh always thought she would become a teacher like her father. She received a scholarship from the Oklahoma City Gridiron Club and decided to give journalism a try in college. She loved it.

“It was a whole different social strata for us back then,” she said. When opportunities presented, the women were ready. “We were prepared to step into these roles,” she said.

She got a shot at the news anchor’s seat but station management wasn’t sure it would last and how viewers would react. She banked her paycheck and lived off her husband’s salary during the early weeks.

Jennifer Reynolds got her journalism break while working as a secretary for a campus radio station at OSU. She thought she could do a better job than the male student who was on the air one day. The station’s manager gave her a chance. “For the first time in my life I was happy,” she said.

She worked in radio before moving over to Capitol reporting and then anchoring television news in Oklahoma City.

“I always felt to some extent that it was a little easier for me. The discrimination that I experienced was mostly while I was a secretary,” she said.

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Pam Olson wrote for her church newsletter and then local newspapers while still in Midwest City High School. She credits former Oklahoma Journal editor John Clabes for encouraging her to become a journalist. At OU, she got the television bug and studied under Bruce Hinson and Ned Hockman.

Like Cavanaugh, she had the skills and drive at a time when her station had an opening. She was Oklahoma City’s first prime time female news anchor and later went to CBS where she covered the southeastern United States. In Washington for CNN, she covered the White House and later Congress.

“I was very much in the right place at the right time,” she said.

Olson said she recalls local television personalities Ida B., Lola Hall and Miss Fran. Ida Blackburn was in the audience Friday and reluctantly stood to acknowledge the applause. “Each of them added something to the fabric of life and inspired me,” Olson said.

She said it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the state produced a lot of women pioneers. In the early days women were challenged to take on many tasks far beyond the traditional roles of child rearing, cooking and education.

“We’ve all known those women that have done everything,” she said.

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Oklahoma City native Vivian Vahlberg worked in The Daily Oklahoman and Times Washington Bureau. In the early days she said some men underestimated women’s work.

“They had kind of a sense that you weren’t a serious journalist. It took a long time to see women in that light,” said Vahlberg was the first woman president of the National Press Club, her election coming only a few years after women were even allowed to join. She later was executive director of the Society of Professional Journalists.

She met Gaylord in Washington early in her career at the bureau where she worked with legendary bureau chief Al Cromley.

“It was very clear she was different in spirit than the other Gaylords and in her political views,” Vahlberg said.

Hale said Gaylord was an amazing advocate for the First Amendment and journalism education.

“I think today she would be really proud of what the Foundation has accomplished,” she said.

Andy Rieger

editor@normantranscript.com

366-3543

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