Advice to would-be women journalists, 1930s style

While I was researching something completely different today, I came across a wonderful – you’ll see why soon – article titled “Not much fun in being a woman journalist – or is there?” in the second issue of The ABC Weekly published on 9 December 1939 by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. The article was written by Zelda Reed, an American who was working her way around the world as a journalist. The editor says that Miss Reed has directed the article “to ambitious Australian girls who think, perhaps, that JOURNALISM IS SUCH FUN” (their stress).

Miss Reed starts by describing how “the talkies [that is, movies] have discovered that there is glamour in the newspaper business” and goes on to give a rundown of the typical plot involving “cheeky young females” who “peck perkily at their portables and indulge in gay repartee with that winsome character, the Editor”. HOWEVER, Miss Reed warns, young women dreaming of such a career should first “well study the seamy side of the journalist’s lot”.

She says would-be reporters should be aware of:

a curious paradox in the minds of practically all editors. These men are liberals by temperament and feminists by conviction. They will do everything to help women break down the prejudice against their sex – everything, that is, except hire them as general news reporters.

Dorothy Dix (released to Public Domain, at Wikipedia)

Dorothy Dix (released to Public Domain, at Wikipedia)

She says that the real paying jobs are not the adventurous ones – and cites Dorothy Dix as one who makes very good money without ever having to move from her desk. This leads her into the traditional areas in which women do well – because “nobody else wants them. The women’s page editors, the society editors…” and so on. You know the drill.

Then she dashes any hopes of romance! She says that

Gallantry is not a strong point among the men who work on newspapers. Except when salaries are involved, these are the men who believe in equality of the sexes and act on it!

Hmmm…what does that mean? They believe in equality but don’t want to marry it? Well, she goes on to say that newspaper men have “none of the elementary requirements for a good husband”. In other words, “men reporters … go in for irresponsibility as an art” and “lack material ambition, and are proud of it”!

So, the positives? Well, there’s never being bored in a newspaper office because “entertaining companions, with a rich store of anecdotes, will always drop their work to share a coffee with you”. And a female reporter “will have her scrapbooks filled with forgotten scoops [and] a reputation as a ‘top journalist for a woman’. But that is a Bohemian reward which perhaps one woman in a million finds satisfactory”. Well…

Her conclusion is that

the rest [the other 999,999 women in a million, that is] would do well to run like rabbits whenever the urge to work on a newspaper creeps over them – they’ll pay a price that is exorbitant for the doubtful privilege of being the uninvited guest at a social function, or meeting a few front-page characters face to face.

Miss Reed, it seems, doesn’t think much of the career that is taking her around the world! I’m sure there’s truth in what she says – and I’m sure things have changed since then. All I can say is that I’ll stick to blogging. May not be as adventurous but I can have the fun of writing what I like while steering clear of all those non-materialistic irresponsible male writers!

11 thoughts on “Advice to would-be women journalists, 1930s style

  1. This is hilarious. Thanks so much for posting it! What a long way we women have come: I’m a newspaper editor! Funnily enough, journalism is dominated by women these days — in fact, I was once deputy editor on a 20-strong staff, all women — and no, it wasn’t a “women’s mag” or fashion title.

    • Thanks kimbofo, I did think of you as I was reading it. I knew you were a jounalist – didn’t know you were an editor! I guessed things had changed – we EVEN have women foreign correspondents! I didn’t know journalism was dominated by women – that’s a huge change and in only a couple of generations. I have another article on writing/journalism from the same magazine but by a different woman published a few months later. I will post on it soon.

  2. I suspect that she was writing to all those folks who thought that her job was glamorous, when in reality, it was mostly hard work. I remember when I was in PR, back in my corporate days, and everyone thought that was so glamorous and exotic and imagined us chatting at parties, champagne glass in hand. In reality, it was long hours, huge amounts of research, writing, writing, writing, and insane deadlines. We often spoke to groups of young, dreamy-eyed college freshmen who thought PR would be such an easy job, because all you had to do was talk to people and go to events (kind of like being a journalist!) — and we did all we could to burst their bubbles. Do it because it’s what you want to do, but not because it’s easy or glamorous — because it’s not (and especially not easy). I suspect that’s the message Ms. Reed was trying to get across. Don’t do it unless you really want it, because it’s a lot of work. We may have more opportunities today, but writing is still work.

    • I suspect you’re right – that that’s what she was saying. I considered saying, though, in my post, that nowhere does she actually mention love of writing or why she’s there! But, perhaps when you only have so many words you can’t say everything eh? The next article I plan to comment on does talk more about the actual writing.

      Thanks for your experience and perspective – this is the great thing about blogs isn’t it?

  3. What do you get when you speed read and write when you are tired? Ridiculous inaccuracies, that’s what! And so, I was right, Dorothy Dix was indeed NOT adventurous. I just read that para inaccurately – have no idea how I did that given that I didn’t believe what I thought I’d read! Anyhow, I have now updated my post to reflect what Zelda Reed really did say.

  4. Just saw this quote, and it made me think of this post and exchange:
    “It is impossible to discourage the real
    writers – they don’t give a damn what you say,
    they’re going to write.”

    ~ Sinclair Lewis

  5. Oh thanks so much for this … I love reading quotes about reading and writing. This will be added to my ever-growing document of such quotes!

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