By Starla Pointer • Staff Writer • 

Perspectives: Walters was a groundbreaker, but other influences abound

Of course, in a global sense, Walters was a groundbreaker.

She entered the TV news field in 1953, at a time when women were still called “girls” and more valued for their looks than their skills. But she persisted and made the industry and its viewers pay attention to her intelligence and abilities as well.

She became the first woman to co-host the Today show in 1974. Two years later began co-hosting ABC Evening News. Both were huge achievements in what was then still a male-dominated industry.

That’s about the time I first heard of her – but from a different source, Saturday Night Live.

She was portrayed by Gilda Radner for comic effect. Still, becoming a character on a hit sketch-comedy show was an acknowledgment of how important she had become.

By that time, I knew I would be a newspaper reporter. Walters didn’t influence me, but various newspaper people did over the coming years – political commentator Molly Ivins, White House correspondent Helen Thomas, Washington Post Publisher Katharine Graham and reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein, who broke the Watergate scandal for The Post.

So did great writers who were featured in newspapers, often making their points through humor, such as Art Buchwald, Erma Bombeck and Dave Barry. I admired Tom Hallman Jr.’s features in The Oregonian, as well, especially his profiles of people.

Later, I would learn from and admire Wanda McAlister, also one of the pioneering women in the news industry, and other coworkers at the News-Register.

Whether they were female or male didn’t matter. What did matter was that they were great writers, great newshounds, great role models — great reporters.

While Watergate was part of my formative years, my interest in journalism was piqued and reinforced more by three other influences, two quite real and the other fictional but very true to life — and no, I’m not going to say Lois Lane.

Myrtle Sykes and her husband owned my hometown paper. As the editor, Sykes printed my first stories, helped me make the next ones better, and encouraged me to follow my chosen path.

Ralph Stuller, a 1934 Linfield graduate, was my high school journalism teacher. He’d run a newspaper in Carlton after college, and still sounded like an old newsman shouting “Get the dope!” as students headed out on assignment.

Then there was Billie Newman, the female reporter on the Los Angeles Tribune, the fictional daily on “The Lou Grant Show” from 1977 to 1982.

The hour-long drama was a spinoff from “The Mary Tyler Moore” show, a comedy featuring grumpy former newspaperman Lou Grant as Mary’s boss at a TV station. It followed Lou as he moved to Los Angeles and returned to “the real news business,” where he directed writers as they told in-depth stories.

It was like a textbook for would-be reporters, with editors discussing story placement, ethics and the consequences of stories, tracking down sources, dealing with people reluctant to talk for various reasons, sacrificing personal time to cover important stories, and engaging in the day-to-day banter of the newsroom.

(These days, the shows can be seen on YouTube. Although the technology has changed over the decades, I’m astounded at how well they’ve stood the test of time. I’d love to see how Lou and his staff would deal with today’s issues, such as social media and allegations of “fake news.”)

Billie Newman, my fictional role model, started as a reporter in the features department, which Lou stubbornly insisted on calling the “women’s section.” Despite his objections, she moved to the news side and proved herself there.

In one early episode, the arrogant male star reporter compliments Billie on a story. “I almost couldn’t tell it was written by a woman,” he says.

She quickly responds with a compliment on one of his stories. “I almost couldn’t tell it was written by a man,” she says.

Both stories were written by reporters. And that helped solidify all I wanted to be: A newspaper reporter.

Next month, I’ll mark 41 years in the business. It was the right decision.

Reporter Starla Pointer covers education and business for the News-Register.

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