Last week, contemporary journalism lost one of its greats: Cokie Roberts ’64, a veteran journalist who became known as a “founding mother” of National Public Radio (NPR) and a pioneer for women in a career still dominated by men. With decades spent as a political reporter and analyst, Roberts not only left her mark on broadcast journalism but also shaped the public broadcasting industry into what it is today.
Before she became Cokie Roberts, she was Mary Martha Corinne Morrison Claiborne Boggs, born to a prominent political family in 1943. In the fall of 1960, she entered Wellesley College, where she departed four years later with a BA in Political Science and a job hosting a program for WRC-TV in Washington, D.C. An Emmy Award-winner, best-selling author and inductee into the Broadcasting and Cable Hall of Fame, Roberts is recognized as one of the 50 greatest women in broadcasting by the American Women in Radio and Television (AWRT).
Her journey and career as a broadcast journalist helped to carve out a place for women in newsrooms, sound booths and television studios across the nation. Her path has inspired countless women journalists and will undoubtedly continue to inspire countless more. We at The Wellesley News hope that we can continue to uphold her legacy as journalists for our Wellesley community and uplift our writers to enter the media industry and shift the landscape of the field even more.
Even in 2019, the gender gap in media persists. The non-profit organization Women’s Media Center reports that 69 percent of news wire bylines from the Associated Press and Reuters are written by men and only 31 percent by women. Sixty percent of online news is written by men; 40 percent by women; and finally, the divide for print news stands at 59 percent men and 41 percent women. These numbers were released in January 2019. It would be a misguided hope to expect a significant closure of these gaps nine months later.
One of the most significant issues with this gap is the misshapen narrative that persists when newsrooms are dominated by a certain demographic. Journalism is, as the cliché goes, the first draft of history, and the stories that are covered and the ways in which they are told is unduly influenced by who is doing the telling. Cokie Roberts inspired leagues of women journalists, and the industry is all the better for it. We are reminded of her legacy every week at The Wellesley News.
Being able to work with a group of driven women journalists within the Wellesley community is unique and elusive outside of this campus. Roberts and her generation of women reporters have torn down a number of the roadblocks we will inevitably face, but an almost unfathomable number of them still remain. As students preparing ourselves to enter our respective professions, we are forced to contend with a persistent gender and wage gap, sexual harassment, discrimination, imposter syndrome — the list continues.
More often than not we must teach ourselves the mechanisms that will incrementally change the landscapes we will find ourselves in once we leave Wellesley. We teach ourselves to rely on the Wellesley network. Amongst her numerous other accomplishments, Roberts is also remembered for not only inspiring other women but actively uplifting them during her life. When she returned to campus in 1994 to give the commencement speech, Roberts made a point to tell the graduating class of their role as ‘caretakers’ in society. Even in the midst of the pain and wrongdoing in the world, one into which a number of us will suddenly be thrust next May, it is important to remember that that role falls, fortunately or unfortunately, onto us as Wellesley students.
Twenty five years ago, Cokie Roberts said: “I don’t just see this role of women as caretakers in the world that I cover, I see it in the world I live in. Slowly, slowly, slowly but definitely, the workplace is becoming a more humane place because of the presence of women.”
That is the legacy we hope that our lives and careers will uphold.