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Laurels for a Boston media vet

Breaking down barriers
By ADAM REILLY  |  August 27, 2008

Congrats to Boston University journalism professor Caryl Rivers, who’ll receive the Society of Professional Journalists’ Helen Thomas Award for Lifetime Achievement — named for the dogged octogenarian White House correspondent — at the SPJ’s annual convention in Atlanta on September 6. It’s an honor that Rivers, who’s paid close attention to the relationship between media and gender, is particularly happy to receive. “I’m absolutely thrilled,” she tells the Phoenix. “Because when I started my career in journalism, Helen Thomas was one of the first women in Washington who actually covered real stuff.”

“My first moment of realizing there was discrimination in journalism came in 1965,” Rivers adds. “At that time, in the National Press Club, women couldn’t sit on the floor if a famous speaker came; they had to go up into the balcony where the TV cameras were.” While profiling Carl Rowan, the path-breaking African-American journalist, for the Washington Star, Rivers entered the National Press Club with her subject — at which point she was intercepted by “two big burly guys” who promptly directed her to the women’s section. “Rowan said, ‘When I was a kid in Tennessee, I had to sit in the balcony when I went to the movie theater,’ ” Rivers recalls. “And all of a sudden it clicked.”

Today, Rivers says, the situation for women journalists isn’t perfect: she argues that they face a “glass ceiling,” and cites the paucity of female talking heads on the Sunday-morning political talk shows as evidence. But she also stresses that the overall picture for women in news is greatly improved. “In those days, there were no women television anchors, reporters, bureau chiefs,” Rivers notes. “The only place women were really allowed, for the most part, was on women’s pages. Today, girls can grow up fully expecting to be [CNN’s chief international correspondent] Christiane Amanpour, or a top editor at the Washington Post or the Boston Globe. So it’s just another universe.”

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  Topics: This Just In , Helen Thomas , Society of Professional Journalists , Boston University ,  More more >
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