February 4, 2010

The grass roots league

Our neighbor Lorraine Collins always has an interesting perspective on a wide range of topics. This time she writes about journalism -- specifically, well-known columnist Ellen Goodman. It's a piece that might catch your interest -- and perhaps spur a comment or two. Lorraine's commentaries appear regularly in the Black Hills Pioneer, and this is her most recent offering. She graciously allows us to share it with on-line readers here.
A very fine columnist for the Boston Globe, syndicated in many newspapers including some in South Dakota, retired this month. Her name is Ellen Goodman and I met her a couple of times more than 30 years ago. Just as she was retiring, she was interviewed on the Public Radio show, "Talk of the Nation." She sounded great, laughing when asked why she was retiring. Her answer was, "My editor asked me that, too, and I said, 'Why not?'" She had been a journalist for 41 years.

She still is a journalist, of course, just no longer regularly employed . I'd say we're in the same boat, except she's been on an ocean liner and my craft has been more like a canoe. I was interested to hear her say that she once worked for Newsweek Magazine in New York. A few years earlier I had a similar job at Time Magazine. We were both "editorial researchers", all of whom were women, gathering data, contacting correspondents, interviewing people, getting whatever the writer needed, handing him the file. All writers were men. After the men writers had written their articles, we would have to check those for facts. If the guy said "This is the longest bridge in Venezuela" we had to find out whether it really was.

Ellen Goodman said that people she has talked to in the intervening years were not surprised that she was discriminated against for being a woman, but they were surprised that it was legal. This was before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Ellen Goodman's career has been much more straightforward than has mine. She left New York, as I did, but she went home to Massachusetts and continued to be a journalist for the Boston Globe. Eventually she won a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. Well, I went home to South Dakota and eventually was named The South Dakota Presswomen' s Woman of the Year, but it's hardly the same. I first met Ellen in Mitchell in 1977 when this was the site of the South Dakota International Women's Year Conference. She was our Keynote Speaker and I was co-chair of this event.

Later that year, at the National IWY event in Houston, Ellen was there covering the conference and interviewed me. This long ago event, now buried in the detritus of history, was very controversial at the time. Betty Friedan was on one side, and Gloria Steinem was on the other. Should we be concerned about Gay Rights, or just Women's Rights? I sided with Friedan, thinking that the only issue we had was that gay women should have the same rights as gay men, just as straight women should have the same rights as straight men. Our side lost and the huge arena erupted with celebrations of pink and blue balloons up in the gallery. It was some experience, I tell you.

I've thought, sometimes, about Ellen Goodman and me, our similarities and differences. She continued to be a very good journalist and commentator in a very good venue, sophisticated, metropolitan, East Coast. I came back here to the hinterlands, which seems to be a place I like. Although apparently her life has been devoted only to journalism, I've been active in politics and public office, have ventured into writing fiction, which I love doing. I think well, she's been in the big leagues, and I've been in the minor leagues, but I'm comfortable with that.

I think of the Rapid City Rush hockey players, the minor league baseball players, the golfers who never quite make it to the PGA tour. Life is pretty good out here in the minor leagues, and sometimes I think I can still make a difference in some small way in how this community, this state, this nation runs its affairs. I call this the Grass Roots League.

Lorraine Collins is a writer who lives in Spearfish. She can be reached at collins1@rushmore.com.

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