Back in the 1960s, if you were female and wanted to be a journalist, you would have had to content yourself with getting coffee for the “real” reporters (i.e. men), making copies (for men), and maybe (if you were lucky) doing research work and writing (which men would read).
Barbara Walters changed that, paving the way for everyone from Diane Sawyer and Christiane Amanpour to Meredith Vieira and Katie Couric.
She was in Toronto last week to promote her new tell-all book Audition. As she told Strombo during a taping at CBC, she felt like she’d been “auditioning” her whole life, starting with her experiences as a child, with a largely absent show-business father and a developmentally-challenged sister.
Walters’s first gig was with the Today show in 1961, where she started as a writer. She replaced Maureen O’Sullivan (yes, that Maureen O’Sullivan) on-air, though it took until 1974 for her to be given the full co-host mantle. Female news anchors were the exception, not the rule. She became the first woman to co-anchor the evening nightly news, and co-hosted 20/20 for twenty-five years. Fast-forward to 2008, and the estrogen-fest that is The View. Did we miss something?
Actually, no. Audition gives the reader a sense of history and context for female journos, and why she felt it was an important show for her to produce. The book is also a ripping good read of one woman’s struggle to balance ambition with modesty, and career with family. Articulate, funny, and sounding like a favourite aunt, her interview tonight on The Hour features Walters discussing changes to journalism and newsgathering in the digital age, and reflecting on the personal odds she’s had to overcome. She shares the reasoning behind her decision to leave 20/20, which interview she considers the most important of her career, and why Fidel Castro’s a terrible driver. Oh, and there’s a nugget of a tale about a note of support she received during her early days from a very unexpected source. Gold.
Photo by Yolanda Perez/American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.