Good evening. I’m Penelope Kegel-Flom, interim director of the Women’s Studies Program at the University of Houston. I want to welcome you to the fifth and final program in this year’s Living Archive Series sponsored by the Friends of Women’s Studies. The mission of the Living Archives is to present a sense of the complex history of women in Houston. Through the programs this year, we have learned about the struggles and accomplishments of women physicians, women attorneys, Southeast Asian immigrant women and their daughters, book authors, and tonight we’ll learn about women of the television news. This series also serves to introduce you, the community, to the Women’s Archives and Research Center, or WARC, at the University of Houston. Your ticket to this event is a contribution to the WARC. The Archive opened just this past fall with its first collection, which is the archives of twenty years of papers of the Houston Area Women’s Center, which is a fascinating history. The Archive serves the Houston community, as well as students and faculty researchers. The Archive and Research Center will continue this summer with a summer intern working on the papers of Nicki Van Hightower and on into the fall with further collections.
But tonight our living archive focuses on life beyond the camera, the women of Houston television. Our panel moderator is Mitzi Vorachek, director of community education at the Houston Area Women’s Center. A former college English instructor, Miss Vorachek brings her considerable communications skills to oversee education, public relations and the hot line at the Women’s Center. And you’ve undoubtedly seen Mitzi on television herself now and then, speaking out on issues related to violence and abuse. Tonight, following the interviews, there will be a chance for you to ask questions and then stay for a few moments to meet our panelists and have some refreshments. And now what you’ve all been waiting for, our panelists. Well did you know that KTRK Channel 13 is the most watched television newscast in st-- in Houston, or perhaps this is due to the superb and sustained work of one of our guests, Elma Barrera, Barrera. She joined the station in the early nineteen seventies, as the first Hispanic woman in Houston’s TV news. And at the time, one of just two women at Channel 13. Her television career began on Houston’s public broadcast service channel, Channel 8, in the early seventies, where she did a weekend news broadcast in Spanish. Well known for her support of Chicano women, Miss Barrera chaired the first national Chicana conference here in Houston. Sue Davis, our other guest tonight, is currently executive director of Houston’s new talk radio station, KRTK. She produced and reported documentaries for KUHT TV until 1995 when she became assignments manager for KNEW TV. A self-described reporter-editor-producer, she says that she thrives on doing many projects at one time. Sound familiar? She tells us also that she’s always on the outlook for constant change in her eclectic career. Those are her words. So I think we’re in for a very interesting evening, and I’ll turn it over to Mitzi.
Mitzi: Thank you, Penelope. This is a little bit of a role reversal tonight. I don’t know how nervous you are about being on the other side of an interview. I’m a little nervous interviewing, too. I’d rather be interviewed than interview.
Elma: It’s not as much fun on the business end *.
Mitzi: You’ve never been interviewed before?
Elma: No, Mitzi, just, I can’t, yeah, it just makes me really nervous, so, we’ll see.
Mitzi: Good. So everybody’s nervous tonight because of the role reversal but we’re gonna forge ahead anyway and start with the first question, which is How did you get your start in broadcast journalism? I’ll start with you Elma. How did you get your start?
Elma: Well I was working for the Magnolia YWCA on Navigation and I went to-- I was invited to participate in a panel discussion about women at radio station KAUM. That was before you were born. You don’t--
Mitzi: Oh I don’t know.
Elma: Anyway, and the news director, after, after the thirty-minute panel discussion asked me if I wanted to produce a weekend documentary type show on Hispanics, about Hispanics. So they didn’t pay me any money, and after about three week-- three months, they started to pay me twenty-five dollars a week to do it. Now this was not inviting a guest or guests and doing the interview. This was documentary. I made phone calls, I paid visits, and then I spliced it together, then I wrote it and I did it all. And so that’s how I got started. And then from there it was automatic to go to TV.
Mitzi: What kind of a radio station was it?
Elma: It was hard rock.
Mitzi: And it no longer exists?
Elma: No, no, it didn’t-- I think it was on for two or three, maybe four-- It was very popular at the time, but it’s not there anymore.
Mitzi: That happens in the radio business.
Mitzi: And Sue how did you get your start?
Sue: I started in college. I was a journalism major at the time and took a TV directing class and really just fell in love with it. I felt like this is what I want to do is broadcasting, and started to work at the PBS affiliate at College Station, which is a professional station like Channel 8 here. And I ran camera and I did master control and I directed my last year. We had a professional newscast every night and I directed that. And that’s, that’s how I started. And that was the beginning of-- and now in my twenty-fifth year in the career.
Mitzi: Both of you-- Elma, how many years have you been in the broadcast media?
Elma: Twenty-five years.
Mitzi: And how did you go from this radio, this weekend radio show into television.
Elma: Well I had done, during the Chicana conference that we had, I had done some, some documentaries and some interviews and put them together and entered them into some kind of a national contest. And I didn’t get an award, but I did get honorable mention and there was a book-- I think it was the Armstrong something award-- so they published a book about yeah thick, little paperback, and so my name was there, the honorable mention was there, and so my boss, the news director then at Channel 13, heard about it. Then I went to Channel 13 and to Channel 2 and 11 to do some interviews with the general managers to ask why there weren’t any Hispanics in the media. And so that’s how I met people at Channel 13. And so those two things helped me get hired.
Mitzi: And you were one of two women at the time.
Elma: Yeah, there was only one other when I was hired.
Mitzi: And what, and what was it like being one of two women in the early seventies, the only Hispanic woman--
Mitzi: --in, in TV news in Houston?
Elma: It was-- people-- I’m not sure why people were so angry. I was real happy. The people were so antagonistic, and I don’t know if it was because I was Hispanic or because I was a woman or maybe a combination of both, or because I was new. Because I know that today when new people come in, we’re like, we really make them work and we don’t like them very much until they prove themself. So I’m not really sure why. I do know that at-- for the first two years I-- There were a lot of phone calls to Channel 13 about sending me back where I came from, and not knowing that my ancestors were here when this was Mexico, so how could I go back? Go back where?
Mitzi: They were here first.
Elma: I w-- Yeah, we were here before the Mayflower and, but, I didn’t always get to talk to these people, except oc-- on a couple of occasions. And they were just antagonistic. And then I started doing a lot of stories on women. The one on prison that I told you about. The one about why they charge women to have their clothes altered at stores and they don’t charge men. And I remember that that was always real upsetting to me and I finally did the story. And that, and the reason I’m telling you, that sounds insignificant, but there was a call from a man--I didn’t talk to him--and he said why doesn’t somebody get that Barrera broad pregnant and get her off the air. That’s a true story. And so I’m not sure, maybe later it was because of the kinds of stories I was doing. And at that time-- now maybe it doesn’t matter, but then it made a big difference, and they were anti-women. They just couldn’t quite understand. It was a new idea. It was a radical idea. And while a lot of people applauded it, a lot of people were very antagonistic and angry.
Mitzi: I think we have to remember what time it was too.
Mitzi: We’re talking about the early seventies.
Mitzi: The women’s movement is just up and running barely, just getting started, and women weren’t on television very much.
Mitzi: And certainly not doing the kinds of stories that you were doing. Tell a little bit about the prison story because I-- the jail story, because I think that’s an interesting story about discrimination against women or not even thinking about women.
Elma: Right. It was real difficult for me to get this story on the air, but I remember that I had the interviews, I had gone to the jail, I had heard that women were not getting treated fairly, that they didn’t have enough clothes, that they didn’t have enough sanitary-- How do I say this?
Elma: Sanitary napkins. And they told me some pretty horrid stories about that. This was on the phone before I got to them, and, and so I, I asked permission to go to the jail to, to see what their problems were. And they were real open. And I, I’ll never forget that one woman that was on there, saying, They don’t give us enough Kotex and sometimes the blood runs down my legs and, and we really had to have a meeting at Channel 13 to see if we could put this kind of thing on the air. Something so basic. And they didn’t have it. And it’s like not having toilet paper. You don’t talk about these things. You know, you just do whatever is necessary, and-- But it wasn’t being done for the women. And so that was, that was a big story at the time.
Mitzi: And it did get on the air.
Elma: It got on the air. Yeah. And hopefully some changes were made at, at the, at the jail. I know today it’s totally different--
Elma: --but then it wasn’t.
Mitzi: You also told me the story about when you fir-- went out with a photographer and he wouldn’t let you get out of the car.
Elma: Oh, that was very early on. That was very, very early on and it was a new photographer and he-- we-- I think it was like my first month or second month and we went to do a story, it was kind of a breaking story, and so we screeched out there, and then he, he came to a, to a stop, and he threw open the door and he said, stay in here and answer the phone, because we all had, you know, phones. Stay in here and answer the phone, and he grabbed his camera and ran out to do the story. And I was like so green. It wasn’t like I was going to go do a story every day. I wasn’t there yet. I was just kind of going along and not knowing what to do and not knowing what to say. And I just looked at him. I remember looking at him and I, I looked-- seen him run to the scene and, and I, hopefully I got out and did something, I don’t -- I think that’s what I did.
Mitzi: The reporter was in the car answering the phone.
Elma: Answering the phone.
Mitzi: Well Sue you’ve also broken some ground I think. You went to A&M.
Sue: Uh hmm.
Mitzi: Anthropology major. You were at A&M in what? The second class that allowed women?
Sue: That allowed women without restriction. Before you had to be the wife of a student or the daughter--
Mitzi: Right, right.
SueL --of a faculty member. The year after I left they had the, * their own unit in the corps, so women moved pretty quickly there.
Mitzi: Well so what was it like at A&M in those days?
Sue: It, it-- I didn’t feel like there was any-- much discrimination at all. There was about-- we were about ten percent of the student body. It was very small at the time. Only about seventeen thousand students. And we were about ten percent of the student body and I didn’t feel any kind of-- I didn’t feel harassed or anything like that. It was a very safe campus. I’ve walked around it late at night. I had an easier time in it because I was a mostly behind-the-scenes person. You know, I didn’t have the viewers calling up or the listeners calling up and, and giving me trouble. I, you know, I was mostly behind the scenes, which was fine. I mean all you had was, was the inside people. I went on from A&M to, to a, to a radio station in Denton where I was a one-person news department for an AM and FM station. So you know I did everything. And there wasn’t any, you know, there wasn’t any way you could not do everything. In radio, they’re, they’re a lot easier in radio. They’re, they’re used to hearing female voices. So I didn’t have the problems that Elma had. I was very lucky in that respect.
Mitzi: And when you got into television, was that when you went to Beaumont and Port Arthur.
Sue: Well I started in television at, at A&M, and when to Denton for a couple of years, came back to Houston for about a year and a half at a radio station here and then went to Beaumont Port Arthur for a radio station in Port Arthur and then the TV station in Beaumont. I just can’t keep a job. That’s all there is to it. So I have an eclectic career.
Mitzi: I think th--, I think that’s probably very true of anybody who’s been in radio.
Sue: But again I was, I was hired as a reporter and I was a reporter for a month and I bitched and moaned about the, the assignments editor, and they picked the worst, most disorganized person in the whole station to be the assignments person, which was the exact opposite of what you need, and so you know what happens when you open your mouth and complain about stuff: you get given the job. And so I became the assignments editor after only about a month on the air. So I, I really have not been on the air very much in TV. I was very much behind the scenes, even at Channel 8. I narrated my documentaries but you never saw my face.
Mitzi: But you came over to Houston and, and, and became a r-- radio reporter for KTRH.
Sue: Uh hmm.
Mitzi: And you were the City Hall reporter at KTRH.
Sue: Right. They hired me-- They didn’t have an opening when I first came there, but they knew that they wanted me, so they hired me two days of news and three days in sports. So I j-- I was the weekend morning sports reporter. And sometimes I wish I’d stayed in it, because the person replaced me is Jim who does the--the CBS golf and all the basketball stuff.
Mitzi: I don’t know anything about sports.
Sue: Oh I can’t even think of his name now. But anyway he replaced me and now he’s a big time hot shot-- Jim Nance -- big time hot shot CBS sports guy making a ton of money.
Mitzi: Should have stayed, should have stayed in *.
Sue: Yeah, yeah.
Mitzi: Although you did tell me that you thought that talk radio was an extension of news radio.
Sue: The way I tr-- I treat it now is, is, is specially the, the way we’ve-- the programs I’m really heavily involved with at KTRK-- We’re very involved in news, politics, and so I try to look at it as okay what’s going on today, let’s take the next step, let’s talk to the people involved in the stories and, and see what’s going-- We’ve made news a couple of times even, broken stories that way. And at KTRH I got lucky because the first pers-- the first job opening up was the City Hall reporter who left to go to a TV station. That’s how I ended up at City Hall. It wasn’t because anybody thought I was going to be particularly good there. It’s just--
Sue: --the first job that opened up.
Mitzi: turned out to be, turned out to be good. I-- We did a media seminar this weekend and Sue was one of the people on the panel and one of the other reporters said that Sue asked some of the hardest questions of anybody in town and could take her place with any reporter in terms of aggressive and good, good questions.
Elma: I’ll vouch for that.
Sue: Yeah, well thanks. I was lucky because * consider my mentor, was the new director at KTRH shortly after I came there, and he was an old City Hall reporter for the old Houston Press, the original Houston Press. And he was really highlighted and really pushed City Hall news, so I was lucky that I had a boss who thought City Hall news was important. A lot of them don’t.
Mitzi: And, and incredibly important it is, and there, there are some legends about both of you, and, and-- When we first started this archives, Elma, someone said-- We had a panel that were women who had been activists in the nineteen seventies, many of whom had been involved at the Women’s Center and the International Women’s Year, and several people said, You’ve got to get Elma Barrera for the archives because she was also one of the great, the great legends of the nineteen seventies in her activism, and Sue of course, you are legendary for having made Kathy Whitmire cry. I know you think this is a--
Sue: But it’s not true.
Mitzi: Well I read it--
Sue: It’s an urban legend but it’s--
Mitzi: Now wait. I read it in the paper and--
Sue: Well you read it in the Houston Press.
Mitzi: Yes, and I, I did read it in the paper, and, and-- not that I always believe what I read in the paper, but let me just read for you what they say about Sue. Tim Flack, of course, who is an urban legend himself in the Houston Press, called you an all-star irritant, one of the four reporters who are on Whitmire’s media apocalypse list, and that includes-- and you, you know who they are -- Wayne Dolcefino, Paul Harrison, who was with the, the Post, and the Chronicle’s Deborah Tedford, and then of course radio, KTRH’s radio City Hall reporter Sue Davis. What goes on to say, Sue is in a class all of her own. Years ago she actually managed to ask a question that resulted in Whitmire’s fleeing a City Hall news conference in tears. Whitmire’s last words before parting were, “Sue, we’re watching you.”
Sue: Well that part was true.
Mitzi: Sue--Tell us what you asked, and then, did she cry?
Sue: No, she didn’t cry. I don’t really remember what it was that set her off. She was-- it was during a campaign season and I think it was, it was Lance [Laylor] who had been saying something--he was City Controller at the time--had been saying something about her that morning and everybody was just, well what do you think about what he said, and, and I was trying to clarify, well do you mean he says this or, or, you know whatever, and then she, that’s when she just exploded, and she was going to be watching me and monitoring me very closely, and she sort of stomped out, but she didn’t really cry. She stomped out and called Garvin and told him to fire me, which she did on a regular basis, which absolutely actually guaranteed that I would never leave City Hall. I got burned out on it at some point and I begged Garvin to let me leave, but if I, if, if I did, then it would look like he was giving in to her. So I could never leave. I was there for six years.
Mitzi: I love that.
Sue: So you did ask the question but she didn’t cry.
Mitzi: No, she didn’t cry. But, but it’s come down as everybody believes she’s cried. The legend has perpetuated--
Sue: Well she didn’t cry in your presence, but you don’t know what she did behind closed doors.
Elma: Well that’s true. I did see her cry one time. When, fi-- it wasn’t firefighters, it was police officers filled the City Council chambers. They were angry about pay raises and, and they filled the chambers and they had protestors coming from Fort Bend County who wanted the city to fight against a landfill down there, and they filled the Council chambers and were flowing into the hall and it got very hot. The air conditioning wasn’t working, and she was trying to get them all to leave, and, and you could hear little, quavering voice, and it was a really bad situation, and, and George Grenias helped de-fuse that, and John Goodner, who was a Councilman at the time, convinced her to, you know, let them stay, let them say their piece, and then they leave. And then they did. But that was, that was the closest I’ve ever seen her coming to crying.
Mitzi: What stories are you most proud of that, that you’ve done? That you-- let me, let me go to you, Elma. This is for both of you,but I’ll go to you. What stories that you’ve done in your career do you remember and are proudest of.
Elma: Well I really enjoyed doing those early feminist stories at the very beginning of my career, because it was new, no one had ever done it, nobody really thought of doing it, there weren’t enough of us to do it, and so I’m real proud of, of those stories that I, that I have already mentioned.
Mitzi: Was it hard to do them? I mean did you, did you have to fight management--
Mitzi: --to get to do them?
Elma: --I did, yeah, because I suggested many more that were never done, until they started to soften up, and so, anyway. But one of the ones that I, I especially remember because they sent me with this female photographer is when-- it was in the late seventies and there was an earthquake in Guatemala, and so they sent me. I was still relatively new to be sent out of the country because we just don’t travel out of the country. So they sent me and they sent Phyllis [Deeter], who is a female photographer, the only female photographer. We, we usually try to have one. We don’t have any right now, the last one left a few months ago, but Phyllis and I were sent, and I learned later that we were the laughing stock of the news room because they had sent us as a team and because we didn’t have that much experience, you know, like ten or fifteen years experience. And of course the people that didn’t get to go were very upset. But you know that’s, that’s sort of normal. But we had quite an experience in Guatemala, both Phyllis and I because it, it was, it was a man’s job, and all of the reporters that were sent there were male. All of them. Phyllis and I were the only, were the only females. And even if I had gone by myself or she had been the only photographer, she would have been the only female to cover the earthquake because they were still having tremors. Is that what you call them, tremors?
Mitzi and Sue: Uh hmm.
Elma: After, after shocks, or whatever. And so it was, you know, a little dangerous, and in fact I was in-- asleep in one of the houses that we slept with our clothes on because they told us, We don’t know what’s going to happen and if you hear a rumbling, just get up and run out. And in fact we did and we all ran out and we were all pretty safe, but it was, it was real dangerous. And, and we got on some little planes that were like for four people, in those little bitty aircrafts that we rented to, to get to other parts of Guatemala because the roads were, were all cracked up because of the earthquake. And that was probably the first time that I knew that I was going to die. There was no doubt in my mind. I think that’s been the only time that I had thought I was going to die, and you, and you really do see your life in a few seconds. And I was on that airplane, little bitty airplane. In fact-- We looked down, there was-- we were going to land on a road, and there was an, an, a small airplane that had crashed on that road before we landed. And that was the picture and the cover, and the cover story of the-- Oh God I don’t remember the name of the -- Anyway, I’ll remember the name of, of the, of the magazine. The orange-covered magazine, the National Geo--, Geogr--
Sue and Mitzi: The National Geographic.
Elma: The National Geographic. Yeah. And that was the road. And it was like that big a deal that, you know, what a dangerous situation that had been. So that always made me proud.
Elma: That I was, that I was there with, with the best of them, with such little experience and as a woman.
Mitzi: Yeah. What about you Sue?
Sue: Well I’m really proud of the fact that I probably was the first reporter to do an extensive reporting on AIDS back in the early eighties, back when I, when I-- I’ve gotten-- and I got a lot of grief about it. Why are you writing these stories about this gay disease. And I really was the first one to-- really mainstream media. Although the gay press had been doing a lot on it, but I was really the first mainstream media to do any reporting on that. And I guess probably my-- the most famous thing is, is the Challenger disaster. I’ve become the Herb Morrison of Houston. And Herb Morrison-- You had the anniversary of the Hindenberg disaster last year. Herb Morrison is the guy who called the Hindenberg disaster. Oh the humanity. You’ve probably all heard that. There are people still this day who will come up to me and say that their memory of the Challenger disaster is hearing me describe it. I was live on the air talking, doing the liftoff when it happened.
Mitzi: Were you down at NASA?
Sue: I was here. Yeah, Johnson Space Center. I’d lo-- I’ve never seen a liftoff from Kennedy. I’d like to but it really doesn’t make sense. It’s more practical, because once the t-- the shuttle clears the tower, Houston takes over. So it’s really much more practical to be here. We had a little studio, KTRH had a little studio down there and, and I was calling it. And we of course-- It was our rule that we stayed on through the solid rocket booster separation, which was approximately two minutes after liftoff, because if anything was going to happen, that’s where it was going to be, and of course that’s what it was. And so that was, that was a tough one. Had to stay on the air the rest of the day. Went back down on Friday and anchored the-- We did live coverage of the funeral services that President Reagan to speak at and really I did not realize how much in shock I was until that weekend. It finally all hit me, because you stay so busy. You have to put it out of your mind. You can’t even think how it’s affecting you. People you know, you just, you know, you know what’s that like and--
Elma: Uh huh.
Sue: -- you can’t say, Oh my God the humanity. You just have to just do your job and think about it later after it’s all over. So I guess that’s probably the, the best known thing that I’ve done other than making Kathy Whitmire cry.
Mitzi: And you, you were there. I think the Challenger too is one of those, one of those moments in history like the Kennedy assassination where people remember where they were for many reasons. I think it was the teacher that was on board and, and everything that happened--
Sue: Well it was a local story.
Sue: I mean this, this was a local, this was a Houston story. All those people lived here. That’s-- I think that’s why it was so important to people in, in Houston.
Sue: And then I’ve cov-- I’ve done a number of, of documentaries at Channel 8 that I’m really proud of. And of course I got to travel, which was very, very lucky. And I’ve been to places most people don’t get to go. China, which I hated and South Africa which I just loved. I’d love to live in South Africa. Wonderful people, beautiful country, just a wonderful place.
Mitzi: You also told me about a documentary that I don’t know if it ever showed, but it was something called Shades of Truth that you had done and that you really enjoyed.
Sue: Oh yeah. It was my first documentary. It was requested by the Museum of American Television in Chicago for their archives. It was, it was the first one I’d done. It was about an incident in, in the Briargate community, which is part of Fort Bend County that’s in the city of Houston. It’s a mostly black community, and there was a little Chevron station and store run by a little Vietnamese family down there, and one night a young black man, high school kid, came in and started tearing up the store and threatening the owner, the grandfather of the family. And the grandson who was also high school student shot him and killed him. And it turned out to be a real sad racial situation with the black community picketing the station. They, the Vietnamese family finally had to sell it. And I got really lucky. Coming in afterwards I talked to everybody who was involved. Every player in that thing. And put the whole thing together and, and it was funny because my media friends said, you know, these guys were wrong, they were, they were picketers who were coming from out of town, and, and even the local folks didn’t want them down there. You know, who are these people coming in telling us what we should do? And then my media friends: Boy, you should have slam dunked these people. You should have made them look really bad, you should have... But, you know, I think if you look at it, everybody who’s seen it said, God those people were awful. They, you know, I think one of the things that we do is we underestimate the audience. You don’t have to spell it out for them. You don’t have to hand it to them. You don’t have to say, Look, these guys are bad and these guys are good, and here’s what you’re supposed to see. If you just present the story, people will figure it out.
Mitzi: Uh hmm.
Sue: Covering City Hall, I’ve had to cover news conferences and a whole of lot of really crazy political people. You know, Queen Elizabeth is part of the drug cartel and Henry Kissinger had Al Moreau killed, and, you know, all these sort of con-- And all my friends go, Oh how can you write stories. And I’m-- Of course I’m stuck going to do that because they all have their news conferences on the steps of City Hall. So your assignment-- Well you’re already there. You can go cover it, right? So I just come back and write a completely straight story. Just how would these people say? And everybody goes, Boy these guys are crazy. Well but they’re not going to know that if you don’t do the story.
Elma: Were you there when Nicky Van Hightower was fired by the City Council?
Sue: No, that was before my time.
Elma: Ah, that was a great story.
Elma: ...City Council then.
Mitzi: Did you do that story, Elma?
Elma: I was there, yeah, I was covering City Hall at the time. And of course women were still not accepted and she had a position as a wo-- women’s advocate.
Sue: You talk about some anger--
Sue: --towards women.
Sue: That was some serious anger in that situation.
Elma: It was McConn. It was Mayor McConn. And I heard him, you know, make a lot of fun, a lot of women--
Sue: Now hadn’t Hofheinz hired her first and McConn inherited her?
Elma: I’m sorry, yeah, McConn.
Sue: Didn’t McConn inherit her and then he fired her--
Elma: Yeah, but then how was she hired? Because I remember--
Sue: Well Hofheinz hired her.
Elma: --Hofheinz rehired her. She-- They turned around and hired her right away. You remember that?
Sue: Well McConn came in after Hofheinz.
Elma: Then it must have been City Hall that h-- that fired her.
Sue: It was, it was when, when McConn became mayor I think and Council fired her, he and Council fired her.
Elma: No, okay. I don’t remember--
Elma: --the details, but I do remember--
Sue: Whatever, there was a lot of anger--
Elma: --that she was fired and Hofheinz turned right around and hired her. So, so it must have been Hofheinz--
Sue: Oh Council fired her and then--
Elma: Yeah, yeah.
Sue: --hired her as an executive assistant, didn’t have to go to City Council for approval.
Elma: And it was like the biggest joke because everybody--
Elma: --that didn’t want her around was so happy for about three seconds.
Sue: Yes, yes. And then I think when Hofheinz left office, then McConn got rid of her.
Elma: Yeah, uh huh.
Mitzi: Then, then of course, I think during those period, that period of time she was working actually with lots of coalitions in town, which later on became the Women’s Center too. So those were some interesting, interesting days for all of us.
Sue: And all that politics is also what led to Kathy Whitmire being elected mayor in 1981.
Mitzi: Yeah, yeah.
Sue: So those were all happening all about the same time. And that was all that same group, that same political group that led to Kathy being elected.
Mitzi: Well I was thinking of politics. You’re both, you’re both very political in, in many ways. I mean I think Elma, you know, going back to the seventies when you organized the first Chicana, national Chicana conference. Tell us a little bit about that and what your experiences were organizing that conference and what the reaction was nationally as well as locally.
Elma: Well I, I was at that time working at the YWCA as I had stated earlier. And we decided at the Y to have a conference. And we didn’t really know what we were getting into. So I was one of three women or maybe four women that organized it, and so we just sent out little press releases. And I, I sent out a bunch of press releases to-- I was in charge of the media and I sent out press releases to, to underground newspapers that were real popular at the time. And so we got a lot of women from California. We got-- I think we were expecting just a few, like maybe fifty or sixty women, and we got like over three hundred. And we were just were not prepared. And we weren’t prepared for militant women. We thought we were militant, but we were nothing. We were--
Mitzi: Nothing compared to California women, huh?
Elma: Compared to-- yeah, they came from Berkeley and you know these women that just knew how to fight and knew how to get riots together and that sort of thing. So. Do you want me to go into detail?
Mitzi: Well I, I think the t-- the hotdog story is a good one.
Elma: Well we, we didn’t have a lot of money. You can imagine--the YWCA--and so we went around the community, the immediate community there and got food because we were also promised to feed them. And so we got some hotdogs, and, and we got some whatever, you know, the stores there would give us. And so during one of the big-- when we all gathered in the general assembly, they had like a walk out. And they started really criticizing us, the women from California started criticizing us because we didn’t serve th-- They were Chicanas and we didn’t serve them rice and beans. We served them hotdogs, and that’s Anglo food and how could we be so insensitive. And they walked out. In fact that was the, the documentary that got me hired me at Channel 13 because I had all of that on tape and, and put it together and sent it in. But it was quite an experience because we didn’t know what to do, we didn’t know how to respond to these women that-- from California-- Of course today we would make mincemeat out of them. But back then we didn’t know how to do it. So they got away with a lot. But I understand that somebody is doing like a, a Ph.D. dissertation on the, on the conference. I don’t know that to be true because no one has contacted us, no one at the Y, me, Marta Moreno and all the other women that, that worked really hard on that conference, so I don’t really know if that’s true *.
Mitzi: I don’t suppose you have all these, this video tape that the, the Women’s Archives at the University of Houston could have.
Elma: I-- no, th--, there was no-- We didn’t videotape it at the time. We didn’t videotape that.
Mitzi: There was no tape of it at all left?
Elma: No. And I don’t know what happened to my little thirty-minute documentary. I can’t imagine.
Mitzi: Somehow I think the, the general public has this idea that all these tapes are being kept and kept forever and ever and that we’ll have all of this visual footage of all of these things. It’s not so, huh?
Mitzi: Not so, huh.
Mitzi: It should. That’s really too bad.
Elma: * attic of the Quonset hut.
Mitzi: And then of course the heat--
Elma: which is not the-- Yeah it’s--
Mitzi: -- the heat kills it.
Sue: --not a good place to keep tape anyway. Which is a good excuse then for them to throw it out.
Mitzi: Well Elma after that conference, you, you also traveled around the country making speeches. Tell us about that.
Elma: Well those underground newspapers got my name because I was the contact person, and so they called me and asked me to, to go and speak at some conferences, like in New York, New York and Boston, and I, I spoke--help me because I don’t--
Mitzi: With Sarah Weddington.
Elma: Oh that’s right with Sarah Weddington. Yeah, we--
Mitzi: Traveled with Sarah and spoke with Sarah.
Elma: I went with Sarah right after the 1972 or 73 decision on abortion, and so Sarah and I spoke at the first national abortion-- at that time we’d say abortion conference. That was, that was good. I had never seen so many women. I knew that we had a problem here in Houston, because we never really gathered. Maybe they were gathering, but I never gathered a lot of women except, you know, at the Y, those little things that we had. But this looked like thousands and thousands of women, and we all had the same mindset. It was quite an experience. And then with Sarah Weddington, you know. At the time it was a really good experience, and now I know that it was much better than I knew at, even at that time.
Mitzi: Yeah, I mean I think you, you said something to me about we, we were making history but we didn’t know it.
Mitzi: I think we just live lives and we don’t know the history--
Mitzi: --that we’re making.
Mitzi: Yeah, indeed you were making history. You also told me that you were one of four volunteers who were chosen by the White House to head up the international conference--
Elma:L Yeah, I, I was--
Mitzi: --in 1977.
Elma: I was really blessed with that one. I don’t know how that happened. I’m sure that someone must have turned my name in because I was in media, when I’ve always been in television, and we don’t get to do the things that normal people do because we have to, as you know, we can’t take sides, and, and I was really putting my job in jeopardy. But when they called and asked if I could be one of four and it was from the White House--probably not the president, but from the White House anyway--for the First International Women’s Conference here in Houston at the Rice, I was really-- I really felt honored, and that was, that was a terrific experience.
Sue: That was great. I went to that. I still have the vid-- audiotapes of it.
Elma: Do you?
Sue: Uh hmm. And the book. Yeah.
Elma: Yeah, oh yeah the book , yeah. And then of course the conference itself. We had like four or five first ladies come.
Sue: Uh hmm.
Elma: That was really neat. And we were in the, in the front page of Time magazine. You know, all four thousand of us, or fifty thousand or however many there were. Do you remember the size?
Sue: I don’t remember the number. No. But it was huge though. It was standing room only.
Mitzi: News all over the country.
Mitzi: Women had--
Sue: Oh yeah.
Mitzi: --run, had run a marathon all the way across the country, bringing a torch into Houston.
Mitzi: I was up in Philadelphia watching all of this. It was very exciting.
Elma: Oh really, you were there at the time.
Mitzi: And I was with the media. So I mean I know there were just hoards of media.
Elma: I had to get special permission from my boss. Not only the news director but the general manager, and they had said no. But then when they heard that it was from the White House, then they figured that it was okay *.
Elma: They let me do it.
Mitzi: Great, great PR. Yeah those were, those were great days. And, Sue, you also have been very active in politics. I guess between media jobs.
Sue: Uh hmm.
Mitzi: When it-- when you could, you could go for one side or the other. And you actually picked a relatively liberal side if I am not mistaken. You were--
Sue: I did Democratic Party politics. I, I, I can’t hide that. I mean that’s what I did.
Mitzi: And you-- tell me, tell me some of the work that you did with, with political candidates in Houston.
Sue: Well I, I guess the best, the best known campaign is I ran Vince Ryan’s first campaign for City Council and worked for him at City Hall for a while. I worked with Jim Greenwood, and I worked in the unfortunate Fred Hofheinz campaign and a whole number of others, some of them, some of them I sat-- worked with them and then they decided well they didn’t want to run after all, which is, you know, a legitimate thing. You don’t, don’t run a campaign if you can’t, you know, if you’re not going to make it. So I bounced around in a number of campaigns and political consulting for a couple of years.
Mitzi: And, what’s the profession like now? We talked earlier about being kind of first in some of these jobs.
Elma: I make lots of money.
Elma: I mean it’s good. It’s good.
Mitzi: I wish I did.
Elma: It’s good. You know. We sacrifice-- I-- You know I don’t know about other people. I have to only speak for myself, but I sacrificed so much of my time and, and my privacy, and making no money. I mean if I’m making a little bit more or a lot more now, it’s-- I’ve lost more than I’m making because for so many years I made so little and really took a lot of crap from a lot of people. I’m not talking so much about the public, but there at the station. And again, it wasn’t necessarily because they were cruel, it was because it was the times. That’s what people did at the time. And I should have quit. I should have told them, No go, find somebody else to abuse. But I couldn’t because I was so mesmerized with holding the mic and telling the stories. Not because I had my own personal agenda. Everybody’s got their own personal agenda, but you also feel as a journalist, and I know you’ll agree with me that when you’re holding that mic, you’re responsible--
Elma: --and you feel a big responsibility--
Sue: big responsibility
Elma: --to be fair and to tell both sides or however many sides there are. And even though you might be dying inside, you can’t say it. You can’t really speak it. And, and so I couldn’t let it go, and I was, at some, some point I’m thinking I’m ruining my life because I’m not doing anything. You know, I-- yeah, I graduated from college and I’d gone to Mexico City and I had-- I you know was used to kind of being on my own and doing, going and doing things. Went to law school for a little bit. Then when I started-- And held several jobs like you. But then when I started working at Channel 13, everything came to a halt and I felt chained many times because I couldn’t speak out because I was a reporter and so I was very frustrated. And so.
Mitzi: Well and I think though in many ways you tell it, you tell it your story. You know I mean not one side or the other, but you tell, you tell the story of, of women’s lives many times. I mean I certainly see that from my vantage point at the Women’s Center. It’s there in the work that you do. I think it’s there in the work Sue does too. I mean I, I’ve watched that over the years, and seen incredible work done. I’ve heard you use the word feminist, Elma, and call yourself a feminist. Has that been a problem for you to call yourself a feminist?
Elma: Oh yes, it’s always been a problem. I guess it was when I came back from Mexico City that-- I never had any role models or a lot of role models here in, in Houston or here in Texas because Mexicans just you know were-- it wasn’t cool to be Mexican when I was growing up. It was always an embarrassment for me. And then when I graduated from college, I went to Mexico City to live for almost three years. But everybody was Mexican, and I thought, Wow. You know, from the maid to the president, and, and those were my role models in that. I think I must have developed a little bit of self-esteem, that I was okay. It was okay to be Hispanic. It was okay to be bilingual and all of that. And so that’s what made me such an outspoken person when I came back. And I probably was a little too aggressive as a feminist when I came back before I started in TV, and of course even after I was on a very personal basis, I was very agg--
Sue: You were probably too aggressive.
Elma: Yes, I was.
Sue: Yeah, me too.
Elma: Maybe we need to be at the time. Now I would never do or say the things that I did back then. I would have fights. I mean, fights with men. I was defending and, and speaking out and cursing and just doing these terrible things.
Sue: I do that still.
Elma: But so do I. I do it differently now. Curse, curse, curse, but I do it, but it’s different. And back then-- I guess back then you, you lost it a little bit more. You were more-- There was more passion and--
Sue: But you had to get their attention.
Sue: That's big part of it.
Mitzi: Don’t you think back then we were in the midst of street revolution in many ways?
Elma: You’re right.
Mitzi: Which, which no longer, no longer happens.
Sue: That’s why women swear.
Elma: Not necessary.
Sue: That’s why I learned to swear. It got their attention. I mean th-- now twenty year, this twenty-year-old coming in and swearing at these people. You know, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. You know, do you think you do it and it, you know. So the first time they listen. They listen. That got their attention. It’s like the verbal two by four up side the head. They listen to you then. That’s why I wanted to swear. And it served me in good stead.
Mitzi: And do you use the F wor-- the feminist *? Do you use the F word also--
Sue: I’m a feminist.
Mitzi: --in describing yourself?
Sue: I am definitely am a feminist. And one of the things that I have always done in my career, whether I am a reporter or putting together public affairs programs at Channel 8 or talk shows at, at 97 TALK, is I don’t want a lot of the usual suspects. I want the women experts, I want the Hispanic experts, I want the African-American experts, I want the Asian. I want the people who are really doing the stuff. I mean really doing the work. Don’t give m-- send me the politicians or the president of the company or the flack who’s going to come in and tell you what they’re doing. You know, and that makes it very difficult finding the real people who are doing this. But that’s what I do and that’s what I work very hard at. And that’s how we’re gonna, we’re gonna change things. And when people hear women, women in positions of authority, women saying things, women experts out there, they’ll get used to hearing those words.
Elma: The feminist word has always offended a lot of people. But I always got around it by saying, okay if you’re not a feminist--even though they were attorneys or whatever--okay if you’re not a feminist then that means that you don’t believe in women voting. And that would always get them. Because what else is there? I mean just like we were talking about just equality and fairness and choices and that’s what it was, and whenever I brought in the-- okay you, then you don’t believe in voting, you don’t believe that women should vote, and they had to back down.
Mitzi: Tell me, what do you think the future of broadcast journalism is? I mean one thing that, that you said when we talked earlier, Sue, was that, when-- that you’d lost your faith in television journalism the day that Barbara Jordan died.
Sue: I was at Channel 51 at the time and we had an, an affiliate in Austin who called and tipped me off before it got on the wire. So I walked out in the news room and, and you’ve got to understand 51 is-- the pay was very bad and it was sort of an entry level station, so there was a lot of young people. But I walked out in the news room and I said, okay, everybody stop what your doing, this is the only story we’re doing today. We’re all going to work on this story. Barbara Jordan has died. And I got eight pairs of eyes staring back blankly at me. Not one person in that news room knew who Barbara Jordan was. And I like to think that if I had been that age and someone had come in and said Adlai Stevenson had died, then I would know who these people are. And I, I-- a lot of it goes I think now back to colleges. Because kids are going in and they’re getting careers-- they’re getting degrees in communications, which means they come out and they know how to hold the microphone and, and you know fix their hair and their makeup right and something like that. When I was in college, I, I studied anthropology, I studied political science, I did history, I did biology. I mean I did everything, and I tried to take as many different courses as I could. That’s what you need to do--
Sue: --need to have as a reporter.
Sue: You don’t need to come and, and do Reporter 101 and learn how to smile with eighteen thousand straight teeth. I mean, but that’s what our business is now. I mean look at, you know, it’s-- you know the most recent egregious example is, is the station in Chicago that hired Jerry Springer to do commentary. I mean this is a station that had ratings in double digits. They had like a fourteen share, which is pretty darn good. And they, they figure well we’re not doing-- you know, we can’t do our job well enough in news, let’s bring in Jerry Springer. And to the people of Chicago’s credit, within less than a week, from Monday to Thursday, their ratings plummeted to a nine, and they dumped him. But that’s where we’re going now. I mean the whole business of journalism is just-- it’s very frustrating for me right now because I’m, I’m, I can’t defend it. We’re all, you know, we’re not-- we’re no longer news organizations; we’re your friends. We’re your community. We help you. We’re your buddies. We’re going to solve all your problems and we’re going to-- you know. It’s-- there’s really-- and of course ratings time. You know, let’s-- What’s Rob Johnson’s? -- How to survive a shark attack, during this ratings period. That’s, that’s something we all need to know.
Elma: But remember that we do what the public wants us to do. Because the bottom line is money. And if we’re not making any money, it’s because you guys aren’t watching us. So I don’t know-- I can’t--
Elma: Right. I don’t know if we’re the ones that set the pace or the public. To me it’s the public. Because the minute that we come back with, with information that the public doesn’t like this...
Sue: news that's news instead of entertainment
Elma: ...we’re going to change it and we’re going to do what you guys want us to do. And so it’s the public that rules.
Sue: Sure it is. The worst things that happened to television news was when it started making money.
Sue: Because for years--
Sue: --it was, it lost money, but by god we had to do it. It was, you know, it was required. We did it as a public service--the networks and the local station. The minute it started making money, they all, all the TV people go, Oh, this is going to make money, How can we make more money, okay? So then we get in, you know, then we get in, that’s where it all started going down hill was when they started catering to the worst common denominator and what’s going to get us the ratings and not what’s going to make people’s lives better.
Mitzi: What advice would you give to someone contemplating, a young person contemplating a career in your field, Elma?
Elma: I don’t think I would tell them anything. Because they’ve already decided. You know, they, they’ve already decided that they want to be television anchors, that they want to be in front of the camera. We get probably twenty or thirty interns from all over the country every summer. And they’ve already decided that this is what they want to do. They want to be behind the camera or in front of the camera. And--
Sue: Mostly in front of the camera.
Elma: Yeah mostly in front of the camera.
Sue: They all want to be stars.
Elma: Well but not all of them. We have a lot of people, you know, that they-- We send them to different parts of the station so that they’ll get a taste of everything. And so I don’t think I could convince them to, to change. If someone comes to me or calls me on the phone, I tell them to have a Plan A and a Plan B, because it’s not easy, that easy right now to get into television. It’s very, very extremely competitive. So they have to have the second major that they can go fall back on in case they don’t make it into television.
Mitzi: If you had it to do over again, would you do the same thing?
Elma: Well if you’d asked me that ten years ago, I guess I would have said no, but yes, today I guess I’d have to say yeah.
Mitzi: Sue, what advice would you give?
Sue: Well first of all I’d tell them to get a rounded education. Don’t just take the communications classes. Get out and learn other things. Because that’s what you’re reporting on. You’re reporting on things that people are doing or things that happened in the past. You’re not just doing hair and teeth. I would get experience as internships like at Channel 13. Most organizations have them. Experience, experience. That’s the only way you can learn this job is by doing it. I always had a-- you know, people have-- kids have very unrealistic expectations. When I was at Channel 8 we had like four kids, I think, that came through and spent a day with different people and, you know, my turn to come sit down and talk with them is three women and, and one young man, and, and well what do you want to do? What, what field and what area do you want to go into? And they’re all-- The boy of course wanted to go into sports reporting and the girls all wanted to be anchors. All three blondes and they all were going to be anchors. You know. Do you remember the-- few years ago when TV anchors became popular and all the women in all the beauty contests-- What do you want to be?
Elma: Wanted to be anchors.
Sue: They all wanted to be TV anchors. Like you know this is something you just do. And Unfortunately now it’s become that way.
Elma: No, no, no, no.
Sue: It is--
Elma: Not everywhere.
Sue and Elma: Not everywhere but [overtalk]
Elma: Okay look at Channel 13, we, we, I would not be there--
Sue: That is an unusual station that has that kind of stability. It’s very unusual. Most other stations they don’t have the kind of stability in reporters and anchors like you have there.
Elma: Well a lot of us wouldn’t be at Channel 13 if they took us only for appearance sake.
Sue: Uh hmm.
Elma: Alvin Van Black, Marvin, me.
Sue: Okay, look at Channel 11.
Elma: Ed Brandon.
Sue: They just took a very good reporter, Bill Jeffries, who’s covered City Hall for a very long time, he started there when I was there, and they fired him. For what reason? He’s a very good reporter. But he’s not twenty-five years old and doesn’t have a big mane of blonde hair and forty thousand teeth. I was always had, I always a test-- When I would do-- When we did scho-- We still do scholarship-- The Press Club of Houston Educational Foundation, we do scholarships, and, and the few years that I was on the committee to interview students, I always had my sort of trick questions, whether I’m going to give them money or not. And I’d say okay, and they would say they would want to be in say television. I’d say, okay, you want to be in television. Alright. You, you’re graduating, you’ve sent out a hundred letters to every TV station in the country, and the only one that’s answered your letter is the Brownsville TV station. Are you going to go there? And th-- you know, half of them would go, oh no, I’m going to hold out. I really want to work at Channel 13. That’s my thing, so I’m just going to holdout and I’m not going to work there. Well I, I didn’t get, you know, they didn’t get any money. Because they were going to get disillusioned and they were totally unrealistic. The ones that said I’ll go down there and sweep the floors if I have to to get into the business. I mean that’s how we started. I would have swept the fl-- I mean I went to a one-- I was a one-person news department for two radio stations, okay?
Mitzi: And, and Elma was in her car while the reporter--
Mitzi: --photographer was out there--
Sue: Yeah the kids that say, well I’ll do anything to be in the business. Those are the ones who are getting the money. You don’t see that anymore. You don’t see, I’ll do anything. They all like oh yeah, I’m gonna-- and they also, you know, the, the ones at least that I talk to, they all want to be on the air. That’s the glamorous thing. Nobody wants to-- nobody understands that the behind-the-scenes person, person, the real power. You know I’m the executive producer at--
Elma: Excuse me. I’m not sure about that all the time.
Elma: I don’t know if they’re the persons with the real power. You know, we’re the ones that hold the mics--
Elma: --we’re the ones that are going to talk so we also--
Sue: Who assigns you the story?
Elma: Well yeah but they have power but so do we. I mean.
Sue: You do but--
Elma: You can’t say that they’re the ones with the real power and we have no power.
Sue: I’m not saying you didn’t have any power. I’m saying the power is the ones th--, th--, the assignment editors who assign the story, the producers who choose which stories air and what order they air in, the news director who decides whether we’re going to do-- I mean--
Elma: Everybody plays a good part.
Elma: Everybody plays a good part
Sue: But they all want th--, you know.
Elma: and an important part. A lot of it--
Sue: I’m an executive producer at 97 TALK and the talk show hosts all want to do these things and I’m the one who says no. I’m the producer. When I was at Channel 8 I produced the, the talk show. Well I decided the topic, you know, I briefed the host, I had set up the interviews and the tape things that she did. I was the one who made all the decisions, but, you know, they, I want to be on TV. The, the people who are on TV are also the people who have the least input into it. They’re just the faces. They’re just the voices.
Elma: That’s for Sue. In my situation it’s not that way. We have to be just as informed as the producer. The new director usually knows everything. Our news director knows everything. I don’t know where he gets it from or how he does it, but he does.
Sue: Yeah, Richard Longoria.
Elma: That’s why he’s the news director.
Sue: Sure I worked with him at KTRH *.
Elma: But, but we have a lot of people. We turn in three stories a week. We have to suggest three stories a week. And we are in control of the story once we get the story. So it’s-- What Sue is doing is-- What’s she’s saying is very true for that end of the business. But for my end, that’s not true. Because I’m beginning to feel like I’m just not important and don’t count and don’t know what I’m talking about, and that’s not true at all. We also have a lot of interns that do come and we tell them you have to get your tape together and you have to send it to Brownsville. And they do because they know they’re not going to get started at Channel 13. So we have, I don’t know how many interns that are now reporters starting ten years ago that did go Brownsville and that did go to Beaumont that some of them are at Channel 2 and Channel 11. So a lot of them know that that’s the only-- They don’t have any alternative, so they, they do that. And they’re being successful.
Sue: Right. Those are the ones that are going to be successful. The ones that say well I’m gonna start at the top are gonna be discouraged and end up going into PR.
Elma: Well they may say it in the beginning but you know they know that once they get into the internship and, and face the reality that they’re going to have to go that way.
Mitzi: It's a little hard to break into the discussion here, but I think I’m going to do it anyway. It’s, it’s, it’s about that time to, to kind of wrap it up and I think that one, one issue that I, that I’d like to call everybody’s attention to is that there’s a couple of very strong women here who I think have really put some destiny into what you all have done. And I admire both of you tremendously for the work that you do. I know, Elma, you, your, you, you e-Mailed me some stuff that your parents had been workers and farm workers and that you’d been pulled out of school--
Mitzi: --several times when you were in elementary school.
Mitzi: And it's because you spoke Spanish in the classroom.
Elma: Yeah, we didn’t have bilingual education at that time, and the teachers really took it out on me because I didn’t speak English. And that was probably one of the worst, one of the worst times of my life, because I was so little and so helpless and I, I didn’t know I was Mexican. You know, you don’t know. But they let me know. And so that, that did a lot of damage to my self-esteem and, and it still is there a lot. And it’s real difficult sometimes to walk into a room and go uh oh do they like Mexicans here? It’s not-- Here in Houston it’s a lot better, but in a small town in, in Texas it, it was real bad, and I suspect that it’s still the same. Not exactly the same but I suspect that those things are still happening in the small towns here in Texas. So those were the hard times.
Elma: And then I came to Channel 13 and for fifteen years it was pure hell, but it’s gotten a lot better.
Elma: I knew how to fight.
Mitzi: Do, do you all have questions? Have you got-- And actually, I, will, we, I can also take them verbally. I mean I, I’ll do these and then I’ll take them verbally, and I’ll repeat the questions so that the, the camera can hear it. This one says, What do you think of the way reporters and anchors are presented on TV today? And have the gender politics changed in a big way? What do you think of the way women reporters and anchors are presented on TV today?
Sue: Well I mean they still have to be-- You, you’re not going to see old women anchors. You’re just not. I mean even back in college I mean the thing was the day a woman as ugly as Eric Sevareid gets to be an anchor on TV you’ll know we have it made. Women still face that problem that when they get old, they’re off the air. Especially as anchors. I’ve a friend of mine who, who last year renegotiated her contract as an anchor who was really excited and said, by God I’m going to make them watch a woman grow old on the air.
Mitzi: Elma what do you think?
Elma: Well Shara is in her forties and I think, you know, she has a lot of respect. She’s real smart. And she’s done her groundwork and her homework and she, you know, would know who Barbara Jordan was and, and she just-- I, I really respect her a whole lot because she is so smart and, yes, she, she has blonde hair, but I think that’s okay too.
Elma: And at my shop I don-- I just don’t see it the way that other people see it, because we, we’ve hired-- Marvin is in his seventies. I know we’re talking about women.
Sue: We’re also talking about journalists.
Elma: Let’s, let’s wait to see what happens to me. Because I’m the oldest, and I asked the other day because we have a new general manager. And I didn’t ask him but I asked Richard, my news director, when-- On May the second I celebrated by twenty-fifth anniversary there at Channel 13 and so I asked him, you know, and I get-- it was kind of a joke question-- but I asked anyway, if I was going to get fired, or if I was going to be put out to pasture. And he said, Elma, nobody here at Channel 13 is going to get fired because of their age. Because of the way you work, yes, but not because of their age. So, I don’t know. We’ll see. I feel safe. I, I don’t feel threatened.
Elma: But who knows what tomorrow will bring? I want to be the one to walk out of there. I don’t want them to let me go for whatever reason. Because I’ll never know the real reason. I-- There’s always a hidden agenda, and they’re not gonna tell you. They would be fools to tell you. So I don’t really know what’s going to happen to me.
Mitzi: Hopefully you’ll be around for a long time. The next question is, What, where does your strength under fire come from? You want to take that one Sue?
Sue: It just comes from within. I’ve not really had a whole lot of support in my career, so I, I’ve been alone most of my life, personally, and it just, it just comes from within. I don’t really need-- I’ve developed to where I don’t really need a lot of people patting me on the back and telling me I’m doing good. Yeah, I know I’m doing good. It doesn-- I, I certainly don’t mind people telling me I’m doing okay, getting an occasional pat on the back, but it, it, it comes from within. I’ve just developed a very strong inner confidence, inner peace within myself. But I know I do good. And I don’t really need a lot of the, a lot of the stroking that some people, that some people need. And I’ve just-- It’s just happened that way. I don’t know-- the question did I, was I strong to begin with or did, you know, and that’s why I’ve had this career or did I-- did the career develop it. I don’t know which came first. I’ve always been a very independent, go-my-own-way, I’m-gonna-do-it-my-way kind of person, so maybe I was just born that way and that’s what led to the career.
Elma: I really believe that. Because I remember in the third grade-- You know it doesn’t snow here in Texas very often, and in the third grade it had, it had-- there was ice, when we had a little patch of ice about that big on the school ground and everybody was lining up so that we could slide across the ice. And it was a long line and I was the only little girl, until a l-- I didn’t notice, I hadn’t noticed because I wanted to slide in it as much as anybody else. One of the little boys came over and says, Excuse me, this is only for boys. I slid. Well it’s-- you know, nobody ever told me anything when I was in the third grade. I didn’t know that I was supposed to or not supposed to do that. I just did it. And I think that you’re right. You’re just born that way, and then you can, you can either arrest it or, or you can do whatever you want to do with it.
Sue: I’m trying to be real close with my niece and trying to develop that in her, ‘cause she’s had a tough kind of life, and I’m trying to work very hard and I brought her to Take Your Daughters To Work Day, and Mitzi got on the radio, and we, and interviewed her on the radio last month.
Mitzi: It was fun, it was great. I don’t have any other questions, but I’ll, I’ll certainly take them from the floor, and, Penny, tell me how much time we have and do you want to take them to about eight fifteen?
Audience member: I don’t know if others have the same experience, but often times when I’m watching the news on television I find myself trying to figure out whether or not the anchor person or reporter is reading. And I’ve watched his or her eyes, and I watched-- and the way they say things and how the phrasing....
Elma: Well let me say that if--
Elma: No, okay, let me, I’ll just clue you in. If we’re in the studio, we’re reading.
Audience memeber: If you’re in the studio, you’re reading.
Elma: Ninety, ninety-nine percent of the time.
Elma: Yeah, we have a teleprompter.
Audience member: Now reading what you wrote...
Elma: If I’m reading it, I wrote it. When the anchors read it, I’ve written for the anchors, the leads. That, you know, they can change or not change, et cetera, but, you know, we, we get all of that, give it to the anchors. They do a little bit of writing or rewriting, and then they read it. But it's, you know, the big camera, and it’s in big letters, you know, with the teleprompter going before them, so.
Sue: And you people who have, have been in the business for a long time, like Elma and the anchors there, you develop the ability to, to read it but not sound like you’re reading it.
Sue: In fact we were had a discussion at the radio station today just about this. I’ve got somebody that, that I’m working with who really wants to learn radio, doesn’t have much experience, and he wo-- he had read a commercial and, you know, he said, well did I sound like I was reading it? And I said, yeah, I can tell that but, but you were beginning to sound-- you were working on it and you sound natural. So if you can start reading it but not sound like you’re reading, that’s, that’s, that’s really just the result of experience. And that’s a good thing to do. And that’s why anchors are so important because that people feel like they’re really talking to them and not just reading something.
Elma: And if we’re out in the field, well, you know, if we look down, if we have something that we’re very unfamiliar with, then we write it down and we look up and down, and you know that we’re reading it.
Sue: Yeah, you’ve got your notes. You see reporters referring to their notes or--
Elma: And some don’t. Some can do it straight. It depends.
Mitzi: Another question is define the F word.
Mitzi: The word feminist. You willingly labeled yourselves.
Sue: Uh hmm.
Mitzi: So define it.
Sue: Our-- you know, it just-- women are equal and they have equal right to be jerks. We were discussing this earlier. You know, if we’re gonnna be equal then we have to admit that some women are jerks, and, and we have the equal right to be jerks and not nice people just as much as men have the right to be jerks and not nice people. And, and, so that’s all it means to me is, is that women have the same chances and the same opportunities. It doesn’t mean we get anything special, but with the same opportunities to present our expertise or our jerkiness.
Elma: Really just choices. We want the same choices. If we want to have babies, if we don’t want to have babies, if we want to be married, don’t be mar-- want to have money, want to-- if we want to be as greedy as men have been, this choice is really-- that’s, to me that’s the key word.
Mitzi: Okay. Yolanda.
Yoland: In your opinion, do you think that-- [end of side A)
[beginning Side B in the middle of a statement]
Elma: They do it on the national scale. Yeah, we get into it a little bit, but I don’t think that we do it the way that--
Yoland: What’s your opinion of that level of *?
Elma: I think--
Sue: We could go back to the Gary Hart--
Sue: --you know and everybody sort of looks at that as the beginning of really--
Elma: Right, yeah.
Sue: Well you know, I mean, the guy said, I’m not fooling on my, around on my wife, and follow me if you don’t believe me.
Sue: Well, okay, you issue a challenge like that and we’re going to follow you. The question really dissolves down to the question of the character issue and, and is that an important thing to be reported on for people who are setting themselves up as the examples. I think it really depends on who the person is. But I think there has been too much reporting on people’s lives that really we don’t need to know all this stuff and they don’t deserve to have all this stuff reported. But when, when you’re getting to a politician who is setting themselves up and making claims like I’m better than this guy and I’m more moral and this guy is wrong. I mean I think that a lot of that is fair game.
Elma: When you become a politician your life is an open book.
Sue: And I think that’s sad because that’s chased a lot of good people out.
Elma: I would never be a politician.
Sue: Unh unh. That’s another one to be behind the scenes on. That’s, that’s a much better thing to be behind the scenes on.
Sue: Again I think also another aspect I don’t like of the way journalism is going is that reporters putting, putting themselves into the story too much. And I think that’s part of this, We’re your community and we’re part of you. I mean the worst example of that was, I guess it was last year and during one of the sweeps periods Channel 11 does this Our Family Your Family thing, and every night they had a different staff member talk about some horrible personal thing that had happened to them. And I’m just imagining the staff meeting going okay, you know, you come up with a horrible story for Monday, and you come-- I mean we heard stuff about their families, their mothers, their brothers, their kids. I mean, I don’t want to hear all that stuff. I can’t imagine-- I would never do something like that. I mean that k--
Elma: I wouldn’t either.
Sue: I mean that--
Elma: That’s terrible. Nobody wants to know about me. We want to know about the politicians.
Elma: Not about us.
Sue: We’re just--
Elma: I agree.
Sue: We’re the--
Elma: I agree.
Sue: --message carrier. I just-- I cringe. I felt so bad for all those reporters.
Elma: And we don’t know if they really wanted to do it because my office tells me, You have to be in cutaways. In other words, when I’m interviewing somebody--
Sue: Uh hmm.
Elma: --they, you know, shoot her, the politician, and then me to let them know that I’m there. We have to do standups, the little summary at the end or in the middle of bridge. We have to. And there are some stories that don’t call for that. That is ridiculous--
Sue: Uh hmm.
Elma: --to be in there. But they tell us, and if they’re the ones who sign the paycheck, guess what? I’m gonna do it. I have to.
Sue: Yeah. But that’s certainly not to the extent of forcing people to reveal--
Elma: That was a bad one.
Sue: --horrible story about their family. I can’t imagine-- * families feel like about that?
Elma: But what’s the bottom line?
Sue: Show me the money.
Mitzi: We’ll take another question. Demetria.
Demetria: Yes. Quick question, how is the local media competing with national networks or *?
Mitzi: The question is, How do you see local networks competing with national news?
Sue: I’m not sure what you mean, competing with them.
Demetria: Well, in a sense that I’m, I’m * media * ratings for both * as far as --
Demetria: -- programs. In the next ten years where could that go? I mean we’re looking at * Elma Barrera reporting on the story--
Elma: I don’t see it as competitive. National news will always be national news. Local news, we will always have local news. And nobody’s going to take that away from anybody, and the, and the national people, they’re going to do the national stories. I mean that’s all there is to it.
Sue: As long as the local news is making money, they don’t care.
Elma: Right. And they will always make money.
Sue: The talk show is definitely a local phenomena, although it’s gone national too.
Elma: Hopefully that’s temporary. Hopefully it’s a fad that’s going to die out.
Mitzi: Well Sue doesn’t want it to die out *.
Sue: The talks shows? Thank you very much.
Mitzi: She wants it to hang around for awhile.
Elma: I’m talking about the bad ones.
Sue: Oh okay.
Elma: I’m talking about--
Sue: Well, what, what you’ve seen in the talk shows is that they’re, they’re virtually all conservative. You know, this conservative, white, angry male sort of thing, and, and we, we’re really sort of swimming against the, the tide on that one.
Mitzi: It’s going to be interesting. Because I don’t-- Do ya’ll know that the, the talk show, 97TALK is, is middle of the road.
Sue: Well we--You know we have a little bit of everything. We-- our political show, we’ve got one Republican and one Democrat. In the afternoon, our program director is Roger Graves who was fired from KPRC for being too moderate. So, you know, we’ve got a little bit of everything. We’re very unusual in that respect. I th-- and I think they’re going away. Rush Limbaugh’s ratings are, are going, sinking badly. The, the top, the top stations in the top markets, I was just reading, his ratings have gone up a little bit in ten of them, and he’s plummeted in ten others. And there are actually stations that are dropping him now. So I think it’s someth-- something that’s sort of run it’s course.
Mitzi: Uh hmm.
Sue: And maybe that’s a sign of it that Dan Patrick is, is hiring Paul Berlin from KQ to play music for three hours in the middle of the day of the talk station.
Mitzi: Interesting, interesting changes. Let me take one last question and then we’ll, we’ll do a wrap up here. Nobody has one last burning question?
Audience member: Well I have * burning question, but I guess, I didn’t know if you heard anything in, in your surroundings, but I *, were there any calls about whether or not when Ellen was shown about her coming out * our viewers *--
Elma: Well,Yeah there was a lot of discussion, a lot of laughter, a lot of jokes, but, you know, we’re liberal, real liberal in the news room. We don’t care. We dealt with that issue ten, fifteen years ago, so this was nothing. That’s the way I s-- read it.
Sue: We di-- Yeah, we did a qui-- We have an entertainment program and we did quite a bit on it, in fact had a local TV weather man on who had come out of the closet quite some time ago, come out and talking about how he had been accepted at his station.
Elma: We have a lot of gay people on, at Channel 13 in the news room, some on the air, some behind the scenes, so we don’t care. Some-- There are, I must admit, some people, a couple of people that make snide remarks. I, I walk away or I tell them, you know, what if my brother is gay, what if my nephew is gay, what am I supposed to do when you say those things. Because I’m pretty, I’m pretty confrontational about that because it’s so old and nobody’s supposed to care anymore. It’s like making fun of a black or a Hispanic. You don’t do those things any more. And they have the gall to do it because you’re gay. It really irritates me.
Sue: Yeah. You’re better than me. You try to argue. I just tell them to take, stuff a sock in it. Let ‘em, you know--
Elma: No. I don’t argue. I just tell them, what am I supposed to do if my nephew or my best friend is gay.
Sue: Right. We, we got a lot of calls from people complaining that we had done a lot on this, on the Ellen thing from an entertainment standpoint. In fact had a gay couple, a lesbian couple on with their baby and talked about their lifestyle that night. We got, we had a bunch of calls from people complaining, letters complaining about it. Doesn’t mean anything.
Mitzi: At least there’s an audience out there.
Sue: Yeah, I mean if, if you’re not, you know, making somebody angry, you know -- The way I’ve always gauged my reports is when I would get, you know, the-- once the president of the company calling in complaining that I was being unfair, I was favoring the union. And then the union guy called and complained I was being unfair and favoring the company. I figured that story was pretty, pretty damned straight down the middle. That was pretty even.
Mitzi: Well do, do you want to make one last statement to the camera and to the archives about your lives?
Elma: I don’t.
Mitzi: Not even one last whatever.
Elma: So long, goodbye. No, no, thank you.
Mitzi: What about you, Sue?
Sue: Oh, I’ve had a hell of a time in the business. I, I’ve enjoyed being in the business. I really have. I’ve, I’ve done radio,television, politics. I’ve done print. I was even at the ill-fated Internet newspaper for about a month and a half. And I don’t know where I’ll be this time next year. It’s-- I, I don’t have any plan for my career, which I think is probably the good-- I wouldn’t have done all these weird things if I had it. I wouldn’t have gone to China and South Africa. And who knows where you’re going to go? I mean I-- and when I went to Channel 8, I had no idea I was going to be traveling around the world. So you just, just let it, you know, just go with the flow and see what happens. I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but it’s going to be different.
Mitzi: Life is an adventure. Thank you all. And thank both of you.
Sue: Thanks for coming.
Mitzi: I’m very glad you did this.
Women in TV -