Illustration from Daily Breakthrough during IWY Conference (November 1977)
Illustration from first issue Houston Breakthrough (January 1976)
The Breakthrough Story
Anita Freeman Davidson
interviews Janice Blue
How does one start a newspaper? How did
you start Breakthrough?
Back in December 1975 there was Ms.
and there was a women's press movement.
Papers like Off Our Backs (Washington,
D.C.), Majority Report (New York City),
Big Mama Rag (Denver), Pandora (Seattle),
Her-Say (Ann Arbor), Sister Courage
(Boston), and Plexsus (Berkeley) were
filling the void in their communities by
reporting on issues of the seventies that
the mass media either (a) ignored (b) distorted, or (c) trivialized. These papers
and Ms. magazine were our role models,
as were Media Report to Women, The
Texas Observer and the national journalism reviews.
I, for one, lamented the passing of the
Houston Journalism Review a year or two
earlier. Their editors and writers were all
full-time employees in the media they
were writing about. They risked their
jobs with stories that kept the Houston
media on their toes. These stories made
me realize what could be written outside
the constraints of the conventional newsroom.
As feminists, as activists in the media
reform movement, Gabrielle Cosgriff and
I found ourselves in the curious position
of being dependent on the dailies and the
stations to cover our news. Please come
to our press conference. Or we were simply reacting to something they had already
covered. Please give us equal time. Once
Gabrielle got equal time to respond to a
radio commentator's sexist remarks about
Billie Jean King - only to have the a.m.
drive-time host cut into the middle of her
rebuttal with a recording of Ain't She
Gabrielle was tired of writing letters to
the editor. She had just received the
December 1975 issue of Texas Monthly.
On the cover were three mini-clad stewardesses tearing each other up in a cat
fight to the headline: "Battle in the Sky."
Inside were three staid portraits of the
presidents of Southwest, Braniff and
Texas International Airlines with a story
on their corporate battle. I called her as
she was staring at that cover. That's when
we decided to start Breakthrough.
Gabrielle was preparing to open her
own barbeque restaurant while we were
working on the first issue. Starting a
newspaper seemed a lot easier. There were
no forms to fill out. No permits. No
building codes. No inspectors. Surviving,
however, turned out to be a lot harder for
a Texas feminist newspaper than for a
Texas barbecue house.
Where did the initial money come from?
I started the paper with about $10,000
from loans and my personal savings. This
money went to pay salaries for a circulation manager and advertising director and
production costs until it ran out six
months later in June of 1976. Fortunately,
people were still willing to commit their
time and donate their services, so from
that point on we've been strictly a volunteer operation. Also, because we are volunteer, most everyone who works on the
paper has another fulltime job. Marilyn
Marshall Jones is a photographer.
Marianne Kostakis is editor of a medical
journal. Anita Freeman Davidson and
Kathleen Williamson are artists who support themselves in eight-to-five jobs.
Barbara Karkabi works on the West Side
Reporter. And, by the way, Gabrielle's
Big Timber Barbeque is very successful.
Do you regard Breakthrough as a business
or a cause?
The editor of Figaro, an independent
weekly paper in New Orleans, called
entrepreneurship "the last refuge of the
troublemaking individual of the 1960's."
He was kind of poking fun at all his Harvard classmates who, after all their antiwar demonstrations and sit-ins, wound up
in corporate jobs. I think he was saying
that society is being deprived of its most
creative individuals as they are absorbed
into the system.
If society has absorbed its critics — the
people who point out the things that need
changing — then one of the things a small
paper can do is be a critic.
Exactly. That's a really good point.
And I think that is what's happened with
Breakthrough. We took on the media.
Not to mention the University of Texas
Board of Regents, the City Council and
the right wing lobby.
Going back to "is Breakthrough a business
or a cause?" the answer would seem to be
some of each.
Well, yes, I think it is unique in that
way. It would be hard to imagine anyone
currently employed on a daily paper staying on that job as a volunteer. So in that
sense, Breakthrough is a cause. The environment allows everybody to do after
hours what they might love to do during
the day. I guess what that shows is that
their employers are not making use of
their creative talents. Breakthrough is an
outlet for them.
On the business side, we need funds to
direct full-time energies toward circulation
and advertising. A newspaper is a business
and we won't make it on idealism alone.
How long was it from the first idea to the
About one month. A small group of
women then, as now, worked feverishly
to have Volume 1, Number 1, come out in
early January of 1976. Breakthrough was
cur contribution to the Bicentennial year.
We didn't think we could take all the
hoopla about the founding fathers without having something to celebrate the
news and accomplishments of contemporary women.
What was that first issue like?
Our lead story reported on the national
NOW protest against the nomination of
Justice John Paul Stevens to the Supreme
Court. Our feeling was that the appointment of a Supreme Court justice was
more important than the election of a
United States President. After all, a
Supreme Court justice is in for life.
And, as then national NOW president,
Karen DeCrow said in our story, "This
is the [William O.] Douglas seat and you
don't give it to [just] anybody."
NOW was the only group to document
Stevens' legal opinions on women's issues:
how, for example, his ruling on the Illinois
Supreme Court brought about the defeat
of the ERA in that state. The protest
against Stevens' nomination was a brief
wire-service story buried in one of the
Houston papers in mid-December. We
turned it into a front page in-depth story
the next month.
Where did the name Breakthrough come
Mercedes Valdivieso Callahan, now on
the Rice University faculty, wrote a book
called La Brecha. Its publication in Chile
in 1961 pre-dated The Feminine Mystique
and it had the same impact on women in
her country that Betty Friedan's book
had in ours. Women stopped her on the
street and described their lives before and
after La Brecha. The English translation
please turn to page 3
Paid—Does not apply
Unpaid-Donna Adair, Jody Blazek, Janice Blue, Gail Brady, David Crossley, Anita
Freeman Davidson, Patsy Dozier, Marilyn Marshall Jones, Barbara Karkabi, Marianne
Warfield Kostakis, Virginia Meyers, Lynne Mutchler, Gary Allison Morey, Sharman
Petri, Candace Richter, Janice Rubin, Kathleen Williamson
Cover photograph by Marilyn Marshall Jones
Second-class postage paid at Houston, Texas.
Houston Breakthrough is published monthly (except for the bi-monthly issues of July-
August and December-January) by the Breakthrough Publishing Company, 1708 Rosewood, Houston, TX 77004; P.O. Box 88072, Houston, TX 77004; Tel. 713/526-6686.
Subscriptions are $7 per year, newsstand 75 cents per copy. This publication is on file at
the International Women's History Archive in the Special Collections Library, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL 60201.