of "la brecha" is "breakthrough." The
dictionary says a breakthrough is any significant or sudden development that
breaks down a barrier to progress. Every
time it is used in the news it has a positive
connotation, which is what we wanted the
paper to convey about women's role in
society. But, above all, it was a way to
honor Mercedes, who is my friend, and
her book and its impact on millions of
How did you feel about that first issue?
Well, of course, we thought it was perfect,
the way new parents feel about their newborn child. It was the coming together of
all of our talents and abilities - women
who were writers, photographers, artists.
None of us will ever forget the moment it
came off the press. Or the smell of printers
ink at 5:30 a.m. We realized that we had
created something not just for ourselves,
but for the community.
How did you distribute it?
We hand-addressed close to 10,000
papers of that first issue and compiled all
kinds of mailing lists. We were so excited
to have these issues arrive all around the
country. Karen DeCrow wrote us our
first fan letter. She called it "the best
women's paper in the country,"and added,
"no anti-male garbage."
What are some problems unique to starting
a women's paper?
For one thing staff structure is a very
political issue. One little item on the
agenda for our first meeting was staff
boxes, how we should list ourselves. It
ended up taking the whole meeting.
People talked about how they did not
want Breakthrough to be like other publications they had worked on with a hierarchy — a managing editor listed at the
top and circulation manager listed last,
implying less importance. They also
wanted the contribution acknowledgements to be as equitable as possible. One
woman even suggested we be structured
like a wheel - that we have a hub and
spokes-persons. Since my background
had been in film, I pointed out that in a
film each role is important to the whole
whether you're a producer, an editor, a
cinematographer, or whatever. Each contribution is important and each role
deserves recognition. We ended up listing
ourselves in an alphabetical arrangement:
art, advertising, circulation, production
and so on, and then alphabetizing our
names within each category. Whether a
person works two hours per month or
two hundred hours, the contribution
receives equal recognition. In fact, most
cf the work is done by three or four
people each month, not 30. Yet everybody's two hours is significant.
Another problem that I think is unique
to a woman's press is the difficulty of
editing and criticizing someone else's
work. Most of our writers were new
writers and we wanted to give them the
opportunity to publish their first stories.
Sometimes the stories were not well written, but we didn't know how to say, this
is terrible. So we would rewrite stories
ourselves rather than sit down with the
writer and critique the work. Time was
another factor because stories were often
assigned or handed in at the last minute.
But mainly we did not know how to criticize each other. We finally realized we
weren't being honest with ourselves or
with our writers and in the last year or so
we have made progress in articulating our
editing decisions. We've sat down with
writers and said, "Look, this needs to be
changed and this is the reason why." Now
we're told that we're really strong editors
and that writers have learned a lot from
the feedback that they have received from
No one on the paper has an editor complex, you know, the type who just can't
wait to get a blue pencil after the copy.
We all critique each other's work; each
story goes through at least three editors.
At Breakthrough the editors edit the editors. Unlike the male papers, competing
with each other and with other media, our
only competition is within each of us. We
want the best from ourselves and the best
from each other.
So many people are involved with Breakthrough. What brings them together?
People just come and knock at the door
because they really want to write, or they
want to contribute in some other way, to
make whatever their talent available to
others. We all have areas of our own
expertise, and we learn from each other.
This desire to share is what stands out.
I'm thinking of how I felt the first day I
approached this building, not knowing
what was behind the door. I knew nothing
about newspaper offices, and there I was
with my first book review. It was a very
To me that was a very significant moment.
I was so excited about your review of the
Rosalind Franklin book (March, 1978).
I remember saying something like, "Of
course, you've written before. Where have
you been and, why haven't you come
into our life sooner?" And you said, no,
as a matter of fact, it was the first story
you had ever written. I thought, this is
what Breakthrough is all about. We should
be a place for people to be discovered.
The writers hidden in all those closets.
Breakthrough has allowed individual
women and men to publish photographs
or first stories. I'm thinking now of a
woman who had worked at a club as a
waitress. She came in one day and said,
"I just want to write so much, is there
something I can do for you?" She showed
us her resume. She had a Phi Beta Kappa
degree from LSU and felt she was a disappointment to her family because with all
her education she was working at the
Greenroom downtown. She got a job as
an editor of a small publication hepe as a
result of the story she did for us. She's
very happy. That's Breakthrough.
What is a normal day in the life of Breakthrough!
Well, it starts pretty early. I'm an early
riser. Maybe some readers don't know
this, but Breakthrough lives in a large red
brick house on Rosewood with a fence
around it and two dogs in the yard. I live
upstairs with my dogs Angela and Boudu,
and downstairs is the Breakthrough office.
By 9 a.m. I'm opening the mail. Breakthrough has become such a personal thing:
if we get a lot of subscriptions one day or
if someone writes and says, "You know
that story you all did last month was really
good," it starts my whole day off well.
Then the calls start coming in. In many
ways Breakthrough acts as a woman's center. We get calls for referrals to a gynecologist or an attorney or from someone
moving into Houston. The other day a
woman called and said she and her friend
were on the Southwest Freeway with her
dog and cat and needed a place to live.
They didn't know anything about the
city. I put her on hold and made another
call. The next day she called to say she
had moved into her new apartment. Once
we housed a battered woman, pregnant,
20 years old with three children. She and
the children stayed for two weeks. Breakthrough has been all kinds of things to all
kinds of people.
Then there are all the people who work
on the paper who drop by to see how
things are doing. Sometimes they take
their sick leave or vacation from their
jobs to come and work for Breakthrough,
filing clippings, or working on our circulation and keeping our new subscriber list
up to date. That's a big part of our day,
making cards and mailing labels and recording checks and making bank deposits.
One week of the month we are in production and day and night we work on
the new issue. Generally there are three
or four people involved. As soon as we
start typesetting, we are into serious production.
Breakthrough is a pleasant environment
to work in.
I think it's because it's a home, not an
office building. We have lots of light. I
couldn't work in a place without windows. Other alternative papers I've seen
always had windowless offices, little
cubbyholes. Environment is really important to me.
People joke about our purple kitchen.
It was supposed to be blue, but the painters
made a mistake and it's kind of like
walking underwater to walk into it. We
share a lot of communal meals there.
What do you feel is Breakthrough 's most
important contribution to the community?
During Breakthrough 's first month I came
across a quote by a woman who had begun
another women's paper, Second Wave.
She said that women have always been
separated from each other, that we have
never had our own ghetto, our own street
language to remind us that we are of the
same tribe. We have been separated politically, socially, economically and racially.
A women's newspaper is a way to bring
Another contribution is political. In
the April Breakthrough we did stories on
candidates courting the women's vote.
This is a turning point in the political
recognition of women as a powerful voting
bloc. At one time it was assumed that
women voted like theirhusbands did. Now
it is obvious that the independent woman
is aware of issues. Candidates are coming
to us. Women have key positions in their
compaigns and more women are running
for office themselves. We all love the
quote from Kathy Whitmire's opponent,
Steve Jones, when he lost the City Comptroller's race to her: "When . . ''. you've
already got the lines of communication
open through a newspaper like Breakthrough, well, how could you help but be
What about Breakthrough 's daily coverage
during the IWY conference?
Oh, yes. I guess we could divide Breakthrough 's life into three periods: pre-IWY,
IWY, and post-IWY. The pre-IWY period
was really one of growing pains, a struggle
for identity, learning. Much of our time
was spent just getting the next month's
issue out. IWY was the high point. It
made us realize that with energy and creativity all coming together, we could be a
daily newspaper. Planning for it began in
August but every day brought some surprise. Janet Beals, an editor of a Harris-
burg (Pa.) newspaper rang our doorbell a
month before the convention and worked
every day. At one point during the convention weekend we housed and fed 10
people. Most of us didn't sleep but there
was this high feeling that kept us going.
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