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Black History Always

New Black female editors at newspapers shatter journalism’s glass ceiling

Maria Douglas Reeve of the Houston Chronicle and Katrice Hardy of the Dallas Morning News were recently named top editors

Maria Douglas Reeve still laughs when she thinks of her dad’s reaction when she told him that her major at Davidson College was English. His response: “What the hell are you going to do with that?”

When she called him with the news of her promotion to the top editor’s job at the Houston Chronicle, her now-80-year-old dad hadn’t forgotten his doubts about her choice of a career in journalism. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he said.

It was big news when Reeve was promoted to executive editor of the Houston Chronicle and Katrice Hardy was named executive editor of the Dallas Morning News within a day of each other. For two Black women to be named to top editor positions at the two largest newspapers in Texas in the same week was both historic and groundbreaking. It’s the first time that either of the big-city metros has been led by an African American.

A 2018 survey by the American Society of News Editors, the most recent data available, found only 7.19% of full-time newsroom employees were Black. Only about 20% of those Black employees were in leadership positions.

Hardy called the Texas appointments “amazing,” especially coming on the heels of Patricia Mays being named executive editor of news for The Hollywood Reporter. And just six months earlier, another Black woman, Monica Richardson, was named executive editor of the Miami Herald.

“It’s unprecedented,” said Hardy, who was hired away from the Indianapolis Star, where she led the newspaper to a Pulitzer Prize. “It’s something that we’re proud of. It’s taken so long for us to get there. We want to carry that badge of honor and carry it well.

“But it’s important to stress that this is a time also when people are going to assume in some cases that maybe we got these roles because of our color or our gender,” she said. “That can’t be farther from the truth. Each of us have worked incredibly hard throughout our careers to earn these opportunities. We’ve earned them during some of the darkest, most challenging times of our industry.”

Pam McAllister Johnson, a retired Western Kentucky University journalism professor and the first Black female publisher of a mainstream daily newspaper at Gannett’s Ithaca Journal in 1982, said the moves were long overdue.

“My immediate reaction was this should have happened a long time ago,” she said. “Look at their credentials. I’ll bet that they had better credentials than the people who previously had been in those positions. [These newspapers] are not doing anything great by putting them in there. They earned that, over and over again. This could have been done 10 years ago.”

Texas native Ruth Allen Ollison, a former Washington and Dallas television news executive who quit journalism after nearly 25 years to become a minister, called Hardy and Reeve “the best of the best.”

“My hope is that they will bring fully who they are, to their positions,” said Ollison, now pastor of Beulah Land Community Church in Houston. “It’s a special call of a Black woman to lead in the first place. And so, I hope that there won’t be any temptation for them to divest themselves of who they are to do these important jobs.”

“The country is in an interesting moment, historically and culturally,” added Debra Adams Simmons, executive editor for culture at National Geographic Magazine and the former editor of The Plain Dealer in Cleveland. “So, they will face demanding assignments. And while there will be people who celebrate them, there also will be people both within their organizations and externally in the communities that they serve that will express criticism and doubt and skepticism about the leadership.”

Dorothy Tucker, president of the National Association of Black Journalists and a reporter for WBBM-TV in Chicago, said she was elated to hear the news.

“To see one and then another Black woman in just a few days be appointed to the historic position, I smile, and I’ve been smiling ever since,” she said. “It feels good, not just for those of us who are veterans, who’ve been around for a very long time waiting for this, but I look at it as those young journalists, who are bright-eyed and full of hope and have all these dreams. I just think it is wonderful.”

Reeve says she’s certainly up for the challenge. “I’m really, really thrilled to have been entrusted with this role at this time and with this newsroom. I’m not going to say it’s overwhelming, because I’m up to it. I worked really hard through my career to do every job I had to the best of my ability, and to learn what I could contribute to my newsroom and your main community. So, you know, now I get to do it on a bigger stage.”

Hardy, meanwhile, says in the 10 years since Adams Simmons served as editor in Cleveland, the industry has not been very diverse.

“It is critically important that you have taken this step, but what is next? It’s upon us to fight this fight. We’re in positions to make a difference. I wouldn’t have taken this job if I didn’t think this was something that Dallas Morning News valued. One of the hats I wear is diversity chair for the News Leaders Association, so I’m not going anywhere where that’s not valued and understood.”

Rodney Brooks is a retirement and personal finance writer/author. He has written a retirement a column for USA TODAY and the Washington Post. He is passionate about financial literacy and music. And has more than 12,000 songs on his iPod.