[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Ritchie: Last time we pretty well covered your Danville years, and I wondered if you had anything to add to that.
Bulkeley: Thank you for the opening. I had three Danville stories I remembered I should have told, that I think help illustrate at least my notions of what's news and what's community-building and responsibility. Whether they're mine because I'm female or because I started on a weekly newspaper or what, I don't know, but anyway, for whatever it's worth.
The first one, one morning the morning news was about a house fire in which a three-year-old girl had died from suffocation, smoke inhalation, whatever. All of that was right there and was part of the morning news.
Ritchie: Television news or radio?
Bulkeley: Radio. When I got to the paper that morning, or mid-morning, the editor showed me a picture of a fireman walking out of the house with the little girl's body in his arms, the way you'd carry a little kid to bed or whatever. He says, "We'll put this on the front page above the fold."
I said, "No, you won't put it in the paper."
Of course, he got a little upset. He said, "Why?"
I said, "That's a dead body. You don't need to put a dead body in the paper."
He says, "But our photographer can win a prize because he caught this picture. It's so telling."
I said, "It doesn't add anything to the story. Everybody knows she died of smoke inhalation, so they know it's not a gruesome picture, but they know it's a body. We're not going to publish a dead body in the paper when it adds nothing to the story."
Well, for weeks after that, when we'd go out, one of the things we did was go out in the countryside and have luncheons with community people or visit with them about the paper.
Ritchie: You and some of your staff members?
Bulkeley: Some of the key editors, and sometimes one of the other department heads, advertising or circulation, or even the finance guy, because they were all interested in the whole product, the whole newspaper, and the whole community. But this was Ron Dillman, whom we talked about before. Ron would take the picture, and part of his discussion with the group would be to ask them whether it was a picture that should have been in the paper. He'd tell them what the story was.
He'd not tell them that we had a disagreement about it. He said, "Now that you know we had the picture, is that something you would have expected to see in your paper?" But he never really believed that I knew something about readers' sensibilities. Invariably, people said, no, it didn't need to be in the paper. Occasionally we'd run into somebody who would say, "There's nothing wrong with it, if you wanted to publish it, but it's nothing we needed to see."
Ritchie: But he didn't trust your decision or your judgment?
Bulkeley: He didn't trust my judgment on that and, in a way, was openly challenging it. He didn't ask me, "Can we discuss this with the readers at these luncheons?" He just started doing it. Well, I didn't say anything. It didn't matter to me, because I knew I was right. And over time, he found out that I was right, too.
The next one, I'm not sure which of these two situations happened first, and it was after Ron was gone, so Chuck Carpenter would have been the managing editor, the chief news executive. One of them was the birth of Siamese twins in one of the Danville hospitals--not the Catholic hospital, but the other, the general hospital--general, secular. We didn't know about it until the twins were five days old and the state filed criminal suits against the hospital, the parents, and everybody who was in the emergency room at the time the babies were born.
Ritchie: Why would the state file suit?
Bulkeley: The twins were joined at the body, shared some organs, shared some limbs. The medical community at the time of the delivery was of mixed view whether it was Siamese twins or a monster--"monster" being the technical term for a baby with extra limbs and organs.
Ritchie: The local medical community?
Bulkeley: The local medical community. The parents were hospital people. The father was an emergency-room physician, the mother was a nurse. A bright young couple were the attending physicians, but they brought in the senior OB/GYN guys in town for the delivery, and they issued "do not feed" orders, the assumption being that as in the old times of medicine, this whatever-it-was would die anyway. The babies were put in the intensive care nursery, and the nurses started feeding, and then reported them to the state, which under child protection laws claimed custody and filed criminal charges of conspiracy to commit murder or attempted murder or child neglect or whatever.
Ritchie: Who had given these orders--the doctors?
Bulkeley: The "do not feed" orders, the doctors, as I recall. The attending physicians would have. This was before the Indiana Baby Doe case that went to the Supreme Court. I have forgotten the details of that, but it had to do with medical treatment and who's responsible for babies whose life expectancy, because of birth defects or problems they were born with, or life expectancy without extraordinary measures is very low. That was a question of custody and treatment.
In this case, among other things, the head of the state Children's Services Division, the state employee within the Social Services Department, was still under a cloud from a case elsewhere in the state in which state employees at the local level had not gotten a kid out of a home where he was being battered [and the boy died]. The state ran local social services in Illinois. Some of us felt he overreacted in having the criminal charges filed instantly with no effort to do anything in the Danville case. The thing polarized instantly, the state guy and the
birth-right people and others on one side saying, "Everybody responsible for neglecting these children should be hung," and the other side saying, "We don't know."
It turns out the guy from the state [Greg Koller], who was almost daily saying outlandish things and keeping the thing stirred up, was a prot&$233;g&$233; of a friend of mine from Rochester, or at least an acquaintance of mine from Rochester. Of course, he was contributing to the community being torn apart. So without discussing with anybody anywhere, I picked up the phone and I called my friend in Rochester, and I said, "Here's the situation. I think your prot&$233;g&$233; is going to make this community two communities that can't live with each other, and that can't happen. This community is too small and faces too many challenges to be torn apart by something like this from some guy out of town mouthing off."
My Rochester friend, Gabe Russo, had been the social services director in some of my years there, and I first knew him when he was the union president. Anyway, I said to Gabe, "If you agree that he's out of line and that he's said enough and doesn't need to say any more and he's damaging a community unnecessarily, will you shut him up? If you don't agree, I'll understand, and we will survive."
That's the last we ever heard from the guy at the state level. I never called Gabe back, and he never called me, but a couple of years later when I called him for something else, I was going to be in town or whatever, I called and said to his secretary, "I think I owe him a drink." She says, "You owe him more than a drink."
The other thing I did at that time, in that same situation, was insist that I be part of every story discussion. Part of what I found out was the guys who ran our newsroom didn't know enough about anatomy at that point. One of them came in with the rumor saying, "One of the rumors is that the father had a vasectomy reversed, and that's what caused the Siamese twins," which said to me if a man knows so little about his own body that he can even repeat a rumor like that without laughing, then I can't trust them to guide the news coverage. I'll have to do it. So I did.
We immediately decided no letters to the editor would be published, because we knew, with the polarization, that we were going to get libelous letters, we were likely to get letters that could screw up the court case if it ever went to trial, because it was a criminal matter, and most papers don't publish citizen comment on cases, criminal things when they're pending, and I wasn't sure that we could edit letters, or even be considered to be editing them fairly, because they all thought that she [Christy Bulkeley] was a radical abortionist, anyway--she didn't use her husband's last name and was in charge of the paper. The very conservative people in the community. So we just won't publish letters on this.
Ritchie: Had you ever had to do that before?
Bulkeley: I had never done that before, and, again, I didn't ask. I just knew from other things that people couldn't write temperate letters, not many people could, on this kind of a situation, and it was all so iffy for so long. Ultimately, a year later, the twins were separated.
Ritchie: They lived for that long?
Bulkeley: They lived for that long. They were separated in Chicago. They were moved to Chicago Children's Hospital. The judge who handled the thing in Danville was superb, a highly sensitive, ethical, wise, very wise, man who handled it with the utmost fairness, and the parents
always had physical custody once the babies were out of the hospital, together or separate. What never happened was nobody ever took over the bills, but ultimately the family got out of town. The story kept surfacing once a year on the anniversary.
The other thing that compounded it all was the editor's wife was a nurse who worked for a partner of the senior doctor, OB, who ultimately was called in and helped deliver. The controller's wife was the secretary to the president of the hospital. Somebody else's wife was secretary to the marketing director of the hospital, and the retired ad director was the volunteer manager at the hospital.
Ritchie: So you had so many tie-ins.
Bulkeley: So we had all those ties, nobody believed that we didn't know about it for five days until it became a criminal matter of public record.
Ritchie: They thought you probably were suppressing the news?
Bulkeley: Yes. Some people in the community did, and that also raised the potential of biased coverage, because all of those people had their incomes at stake in the hospital.
What ultimately told us we did it right was the number of reporters from out of town who were in town covering the story who came to read our clips, and it turned out that people on both sides, or all sides, of the story wouldn't talk to any out-of-town reporters until they'd read our clips. They all said, "The paper's coverage is full and complete and accurate and fair. Read that for background, we don't have time to provide that. Then if you still have questions, we'll be glad to talk to you."
To me, it was the ultimate compliment for coverage of a terrible situation, and the fact that it never went beyond the local court, of course, meant it never became one of the baby cases of record. There were a slew of them shortly thereafter, and it just was an absolutely "no way anybody can come out ahead" kind of a story, and nobody can benefit from it. But it was one of the tough calls, and a case where, my guess is, the fact that I was a woman meant the coverage was handled differently than it would have been, unless, of course, there had been a woman running the newsroom or in a key authority spot, though nobody was.
Ritchie: Was there anyone on your staff who had any medical expertise?
Bulkeley: We didn't have anybody with any particular medical knowledge or training, and, indeed, I don't recall that we had anybody with any particular science expertise. This would have been the late seventies, is my guess, maybe early eighties, so what knowledge we would have had was the beginnings of whatever those of us who were women were starting to learn about what they didn't know about us. We were beginning to learn that nobody ever did any medical research involving women.
That was early when the medical community starting pushing down the age at which they could maintain a premature baby, but it wouldn't have been in Danville, because Danville was sort of laggard in medical practice. So we had to learn the medical parts of this as we went.
Bulkeley: Quickly. Daily newspaper. When the parents were hauled into court, I was out of town, but, the first time they had to appear in court, Chuck said, "We got a head-on picture of them walking down the sidewalk to the courthouse." Luckily, it was after deadline the day it happened.
I said, "Okay, I will talk to you in the morning. I want to know what the television film showed on the television news."
Ritchie: The local television news?
Bulkeley: I said, "Were there television cameras there?"
He said, "Yes, all of the local stations, and some of them feeding the network."
I said, "Okay, I want to know what's on the local newscasts from all of the local stations."
"Why?" he said.
I said, "We aren't going to be the paper that shows everybody in town what those parents look like, because they have to grocery shop where we do and go to church where we do and live in this town. I'm not going to be the one that lets the town point fingers at them."
He says, "It's not our concern."
I said, "Yes, it is. We're a community newspaper, and we have to consider the sensibilities of everybody." Well, as it turned out, it was moot, because the television stations all ran ninety seconds or more head-on of the parents, so anybody who wanted to know what they looked like was going to know what they looked like. I just said, "Inside the paper, not on the cover," and we ran the picture.
Ritchie: But had it not been on the television, you would have been reluctant to run it?
Bulkeley: Yes, I would have. You always have to weigh and balance individual and community rights, responsibilities, sensitivities, but in that case, I figured those parents have more burden to live with for the rest of their lives than any of us are ever going to have. The last thing we need to do is to compound it. Maybe running their pictures would open them to compassion from people who saw them, but I didn't think so. I was afraid they'd become more curiosities, and I just didn't see doing that, to the parents or to the medical people. I figured I'd rather err on the side of being conservative than run the risk of opening them to that.
There were other times. An ice cream store on the main drag, The Custard Cup, didn't open one season, and I kept looking for the story, and finally I said, "Why doesn't The Custard Cup open? Why don't we have the story?" It wasn't downtown, but it was where you went to see people. Huge parking lot for this little bitty soft-freeze store.
"Oh," says the editor--it was one of the middle-level editors--"the owners are trying to sell it, and so they didn't want the story in the paper that they weren't opening it this year."
I said, "Wait a minute. Everybody knows they're not open. We owe everybody an explanation of why not." Just an example of the weighing that has to go on, and where does the balance come.
Ritchie: So it's a balancing and understanding of what the community is.
Bulkeley: That's right, and what kind of sensitivities there are in the community and what might polarize the community and what might not, and whether that's a risk you take. Sometimes you've got to take the risk, certainly.
The last one fell, again, into one of these grey areas. It's when United States Representative Daniel Crane* was charged by the Ethics Committee of the House with sleeping with pages, or a page, one of the teenage kids who do the errand-running for the House. He was from Danville, the paper had never supported his election. He apparently is a fine dentist, but he was an idealogue, comparable to his brother Phil,* who was a member of Congress from Cook County, near Chicago, which, obviously, then, for people who choose to see it that way--and in Danville, they did--would raise questions about any of our coverage.
But Dan Crane had a wife and six kids who lived in Danville. They never went to Washington. The kids ranged down to a babe-in-arms. So Dan was on his way back from Washington when the story broke. He had not talked to his wife in person about the situation, to the best of anybody's knowledge, and there were all these little kids. Well, we found out that the wife had gone to Champaign to the airport over there to get him. He wasn't on the little plane, commuter, to Danville.
I issued some orders to the newsroom, "Nobody on their personal property. There are kids in that house, and I'm not going to have my staff responsible for bothering those kids. If they go with the parents out to the countryside of Indiana, nobody on that property. I'll not have my staff leading the out-of-town news media."
Ritchie: On kind of an investigative snoop?
Bulkeley: Moving them out there to that house, or being the entr&$233;e that's used to get at them. I had already had far too much of the rudeness of national media, or out-of-town media, or even in some places and some cases local media, television cameras in the face and the rest of it. And, again, this would have been the early eighties.
I talked last time about Judy Keen, who had been a Washington reporter and bureau chief who was on our staff. Judy, as it turns out, knew some people on the Ethics Committee, some of the staff members. My friend from Rochester, Barber Conable, was on the committee, so Judy and I both put out our lines to find out basically what we needed to know in order to judge the tone of the coverage, whether this was a tip of the iceberg with either our representative or with other people, or was it an isolated, only situation, because that also affects what you cover and how hard you push at finding out what more is there.
It's the only time in thirty years that Barber Conable did not return a phone call to me. I had talked to his key assistant, whom I had known all along, and told him I needed to know, because it's the kind of stuff that if you're not careful, you can go overboard with, even though it's the tabloid news scandal stuff rather than the substance of the issue.
* Daniel B. Crane (b. 1936). (R-IL). U.S. representative, 1979-95.
Philip M. Crane (b. 1930). (R-IL). U.S. representative, 1969-89.
Ritchie: Why do you think your phone call wasn't returned?
Bulkeley: Partly because the committee work is confidential. I said to Harry Nicholas, "I need to know if we know all there is, or if there's more. I know it's a confidential committee and confidential activity, and I don't want anything more than is there or isn't there, and I don't even if that's within what Barber can talk about." It's the kind of thing that young reporters think they're going to win a prize with, by finding out what more is there that the committee did not talk about, and what kinds of deals and bargains were made about the kind of punishment he would get. If that's all there is, that's all there is, and I can keep it contained. If there's more than that, I don't know what I can do.
Well, as I said, we never heard any more about it. Until this day, I haven't talked about it with Barber when I've seen him.
Ritchie: How did you handle the coverage on that?
Bulkeley: I never had any kind of feedback that told me. We handled it with as much restraint as I could impose on the newsroom, and partly out of deference to the kids, partly because it was all over. Once the charge was there, the family was together, there was voted a censure on the floor, and then as far as that was concerned, it was all over until he ran again.
Ritchie: Did he run again?
Bulkeley: He ran again and was beaten, but not because of that. The Danville people said, "He's asked forgiveness, he's been forgiven." But the district included Champaign and Urbana. At a forum at the University of Illinois when Dan was taking questions, somebody said, "Congressman Crane, what if the page you slept with had gotten pregnant? Would you have still been against abortion at that point?"
And Dan Crane says, "It has nothing to do with me; that would have been her problem."
The campus organized against him and he was beaten in Champaign-Urbana, not in Danville. He carried Danville in the next election.
Was I still there, or was that was after I'd gone? Must have been when I was still there, because--no, it wasn't. It was after I was gone. I left in the spring of '84. There would have been an election not for eighteen months after that. Odd years for Congress. Terry Bruce* was elected--conservative Democrat. I think it was that fall of '83 when I was still there, he was beaten, but we didn't hear the story about the University of Illinois confrontation, hadn't been covered, and we didn't hear it until later.
Ritchie: Did you cover local candidates, though?
Bulkeley: Not all of the time. We had to cover all of the races, because we were the only daily our people read, but Danville, with 40,000, and our circulation area with 80,000, was a relatively small piece of the congressional district, because they run in nearly what--600,000? So we would not have covered Crane full time. He would have been in our territory enough that we would have covered a variety of appearances within the Danville area or within the newspaper's
* Terry L. Bruce (b. 1944). (D-IL). U.S. representative, 1985-89.
circulation area, but we would have relied on the Associated Press or Gannett News Service, or even reading their papers to know what was going on in the rest of the area.
But again, in that case, I was issuing orders that were--in the first place, publisher issuing orders about news is always a little suspect, even when you're not the owner, but also they ran contrary to the journalistic norms of the time. But as far as I was concerned, we were trying to counter some of the things that made news work so difficult and gave all of us credibility problems. The rude and crude stuff I didn't see any reason for, any call for.
And, as I say, there never really was any good way--unlike the situation with the twins where the circumstances simply brought us as good a documentation as you can get, that the coverage was as careful and as thorough and as sensitive, we called ethicists and all kinds of people. We knew to do that.
Ritchie: To try to figure out how to cover it?
Bulkeley: And to talk about how to make decisions in these kinds of cases, with the Siamese twins.
There wasn't that much we could do in the Crane thing, and, again, it was just such a touchy story involving a minor in Washington, a wife and a bunch of kids too young to understand even if Mommy and Daddy are having fights, let alone sex, and sex outside the family, and sex with somebody under age, and all the rest of it.
Ritchie: Would this have been something that brought outside media in?
Bulkeley: To some extent and only short term as they tried to get Crane to react to the story on the record. He left Washington before the story broke, but it broke while he was in the air, so there was some media waiting for him at the airport in Champaign, including one of our reporters, and there were the television cameras from the two sets of stations--again, that we talked about before--and there were probably four or five sets of television cameramen at the house, hoping to catch the wife and get her reaction, or to catch him or them together, or whatever. It was a much shorter story, and in town, much shorter-lived than the Siamese twin story, which unfolded over a period of time.
Ritchie: Would that have brought national media, or other media, state and regional?
Bulkeley: We had New York Times, Miami Herald, Washington Post, and a variety of other papers in town, news magazines. The local stations did the network feeds on television, but the Chicago Tribune and some of those were in town. We counted, and I don't remember exactly, but it was between fifteen and twenty outside reporters over a period of time with the Siamese twins.
Ritchie: And that would have an impact on your working, wouldn't it? I mean, don't they come and use your facility?
Bulkeley: Most big-city newspaper people disdain the little home town paper. In the case of the twins, they came to us because the news sources wouldn't talk to them until they did. The news sources were unanimous and individually, independently, the lawyers and the rest of them saying, "The background is there, it's thorough, it's complete, it's accurate, it's fair, we'll talk to you after you've read it." So they were, in effect, forced to come talk to us.
I talked to a couple of them. One of them was a New York Times reporter, a black guy stationed in Chicago, and not any of the ones I knew at that point, and he said, "Well, I wouldn't have been here, except the sources wouldn't talk to me. So then I got curious about what kind of people stayed at a newspaper in a little town like this, who could do that kind of reporting. So I wanted to come in and meet the people doing it and the bosses responsible for it, because I got curious."
Ritchie: But had he been able to get it via the telephone he would have?
Bulkeley: Or with interviews with them in person without coming to our place, he would have. Not unlike the situation with T.R. Reid when he covered the congressional race four years earlier--in fact, when Dan Crane was first elected. Reid was in town off and on for eight months, but didn't come to the paper until after the election. He said he didn't want the local media impacting biases or whatever they might be, to affect his own seeing and hearing and reporting of the story.
Ritchie: So he steered clear.
Bulkeley: He steered clear. I thought he'd made some mistakes in his coverage. Part of that, I talked to one of my friends at the Washington Post after that, who said, "You have to remember the cultural differences in how people read things like that."
In the case of one of the candidates, his coverage, as Danville read it, made the guy look like a brilliant logistics hero and a shoo-in for the race, when, in fact, he was just a somewhat refined hustler. I talked to my friend at the Post, Haynes Johnson, said, "Oh, no, it's quite clear, the way people read and relate to races and stuff. It was perfectly obvious to us he was a blow-hard hustler."
I said "Okay." Different context. Of course, out here, where so many people live and breathe politics full time, as opposed to out there where the polls are only open every other year. So it was another reminder that television hasn't homogenized us. There still are regional differences and perspective and stance and reaction.
Those were the stories that I wanted to tell, that may or may not answer some of your earlier questions.
Ritchie: When you were talking about the Siamese twins, you mentioned a label that you had--the woman who kept her own name.
Bulkeley: A lot of people in Danville never really believed we were married, because I kept using my own name. And because the anti-abortion, anti-equal rights people were so strong in that area, I had, again, earlier told the story about the Equal Rights Amendment. A lot of people figured that the paper with the woman who doesn't use her husband's name as the boss isn't going to want to cover that story anyway, that they figured that I'd be a flaming liberal, pro-abortion, etc., etc., etc., and would bias the coverage of the newspaper. I don't quite see how you can bias the coverage of something like that, unless you get too compassionate, and, of course, that's ridiculous.
Ritchie: How did you cover the abortion issue or how did the paper cover it?
Bulkeley: Oh, the abortion stuff--I don't remember whether it was ever a live issue in the years I was there. It must have been to some extent, because it would have been during the period when states could not allow federal money to be used for Medicaid patients. I don't remember that we did anything with it on the news and editorial pages.
Through the vehicle of the Gannett Foundation, we had what was called a "Lend a Hand" fund, which was an emergency community contingent fund kind of thing. We were financing abortions out of that, for women whose ministers referred them, or, in fact, usually made the contact and were doing the go-between. That kind of counseling was the only kind of counseling under which we would consider it, and we knew the counseling ministers in town well enough to know that they [the women] would get all of the help they could possibly have, both in making the decision and in living with it. Since it's really a last-resort decision, we only dealt with ministers that we knew treated it that way, and then would help the mothers and parents deal with whatever the aftereffects were. But I don't know that the birth-righters or others ever found out even that we were paying for abortions out of that community fund.
Ritchie: Don't you think you would have known if they had found out?
Bulkeley: Probably. Those were the years that Phyllis Schlafly was so visible and aggressive, and Illinois was one of the pivotal states on the Equal Rights Amendment, but all of those things were tied in together.
This reminds me. We did write pro-ERA editorials. A little old man came in one day, and he said, "I really need to talk to you, because I really don't think you understand this."
I said, "Fine. What about it?"
He said, "Well, there's something about that amendment that you just must not understand, and I'm trying to think what it is." So I handed him the text of the ERA, all three clauses, including the effective clause. He said, "Where's the rest of it?"
I said, "This is all there is."
He said, "No, you know, the stuff about homos and all of that stuff."
I said, "There's none of that in this proposed amendment. That is the full text."
"Well," he says, and then he looks at it, and he points to "on account of sex," the classic phrase that's in it, and he says, "Here it is. That's what does it. That's what's so dangerous."
I said, "That's exactly the language that was used to give women the vote. That's the exact prepositional phrase that was in the Voting Rights Amendment. Today, if it hadn't already been constitutionally approved as constitutional language, today you and I would probably call it gender rather than sex."
He said, "Well, it says sex and that means homos and all that other stuff."
I said, "I'm sorry, it doesn't."
But anyway, that is interesting that a little old man came in, even wanted to talk about it, but it also confirmed what people were saying, that the anti-Equal Rights Amendment people
really had convinced their followers that it carried a lot more weight of different kinds of things than it said.
Ritchie: They read into it.
Bulkeley: I hadn't really planned to tell that story. I hadn't even remembered it.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Ritchie: Did you have many regrets when you left Danville?
Bulkeley: Not really. David and I needed to be in a different place, in a different environment. We were having to work too hard at learning for ourselves, and we were doing too much teaching, and it really had worn us both out.
If there's a regret it's that I never again lived within five minutes of a gorgeous golf course. I took up golf in Danville. We were five minutes away. It's a latitude that has sun until 7:30 or 8:00 or 8:30 at night, has light, so we could play nine holes in the evening in an hour and a half when nobody was on the golf course, and it was a wonderful way to unwind and relax and keep in shape. I learned to do something athletic, which I had never done before, coming from the generation before women's sports were funded well, or decently or at all, much. So it would be nice to live that close to a golf course all year, but that's hardly anything to keep you in a town.
Ritchie: When you mentioned you and David needed to live somewhere else, obviously your being married changed your work pattern some. You also had changed jobs and responsibilities. When you talked about living in Rochester and being a single female, how you went to meetings at night.
Bulkeley: True. I had a reason to go home. One of the challenges even in my reporting job, but more when I was the publisher in Saratoga as a single female, was who do you bounce things off of, where to go ask the touchy, tough questions, or who do you think things through with.
Ritchie: Who did you?
Bulkeley: A couple of the businessmen in Saratoga, as I got to know them, I could, but then once David was part of my life, I also had him. He could also wander around and listen for me. At the same time, even in Saratoga, the first time we were there, there were guys who, after they had a couple snorts, would come over to him and say, "You got to do something about your wife. You got to her about thus and so."
And David said, "Wait a minute. My job is to sleep with the publisher. If you want me to talk to her, my fee is $40 an hour." And most of the time they got the message, and either dealt with me or decided it wasn't that important, after all.
We had a few times when we'd be standing at a publishers' meeting or somewhere, and people would talk to David and I'd answer the questions. They'd ask David the question and I'd answer. It was old men--I mean, late sixties, seventies in those days--who simply could never accept the fact that "she" really was the publisher.
We'd get circulation complaints. One guy called up once and said, "Is the girl there?"
David would say, "We don't have children. You must have the wrong number."
The guy says, "I don't think it's the wrong number. I want the newspaper girl."
David says, "You mean my wife? She's not a girl."
You try to take that stuff with a grain of salt all the time, but if it's in the middle of dinner, or it's six o'clock in the morning, or wherever, it's not as easy to be civil or sympathetic when the first reaction is they're insulting, but the fact that that guy called at all, no. David would always say, "Yes, but you'd never have called the men publishers. He never would have called in about a complaint." Well, I don't know whether he would have or not.
Ritchie: Given the situation in Danville, it was probably good that you had David with you there.
Bulkeley: Probably. I don't know what it would have been like for a single female. We talked a little about the women and the kinds of businesses that women were running there, were either married or had been, and had been known in their married lives. There were a couple of women who were in partnership with their husbands. One of them and her husband ran a safety supply company. He had been an executive with one of the big companies and didn't want to leave town. She ran the company, and he was chairman. He also happened to be their key salesman. She was the first one to go on the Chamber of Commerce board. I told them I wouldn't do it, and I wouldn't sit on any board as the only female. I had done that, and I wasn't going to do it anymore. It was not productive for anybody. So Nancy Mettam went on there, and they all knew her and had known her for years, so I think it was a good way for the first woman to be on the board, because she was dealing with products they all knew, the industrial guys, and she was somebody who was comfortable to them, because they were used to having her around. So I didn't do all of that. There's a limit to how much you do.
Ritchie: And being one of the firsts in a position, you probably were asked very often to take a female seat on a board or whatever professional organizations.
Bulkeley: I did more of that in the newspaper industry than in the community, because the minute I was through with the Women in Communications responsibilities, then Neuharth started steering Gannett stuff at me, but also in my job, I was one of the first and one of the only, or the only. So even just my regular survival was lightning rod. But Neuharth also kept throwing newspaper industry responsibilities at me, and said, "Just go be a publisher. They've got to get used to having women around."
Ritchie: So it was almost an obligation on your part.
Bulkeley: So it was really part of the job description. So I was involved with the Publishers Association, and the Editors at the national level, and I was involved with the state things always, in Illinois and in New York State, plus the usual collection.
In Saratoga, I did the publisher's community stuff. We talked before about the mentoring that went on. In Danville, none of that happened, so I didn't have to do those, but as it turned out, we used community service as part of the affirmative action thing, and I wouldn't let department heads do the things they wanted to do, like the service clubs, until they were doing community work somewhere where they wouldn't have normally been.
Ritchie: So they had to find something new, something that would interest them.
Bulkeley: With the minority community, or an organization that had always had the non-working people on the board but really was dealing with stuff that needed people who knew how to make things happen in a business sense on the board. And in more traditional roles, I expected them to be doing things to change. The circulation director was involved with Junior Achievement, and worked at bringing minorities onto that board. The ad director did Rotary [Club], and as fast as we found, or as companies promoted, or promoted into town, minorities who were eligible, or in the position to even go occasionally as guests, he took them to Rotary, which was all white except one guy.
Ritchie: And that was something that you encouraged and promoted in your newsroom?
Bulkeley: I required it. I figure if a club based on fellowship can require attendance, and making up and some of those kinds of things that the service clubs did, the one who's paying the bills can require the people who belong to do what needs to be done.
But we also helped create an organization called Opportunities Industrialization Corporation (OIC). It was minority community job training. It was created originally in Philadelphia by Leon Sullivan, a minister who was one of the first blacks on corporate boards. He was on General Motors or Ford for years. OIC is the organization that he built nationally and with community pieces. In lots of places, it became the key job training, work training in minority communities, because the boards would be dominated by people in the minority community, and they could shape it and tailor it to what they knew the people in the neighborhoods needed, as opposed to an adult ed division or a junior college doing the job training for what they thought ought to happen, as opposed to meeting the students and the clients where they were and building on what was there. And in lots of cities, white-run or establishment-run organizations simply had no credibility, so people with potential would never go to them for help anyway. So OIC was one of the ways to do that.
I sat with the original steering committee and helped get it set up, and then I chaired it for a couple of years, and had my controller be the treasurer so that I knew the books were run right, because we had a guy learning how to run things, and he, in fact, was a very good teacher and not much of an executive. He was doing a lot of the training we got funded himself, which was all right, but I was sitting with him every week on managing the stuff that had to be managed, which is why I made sure my treasurer did the books. My controller served as treasurer, so this kid wouldn't have to worry about it, and we could focus more on getting the training done and trying to build the organization.
That was all part of the affirmative action stuff we did, but also I didn't see any point in standing around protecting the status quo when it was clearly to the detriment of the community.
Ritchie: Did Gannett encourage this?
Bulkeley: Oh, I don't know that anybody ever knew what we were doing. Whoever read the report when we put back together the plan of what we'd done over five years might have discovered it.
We got help from the corporate affirmative action guys. Bob Maynard, whom I mentioned earlier, who ultimately owned the Oakland Tribune before he died of cancer, came in to visit and help a couple of times then, when he was the consultant, but I don't know that he went over all those details with anybody. Bob was black. Then Gannett's first staff guy was Jimmy--and he really is Jimmy--Jones, a former New York Jet. Great big and really dark. I always made a point
of taking all of them to the country club whenever they were there, because it was not integrated. I made sure that we had our meetings with them out there, and we had dinner with them out there, and when Gannett had its first black on the board, first African-American, Dolores Wharton, I quick wrote her a letter and I invited her out. She came, and I invited all the plant managers to a reception at the country club, and all of the black leaders. We had more black people in the club that day than I think had been there accumulative in its whole history, but some of the club board members were also there, and nobody said a word to me about it, ever. But it was one of the fun things we could do. At least I thought it was fun.
Just as when we got Bobby Short--David got Bobby Short--to play with the symphony, and saw to it that Bobby Short's whole family was at the club for dinner before the symphony and at the reception after, the same way all the other artists were, just helped to show them that it's one community, and we're all in it together. And nobody ever said anything. They didn't dare by then.
Ritchie: You were too well established.
Bulkeley: Yes. And again, I don't know that Gannett ever paid any attention to any of it. Ultimately, Gannett changed its policy [about country club memberships], so people couldn't belong unless they got a clear exception, even if it was the only country club in town. If it discriminated as overtly as one like Danville did, the publishers would have to forego that benefit rather than belong. That happened later.
Ritchie: But in a way, you helped them.
Bulkeley: Well, I think in a town like Danville, where they didn't know any better. Danville really missed the whole civil rights thing in the seventies. It simply had never thought about a lot of those things.
Ritchie: So they needed to be shown.
Bulkeley: I think in many ways we were doing a teaching ministry the whole time we were there. They didn't know there were six-thousand black people in town until the census came out in 1980. The school superintendent did. I respected him, but I didn't like him. I liked his wife. Don something. But he knew they were all there, and he was helpful with us, and he was the first one to make the change. Again, we talked about that before.
Ritchie: We also talked about your wanting to leave Danville, and your occasional, frequent, whatever, requests to headquarters.
Bulkeley: Occasional is probably better. The key time was the discussion I had with John Curley that we kind of talked about before. That was in January of 1984.
Ritchie: And that was prompted by a memo that you sent to him?
Bulkeley: I sent him a memo after he became responsible for the newspaper division, just to make sure he wasn't operating under an assumption I wanted to stay there forever, because I had already been there a lot longer than I expected to. The one time I had the visiting professorship thing set up, then I decided I'd better stay because we had started the affirmative action stuff, and I wanted to see it through.
Another time, I was a finalist for a dean's job, a journalism dean job, one of two, but after I'd spent a few days on campus, I knew there wouldn't be any faculty left, because they were all prima donnas, and each one expected the dean to come in and save his or her interest. I had no patience for that. They may have been staking negotiating positions, but my sense after three days with them was that they had no sense that they were going to have to compromise to move the school forward, so I withdrew from that.
But it was long since past the time when, even through normal stuff, I should have been moved. So having once missed a promotion and being told, "Well, you didn't make it clear you wanted the job," I decided that I would be sure Curley knew I wanted out, needed to get out of Danville for the good of all of us. Even if it had been a fun place for me and David to live, five years of that economic stress, I nearly killed both of my sales department heads, the advertising guy [Bob Miller] and the circulation guy [Dennis Lenart], because it was such a tough market.
Ritchie: Did they really seem surprised that you would go back to Saratoga?
Bulkeley: Yes. To the people who think up the organization chart is the only way to go and the only measure of success, that would be a clear demotion. But I saw it as a chance to show what could be done with that newspaper in that particular community, once I knew so much more about community. By then I was encountering the reading that talked about the different ways people from different social classes relate to institutions and relate to authority.
I thought I knew by then what to do with the newspaper in Saratoga so it could live up to its potential and, in terms of quality, given the range of stuff that goes on in Saratoga, the caliber of people who come there or stay there, because it has the best of a city without any of the liabilities of a city. I was pretty sure I could turn that into a showcase newspaper, with new ways of doing reporting. We had changed the dynamics of the ballet audience the first time I was there when I was working with instinct, not with knowledge. Well, there was a lot more that could be done, particularly now that I had the knowledge. So I was quite pleased when my boss asked me if I really meant it, and if so, I could go the next week as soon as they set some of the things [other promotions] up. I said, "That's fine with us. I'm ready."
There were lots of other women in Gannett, lots of women who wanted to go to big cities and run big newspapers and drive big cars. I didn't. They kept saying to me, "You don't have to give all the speeches, let other people do it."
I kept saying, "I do. When people call, I give them names. I can't help it if nobody else says yes, but I'm not accepting even the majority of invitations." I said, "Well, one way to make that clear is I'll go back to the little paper. I don't have to do the association stuff, somebody else can do it."
Ritchie: At that time, were there other women moving up in Gannett?
Bulkeley: There were other women publishers. There were twelve publishers by then, but none of them were at papers that are bigger than Danville. One was at Niagara Falls, but the ceiling was firmly in place.
Nonetheless, I was quite willing to relinquish some of the association stuff. I was only doing it because I was expected to. I was on the nominating committee for the Associated Press. My boss, Bill Keating, was on that board. The Associated Press board, at least in those days, had no more than one from any of the big companies, and the one was either the CEO or the CEO's
designate, although they had to stand for election in a competitive election, but you could only stand if you were the CEO or the CEO's designate. Kay Graham, the publisher, then chairman, of the Washington Post, was the only woman on that board. I was chair of the Advisory Committee to the Publishers' Association Magazine during its start-up years, two years when it ran without advertising and had to prove its worth. And as committee chair, I did a solid, detailed critique on it, monthly. And I worked more with the editor than he expected, much to his chagrin.
Ritchie: He didn't know what he was getting.
Bulkeley: Yes. He didn't know what his bosses were getting him into when I was appointed chair of the committee. But we brought the magazine into enough value fast enough. I did two things. I saw that they put a journalism educator on the advisory committee to try to keep the field and the journalism schools connected a little better. With all of us who worked on it, there was some others on the committee who helped, we brought it to the point that within two years, it was valuable enough as a product that they could sell advertising in it and help pay for it. Now, I didn't know anything about that, and I offered to--when the new volunteer head of the board came into ANPA [American Newspaper Publishers Association], I did the protocol resignation submission and it was accepted, much to my surprise--but that guy ended up not having any women run anything.
By the same token, Frank Banneck from Hearst was available and willing to chair the committee, and he knew magazines and magazine sales. He was a broader executive than just newspaper, so it was a good time for him to take over the committee. But I was the only Gannett person, only Gannett publisher, who had committee chair experience, and the Gannett chair was about to come up on that board. Under the normal rotation, Keating would have finished his nine years at the AP, so in effect the Gannett chair would have been open for one of the chairs to fill it.
I found out that Curley wanted to go on the AP board. Okay, that's fine. I'm not sure how Al would have dealt with his colleagues in the business, because where Al had been browbeating all of them in public for not doing more with the progress of women for the benefit of the business. But what happened was that Keating was asked to go on the ladder on the AP board into the AP chairmanship, which, the way it was set up in those days, anyway, was a six-year commitment, adding six onto the nine he already served. So he would just move through the ladder into the board. But that meant Curley couldn't run for that board, and ANPA was the next most prestigious board. They are hard-working boards. It's not just you get to go to, an excuse for the company to pay for travel. Again, he hadn't done any association work. He'd done all of his work inside Gannett since he'd joined Gannett.
So I'd been doing that chairmanship stuff, but I didn't care. I wasn't doing that to get on boards. I was doing that because Al said, "Do it. They've got to get used to having women around." And there was nobody else when I started. I've never asked him, but I think John [Curley] thought I was competition and it would be a public relations problem in the way of he and/or his prot&$233;g&$233;s.
Ritchie: If you moved up?
Bulkeley: If I moved up, if I were still around, as there were opportunities for Gannett people to assume responsibilities and the board stuff, and I didn't really care. I had done national board
stuff through Women in Communications. I was quite willing to. I could hold my own, and a few other peoples', but I had had my share of not being heard, of not being seen.
Ritchie: Did you encounter much of that on these boards?
Bulkeley: Only when it was too much. I learned very quickly where I was and where I wasn't going to be heard, and if I knew nobody was going to listen, I didn't bother saying anything. I had better things to do. I'd sit there and do my own stuff in the meetings. I was a little startled the first time it happened.
Ritchie: When you knew you weren't being listened to?
Bulkeley: I heard a friend of mine [H.L. Stevenson] across the room, it was a convention planning committee for the Publishers' Association. Kay Graham was chairing the meeting. We went around the table with ideas on topics and speakers, and I offered some stuff. I think it was probably getting Lane Kirkland, who was the head of AFL-CIO. We were beginning to talk about changing nature of labor-management relations and changing values in the workplace, more employee involvement in thinking how things get done, and all the rest of it. But I'd suggested getting him and a couple other people, and sketched out the topic. Nothing was said. The discussion went on around the table. A friend of mine straight across the table gave an almost verbatim repeat of what I said and got applauded.
And Kate Graham says, "Oh, Lane's a friend of mine. I'll call him when I get home."
Ritchie: After no response when you spoke.
Bulkeley: After no response when I spoke. That was the worse example, but it's no more than lots of other women and minorities have run into lots of other places, but there were other times and places of various caliber, and I just don't beat my head on brick walls. If I had to keep doing these groups that didn't listen, I didn't bother.
Ritchie: Well, you had enough other things to do.
Bulkeley: Sure, I had plenty to do. And I always had things I needed to learn on how to do the paper better, or the community better, or whatever, so if I didn't have to think about what I had to contribute to a meeting because they didn't want it, then I could sit there and soak it all up and focus totally on learning, or if it was a committee doing something I already knew and they weren't adding anything to what I knew, I could monitor that at a secondary level and work on planning something else I had to do while sitting there and being at least physically present.
But it was still nice when the Gannett meeting finally reached a point that there were lines in the ladies' room.
Ritchie: And you weren't the only one?
Bulkeley: And I wasn't the only one. I knew I could start missing meetings and nobody would notice. At least maybe not, because there were enough of us that the absence of the only woman or the three wouldn't be noticed.
Ritchie: Back to Saratoga. What was the paper like when you arrived? Had it changed much?
Bulkeley: When I got back?
Ritchie: When you came back in '84.
Bulkeley: Came back in '84. The paper was probably about like I'd left it. For lots of reasons, Saratoga usually had more news staff than the statistical norm for that size paper, and more news space, but it was grossly overwritten.
Ritchie: What do you mean by that, overwritten?
Bulkeley: Reporters would paraphrase what somebody said, and then quote, so the story would say the same thing two or three times, when once was enough. That's the worst kind. But then some of it is just sloppy writing, and some things the longest way possible instead of the clearest, most direct way possible.
What I found out in a hurry was stuff like they had ceded coverage of Albany to the other newspapers. When so many people within Saratoga, in fact, worked for the state government or in Albany. We were an afternoon newspaper, so we had up till noon, anything that affected state government in the morning, we certainly could put in the paper. But you couldn't tell from reading our paper that the state legislature was meeting when it was.
Ritchie: To be so close to them, that's a gap.
Bulkeley: Right. Our people said, "Well, we can't do what the Albany papers can do, even do what Schenectady can do, so there's no point in doing anything that calls attention to our weaknesses."
I said, "Wait a minute. We've got an Albany bureau that's second to none. If they're not doing what we need, let's talk to them about it."
Ritchie: This is the Gannett Albany bureau?
Bulkeley: The Gannett Albany bureau, and we had the AP, too. The Gannett bureau, especially, was as big as anybody else's bureau. I said, "And if they can't do what we need, they can teach us how to do it for ourselves. But at the very least, there is the local impact stuff we've got to have. You can't ignore the state government."
The other thing that I didn't get corrected while I was there, but got done later, was the military base. The county seat was five miles down the road, Ballston Spa. Right outside of there was the nuclear submarine research and training base, Navy and General Electric--and, again, we talked about that a little bit--which said to me we should have had everything about nuclear, at least a news digest kind of a thing, everything about the federal government and the military, and everything about the Navy. Not everything about the whole military, but the defense department, on a comprehensive basis, and anything about submarines. We probably needed to keep a pretty good eye on ocean stuff, because all of those things affected that whole bunch of people.
Ritchie: For the economy there.
Bulkeley: The economy, and in terms of interests, those people were at least were entitled to as much news digest stuff as any other special interest group of size. But my staff kept saying, "But it's all top secret. We can't cover it."
I said, "I'm not saying go in and bust up the secrets. I'm saying cover the stuff that we know is of critical importance to those people. At least tell them it happened so they can go to their sources. Give them the headline so they can go to their sources. Give their drinking buddies the headline so they'll know what to ask them about at the bar or the bowling alley."
I was on my way out of there. This stay in Saratoga lasted only nine months, and, in fact, not a full nine months. As I was getting there, I was told that the editor had just agreed to go to another newspaper. Well, okay, that's all right. I can deal with the newsroom. And there were a couple of people on the staff that I was encouraged to look at as successors to the editor job. But then I discovered the circulation director was more gone than present, doing USA Today stuff and some training around the country and sales for them, even though our staff was trying to handle the whole capital district in terms of USA Today sales and distribution, plus our own stuff, and before she ever got back and got settled, she got promoted out of town, and then the ad director did.
So I'm sitting there with no sales executives and nobody on either of those staffs capable of backing them up or even holding the fort. The production director I had was incompetent, and the financial executive was adequate, but that was all.
Ritchie: Had most of these changed since you were there?
Bulkeley: Several times. There had been three publishers. Of course, my last controller there, their second controller, succeeded me as publisher. There were people on the staff who had been there all along, but the department heads were all new. And to all of a sudden be without my sales executives, the newspaper sales executives, as we were hitting our peak season--
Ritchie: Into the summer.
Bulkeley: Into the summer. I got the ad director I asked for, and was allowed to go recruit, the woman [Sharon Damico] who had been number two in the Chillicothe, Ohio, paper that I supervised. And then I asked for and eventually was allowed to recruit the circulation director. Sometime after the regional vice presidencies were set up, I was given Coffeyville, Kansas, as an added responsibility.
Bulkeley: Yes. For some reason, it was in our district, even though to get to it, you had to fly to Tulsa and drive north to Coffeyville, over an hour. Muskogee was closer to Tulsa than Coffeyville, and Coffeyville didn't really fit our region. I don't know why we got it, but we did, and I was given it.
Ritchie: So you knew the paper there.
Bulkeley: So I knew the paper there. The circulation was smaller than ours. The circulation director was a young guy who had to learn how to be a sales executive, but he'd gotten pretty good, and he was systematic and organized, and trained his people, all of which we needed, and it took them a while to decide that I could recruit him, to the point that he agreed to come, but it was too late to even get temporary housing because of the horse season.
Sharon Damico was the ad director. I was renting a house until we could close and move into our house in late June, and it was three bedrooms, so Sharon, the ad director, just came out
and we camped out together in that house, and she found a house to buy. So she got there in time for the sales season, though her family, Roger, came and moved, I think probably in July. I don't really remember specifically. But we didn't have circulation.
By the time we got the agreement on moving Marvin--Marvin? I'm not sure; I've forgotten. It was too late for temporary housing or anything else, so we had to go through August without a circulation director.
Ritchie: Your busiest time.
Bulkeley: Busiest time. And USA Today. Because of the tourists staying all over that part of New York State, it should have been gangbuster sales for USA Today. We just couldn't do it. Couldn't get everything done, and we had our own extra racing edition to do. All of this is compounded by the personnel and payroll stuff I was wrestling with.
[Material removed and sealed will be available at the Oral History
Research Office of Columbia University after April 8, 2019.]
He had contracted for a television schedule book, the quarter-fold kind like big papers have, that was going to cost a substantial amount of money that he hadn't budgeted.
Ritchie: What do you mean when you say he contracted for it?
Bulkeley: Buying it from a service that helped sell advertising into it. The newspaper had done its own tabloid size. In Danville, we had contracted with this service to put the book in our newspaper, because we had clear evidence that the Saturday paper where the television schedule was sold more, and with nothing to sell it, and was stolen more, with the television book, and for reasons beyond that escaped me, we couldn't sell advertising into it, so I thought, well, this might help us do it. And we were the primary ones around. In Saratoga, there is no way we could do a television book that would compete or compare favorably with the Albany newspapers with ten times the circulation.
Nonetheless, my predecessor [Mike Coleman] had already done the deal before I got there. That added time in our mail room for handling it, it reduced some of our flexibility because the tabloid we could run right off the press with other things sometimes. So I inherited that major cost item, the two cost items of the three moves, moving me and two department heads.
[Material removed and sealed will be available at the Oral History
Research Office of Columbia University after April 8, 2019.]
Some of the things, as well as having budget out of line--in my early days as a publisher, you were allowed expenses over if they related to a move, and my understanding was that was to make sure you didn't hold back your employees as a budget-saving device, when you had people who clearly had potential or that the corporation did and wanted to move them on.
But my boss who worked with me on this payroll thing all of a sudden got mad or tired or sick or something, and quit and retired, and I got a new boss [Vince Spezzano], and there was no record about the payroll stuff or about these other expenses. So he started beating on me about not meeting the budget, not selling enough USA Todays. I said, "I'll be glad to drive over and talk to you. If you're going to haggle about budget, I won't spend air fare, but I'll drive over and talk to you anytime." Well, he never had time to talk about it. He just went ahead and did the stuff we all know how to do to set up somebody, to put them on warning and fire them.
Any publisher has enough discretion and enough decision-making that if you want to set a publisher up to be fired, it takes about three months. I had done it when I was a regional vice president. I had set up a couple of mine, I think legitimately. What's legitimate and what isn't? Anyway, I was getting beat on about the expenses and about the bodies.
Ritchie: Even though you had to run the newspaper.
Bulkeley: Even though I had to run the newspaper somehow. The third one was during the budget proposal stuff, one of the big variances, of course, for the next year, was the television magazine. One of the corporate budget guys hand-wrote on the budget sheets, "Well, I think she slipped one in there just like she did in Danville." I had not sneaked it in or slipped it in in Danville. I had worked with the corporate marketing people on it, and had clear permission to try the system. It was new to the syndicate that was doing it, and I wasn't the one who made the decisions in Saratoga. I had advised the publisher there against it. I told him, "In that market, you can't compete in terms of quality of book with those other people, so why call attention to it?"
Well, anyway, the corporate guy, without even asking, would circulate a snide remark like that, a snide attack, just added more to what I'd known for a long time about some of those guys. It's like the corporate lawyer, one day at a workshop they were having that one of his staff had asked me to come do a publisher piece on, said to me at dinner afterward, "Well, we're graced to have the company's most traveled publisher in our midst." I didn't need that kind of stuff. I was asked, I thought they wanted me there, and here I am, being--
Ritchie: Treated like that.
Bulkeley: Yes. So anyway, when the boss starts writing the letter that says, "If you're not going to get your bottom line in order, we'll get somebody there who can."
Ritchie: And this is the--
Bulkeley: The regional president [Vince Spezzano]. I said, "I'll be glad to talk to you about it any time. Here's what we've done, here's what we're doing, here's what we're not going to do anything about, and here's how much it costs to move us. With the exception of the cost of moving, we will, in fact, have made up the cost of the television book before the end of the year."
He says to me, "You've got to make up the moving costs, too. You didn't have to let those people be moved."
I said, "If I didn't, and if I have to make it up, those were both policy changes I was never told about."
Ritchie: Was the headquarters good about communicating policy changes?
Bulkeley: No, and to this day, I don't know if those were policy changes or if he, for whatever reason, was setting me up to get me out of the way. The USA Today thing, circulation thing, was a terrible mess. We just didn't have enough people and weren't allowed to do enough.
Ritchie: So you were expected to handle that for that area?
Bulkeley: For the whole capital district--Schenectady, Albany and Troy, and I think we got one more person. We were allowed to add one person to our circulation department to do it. The recordkeeping was awful. I really never did get that straightened out while I was there on my watch. My successor in Saratoga had to do it, and, in fact, we turned it over to Utica, which was also a Gannett newspaper, but had a lot of depth in the circulation department and people used to handling that kind of stuff, which ours just weren't. The Saratoga circulation department had a lot more people in it than when I'd been there before, but they hadn't been trained and they just couldn't handle the complexities of running an operation forty miles away that was pretty much scatter shot.
Ritchie: So these events were all taking place during the summer and that fall?
Bulkeley: Summer and fall of '84. So when the personnel reviews came, my boss [Vince Spezzano] tore me apart and said, "At best, belongs in company public relations kinds of work." Well, I didn't even say anything; I just signed it and sent it back. I probably should have put some of the stuff on the record, but I didn't bother, because I was tired of all the crap. And right before the Gannett year-end meetings, then I got a phone call from that boss, who said I was going to be called by the president of the Foundation and offered one of their vice presidencies that was being expanded from a part-time vice presidency a retired publisher was doing to a full-time job in the office, and I'd better listen to him. He gave me a lecture about people's attention span and boredom cycles, that he thought I must be bored being a publisher because I wasn't paying attention to the job and getting the work done. Just a bunch of trite crap.
So anyway, I got the message, and I called the corporate vice president, the personnel executive at headquarters, and I said, "Am I supposed to do this, and is Neuharth part of this, or is this only the incoming gang?"
She says, "It's the people who have the decision power." Well, I probably should have called Al and talked to him directly. I never did.
Ritchie: So was it people who were there at headquarters?
Bulkeley: It was the headquarters and the Curley crowd. I had about twenty-four hours to decide whether I was going to take the Foundation job or whether I was going to wait until they fired me.
Ritchie: Had you gotten a call yet about the Foundation job?
Bulkeley: Yes, shortly after. My operating committee, some of my staff and I had a meeting in Utica about the USA Today transfer, so I had to make up some kind of a story, and was picked up by one of the Gannett planes in Utica and taken over to Rochester to meet with the Foundation president and then delivered back to Albany. Nobody got suspicious. But I had, as I say, about twenty-four hours to decide whether I was going to go along with it or wait until they really fired me and then decide whether to sue, and I just decided I was too tired to fight with anybody. At least I knew Rochester, and David knew Rochester. If we had to leave Saratoga, then Rochester was a good place to go.
So that was the end of my newspapering. That was early in December. The Foundation had its regular year-end board meeting at the same time Gannett had its year-end executive meetings. I talked about this early on in this discussion--I mean, several days ago. By now, the Gannett meetings every year were in Washington, and I was told that the Foundation board would elect me to the vice presidency during that meeting, and the news release would go out at that time, and my successor would be named shortly thereafter.
My successor was one of the other women who had been a Gannett publisher. She was going with, but not married to, one of the Gannett men executives. His wife had died. She was told at the time that she couldn't do both, so she quit being a publisher.
Ritchie: She couldn't go with him and be a publisher?
Bulkeley: And be a publisher. This was several years before Saratoga. By the time I'm getting thrown out in Saratoga, he has retired. He had been the Saratoga publisher back in the forties at one point.
Ritchie: It's a nice place to retire to.
Bulkeley: Especially if you can get the company to pay for your move because your housemate is the new publisher, and that's precisely what happened. I didn't know that's what they were going to do. I finally found out. Shortly before they announced it, I was told. But nobody even had the courtesy to tell me beforehand. I was just guessing. And I kind of guessed that was one of the ways they would try to save face, by at least some of the old-timers in Saratoga knew, having turned the publisher over again too fast up there.
Up to that point, we had made some pretty good strides in fixing things. We were starting the press on time, and our sales were up. Nobody had ever bothered telling the newsroom we had to start the press on time. But an afternoon paper with noon street sales, you've got to start the press on time. You also don't need to be paying drivers to stand around and wait because you were ten minutes late starting the press. So our circulation had gone from a decline year-to-date to an increase. We were up a hundred or two hundred papers a day, simply by being consistent in getting them out there, or mostly.
We had started to overhaul. Part of old Saratoga Springs had been the Skidmore campus in big, old houses. A few buildings they built, but mostly big, old houses. Skidmore had moved to a new campus in the north end of town in the seventies. By 1984, when I'm back in Saratoga, the circulation department has never overhauled how it handles the old part of town where Skidmore used to be. A lot of the big old houses had been converted to apartments, some congregate living halfway house kinds of things, but they still just had the news stands scattered around, and nobody had ever done a sales sweep through there, telephone, door to door, or whatever, so we had started doing that. We had also started spotting boxes better, based on adult residential and families rather than college kids, because regular residents buy more papers than college kids do. We were doing some of those kinds of things. As I say, our sales were up.
During the year-end meeting, I got a call from my ad director and controller telling me that we had beaten the bottom line for the budget, the whole bottom line including the moves and the television tab.
Ritchie: So you really caught it up?
Bulkeley: We had caught it up, and we still had two and a half or three weeks of the year, calendar year, fiscal year, to go. So one of my small joys was walking up to my regional president who'd said we'd never do it, and telling him we had done it, and asking him if I should let everybody go home and not bother for the next three weeks. I was no longer even trying to be gracious and charming. We did not make USA Today sales numbers, but there was no way we could have. And as it turned out, the bookkeeping had been set up wrong ahead of me on the USA Today sales numbers, so they weren't even selling what they thought they were selling.
Ritchie: To begin with?
Bulkeley: To begin with, let alone what somebody had decided what they should be able to sell, in spite of the logistics and the lack of people to do it.
Ritchie: How did you feel during this time? Here you were coming back to Saratoga, you had requested a move there, and then all of this happened.
Bulkeley: I was fine until I started being unfairly blamed for other people's decisions.
Ritchie: You could deal with fixing things at the paper.
Bulkeley: Oh, sure. I never liked to have to do over again things that had been done once, and it confirmed in me that with institutionalizing comes teaching so people know why something's done and know how to maintain it, or how to keep evaluating and moving on. It just was a real bother to think that we had to slow down during that period. We didn't have the staff in place. But then to know that my from-out-of-town recruited staff had been able to save the sales situation in new
communities was gratifying, certainly, to know that I had made the right judgments on those people, at least for the time and circumstances that I had to deal with.
I worked more with the news side once those other department heads were there, and the production director, because he was incompetent. Of course, when I said, "Let's do something about the production director," he said, "You've had too many department head changes," all of which they had been responsible for, and I said, "Well, he's part of the cost problem, because he can't manage the mail room, and he doesn't use the equipment, he just does it all with people, which is part of the body count problem, so if you're not going to let me change him, then you've got to take me off the hook on these other things."
And they, of course, said, "No, we don't."
Ritchie: So it was almost like an endless circle.
Bulkeley: It was clearly, as far as I'm concerned--and again, I never asked point-blank--but it was clearly a situation that had gone from me negotiating a peaceful, graceful way to go do what I wanted to do and let them do what they wanted to do. It had been moved into a situation of, "It's time for her to go. She has outlived her usefulness as a lightning rod," or whatever, and they may have totally different versions.
The one other thing that came along, after I left Danville--I talked about my successor [Gary Stout] there thinking he could save big bunches of money. They also did a readership study in Danville of a model and with consultants that I hadn't worked with, and it was a bad readership study.
Ritchie: How do you do a readership study?
Bulkeley: This particular model was telephone interviews asking, random sample, I think readers and non-readers, or at least readers and occasional readers, about everything from delivery service to what they like and don't like about the paper--what's wrong with it, what's right with it, what would you like to see in it that's not there. One of the points of the test was to measure loyalty to see whether it would stand a shift from evening to morning, because the decision had already been made that the papers all ought to be morning papers.
Ritchie: You mean all the Gannett papers?
Bulkeley: Yes, and that's a trend in the industry. I'm not convinced that it's an absolute in a town where people go to work at six in the morning and are off at three.
Ritchie: They like to come home to their paper.
Bulkeley: I think an afternoon newspaper that tells them what went on during the start of the day serves a purpose if it's well done. In a town like Saratoga, where there are already four area morning newspapers and two metropolitan papers and USA Today available, when you're already the smallest by far, I'm not sure you set yourself up and force a choice, because I think that's what you're doing when you go morning. Now, the Saratoga paper was converted to morning, and they had already decided it was to be converted.
Ritchie: After you left?
Bulkeley: Yes [they had decided while I was there but without my input], and the schedule was already in place. They had agreed that as part of the conversion, a Saturday paper would be added. There had not been one since they started the Sunday paper, so Saratoga was Monday through Friday plus Sunday.
I had said, "Well, if it's morning, you can't really go from midnight Thursday, close of the Friday morning paper deadline, until Sunday morning, the next time people see new news from you. You've got to put a Saturday paper in."
Ritchie: To fill the gap.
Bulkeley: The gap is too big when there are all those other papers around. So they had agreed to that, and I was willing to sacrifice changing the cycle, because I thought I could fix the news, particularized or localized to Saratoga, so no matter when they got it, it would be worth reading, and I was pretty sure that it would be read at night, not in the morning, no matter when we delivered it. But I really wanted that other paper back, so I didn't fight with them about changing the cycle; I just went ahead and agreed.
But the point was the readership study from Danville. I didn't know how to interpret the study, because, as I say, it's not one I had been involved with before, although we had one in Saratoga, same consulting team, late while I was still there. In fact, the debriefing with the Gannett marketing people came after I knew I was leaving Saratoga and going to the Foundation.
Ritchie: The debriefing about--
Bulkeley: About our Saratoga readership study. That's where I learned the dynamics enough to learn how to interpret the Danville study and how to counter what was portrayed as negative in it, and basically it's the lag time between perceptions and reality. As those readership studies work, if there's something wrong with delivery service, for instance, it usually takes a while for public opinion to catch up with the fact that it's fixed. We'd already lived through that once in Danville. I had lived through that in changing the editorial page content in Rochester, that the perceptions didn't change until the people on the page changed, though, in fact, the opinion content had changed. They never talked to me about the Danville study. In fact, some people didn't know that I didn't know anything about it except that I read it.
Ritchie: Even though it reflected your years there?
Bulkeley: Even though it reflected my watch. Well, they never were willing to concede that maybe it reflected when we were at our worst before I got to the newsroom to start changing it, because every other department was dysfunctional, and we didn't even start working on news until I'd been there three or four years. Nor did anybody bother remembering that twice when I had fixed schedules and plans for the year to take a direct hand in improving the news sections, the corporate news vice president told me, no, if I had more time, I should be working with those other papers I was responsible for, so I'd been directly told to leave alone the newsroom.
I had also told them, consistently, that I didn't know what to do with the news for a community that wasn't interested in democracy, or didn't understand it, or something. I said, "I know we're not doing it all right, but I don't know how to fine-tune it," and fine-tuning may be too general. There were changes needed, and I didn't know what they were. I do now. I've learned enough, and there's been enough learned that I've run across about social class and attitudes toward institutions and attitudes toward self, that I know now what I'd do differently in
that news content, and where I would ignore the corporate wizards and follow the instincts and gut of me or my staff.
One of them was beefing up the sports section, and primarily so we could cover more of the local stuff. This was even before we knew that there were all those girls' teams we weren't covering. The corporate honchos said, "No, you already have more news staff and more news space than the norm for papers your size." Yes, but we also had more industrial leagues than anybody our size. It was one of the few places people in Danville could be who they were, and could have teamwork where it was their own and their friends' efforts that make the difference. When you work on an assembly line, it doesn't really much matter what you do. You can either screw it up, or you're another widget. But sports was the one way they had to validate themselves, or one of the few ways, and we really needed to smother the coverage of it. I didn't understand that then, and nobody else did, either. But it's another time when we were told "no" by the corporate guys, because we had put it in the budget.
None of that was relevant. The Danville readership study was never discussed with me. They sent in some yuppy editors, and I never saw any studies since, but I certainly heard for a while from people about how awful their paper was getting.
Ritchie: The Danville paper?
Bulkeley: Yes, because the yuppy stuff doesn't fly in that kind of community, or the way the community was then. I haven't seen the paper a lot since then.
But Saratoga was a totally different kind of a place. Saratoga is really an entrepreneurial bootstrap kind of a place, and again, we've talked about that before. What we needed to do with that paper was simply sharpen up the copy, clean it up, be sure the grammar was right and the sentences and the paragraphing was right, quit overwriting. I edited some stories for one or two of our special sections that I could cut in half without taking out anything. In the copy they were simply so grossly overwritten, or written the wrong way which often would obscure the information rather than help it, without creating mood or doing any of those story-writing things that creative writers do, that was irrelevant to the point of the kind of information we were trying to convey. When you're trying to convey straight factual information, you don't create moods.
Ritchie: It doesn't seem like your regional president [Vince Spezzano] gave you much leeway.
Bulkeley: That last one didn't. No, he gave me no leeway at all. He acted like I was a blithering idiot and didn't know anything and had nothing to offer. Never gave me a chance to talk about what we were doing or why. But, no, he never had any idea what was going on. He never talked to me.
Ritchie: Did you ever meet with him?
Bulkeley: Not about the paper, no. He kept saying, "We need to talk," and I kept saying, "Any time." And he never had time. He just kept writing nasty warning letters or set-up letters. Actually, he's somebody I had learned from, and we had had a pretty good relationship when I had been in Rochester before and he was on corporate staff, the first career, and he was still the publisher when we went back to Rochester, and I started discovering that the Rochester papers were doing things we'd never been allowed to do in the countryside. The Rochester papers were delivered later in the morning than the corporate standard we'd all been expected to live with. They had shorter complaint hours than we'd all been allowed to do when we had a much lower
expense base from which to pay complaint clerks. They were allowed to get away with a much longer time without correcting circulation problems. Just all kinds of stuff.
Ritchie: You realized this when you moved back?
Bulkeley: When we moved back with the Foundation. The news content had changed to the point that David and I learned more at the public market about what was happening in government and politics than we could learn in the newspapers.
Ritchie: After all that work you did.
Bulkeley: After all the work I did fifteen years earlier. But there was no way to find out what your tax money was doing from reading the local newspaper.
Ritchie: Did Al Neuharth ever say anything to you about the change to the Foundation--leaving Saratoga?
Bulkeley: Oh, when I was getting a cup of coffee at a meeting, he walked up and says, "Congratulations."
And I said, "For what?"
He was on the Foundation board, and I don't know whether he engineered it, or whether the next generation knew he probably wouldn't have let them fire me, ever, and that this was looked at as a rescue, and whether they all hoped I'd get bored with the Foundation work and go find my way back into the newspaper business. But the newspaper business did not take women publishers seriously. We weren't invited to the cocktail parties at the publishers' meeting. A lot of people would have pre-parties before the official events. The women publishers weren't invited. Even when some of the guys acted like they thought we were friends, the men of my age, when I'd run into them they'd treat me like friends, but I was never invited to their cocktail parties. None of the other women publishers were. Nobody raided women publishers until the last two or three years.
Ritchie: What do you mean by raiding?
Bulkeley: Other companies coming after us. Recruiting. Other companies recruiting us. The men changed companies. I've never polled all of them while I was in the company, but I've talked to enough of them to be convinced that it just wasn't done. We were never on headhunter lists, or if we were, never were hired, and the men were coming and going and trading companies all the time. That has now started happening with women. There have been a few, and most of the major companies have women publishers. Times Mirror just hired one from Knight-Ridder. She won't be in place until after she has a baby. L.A. Times, that company. And she'll be in Baltimore, so once she gets in place, she will have the best publisher job, if you like biggest and growth, that a woman has in the business, once she takes over in January. Because Baltimore is a good community, and the Sun paper, the papers there are in pretty good shape, and I think they have all of their equipment and stuff in place, so she doesn't have to do remedial stuff. There are the same challenges everybody publishing a city newspaper has, of suburbs and the rest of it, but that was a raiding situation, because she was a Knight-Ridder publisher and had been explicitly trained for and served in two of their newspapers.
Ritchie: So you still keep up with the business?
Bulkeley: To some degree, sure. I spent more than twenty years there, not counting the years of training and educating to get into it in the first place, which, if you go back to that Girl Scout badge in eighth grade, was another nine years. And I still consider that one of the possibilities, since after I finish this master's degree I really should go back to work and earn some money again. I still think newspapering is one of the things that I could and should do--whether as a reporter, using directly what I've learned with this degree, or as a manager or columnist or something. In managing, it would be used not quite as overtly, but clearly what I've been learning in this interdisciplinary, multicultural degree and setting would enrich my abilities as a manager, and as a manager of information designed to connect the whole community with itself and to help a whole community talk to itself, and to talk to those above it in the structures, state and federal people.
We could run a wonderful discourse about health care reform, and knowing the kinds of people to talk to and look for, both locally and beyond, and the kinds of forums to help the community set up for people to talk live, face to face, the kinds of charts and graphs and tables to put in the paper and how often to run them so people could look at them and think about them and find where they fit.
Ritchie: And understand them.
Bulkeley: And what it means for them for the future. There are some others out there who can. Some people in the print business have been doing some pretty good work in the last three or four years. I don't know that anybody's done the depth and learning and looking at news as potential new knowledge, and that everybody's been looking at the learning theory and the women's study stuff on how and why people learn, and how you progress from thinking the world has nothing to do with you, through the various stages of learning how to be part of the world and participating and somewhat in charge of your own parts of it. I don't know if anybody's looked at all of that stuff other than me, and how it all fits. Some of my journalism faculty friends have not seen any of it at the meetings they go to where the journalism faculty publish and present their papers, follow the newest, latest research. I have not read or monitored the academic journals in journalism to see if it's showing up there, but my friends say not. So I'm still working on doing some of that writing related to all of that. But I'm also clarifying and solidifying a lot of it through the seminary work.
Ritchie: So it will be interesting to see what direction it takes.
Bulkeley: True, and where it all goes next. I've done a lot of my seminary papers, in fact, on journalism and religion and how come they share the first amendment and nothing else, at least to look at newspapers.
Ritchie: Shall we stop? Is that good?