[Begin Tape 1, Side A]
Ritchie: When we finished our last session, we had talked about your return to Saratoga in 1984, and shortly thereafter, you left.
Bulkeley: Yes, moving to the [Gannett] Foundation.
Ritchie: Do you have anything else you want to tell me about that time period?
Bulkeley: One of the changes in corporate culture that I never talked about was the switch from the early days when [Al] Neuharth and then [John] Quinn, on his behalf, made sure whenever there were meetings with "newsmakers" speakers or whenever Neuharth was doing a "take questions from all of us" kind of thing, Neuharth always wanted to be sure there were questions, and generally wanted to be sure there were questions of substance that the regular news media wouldn't ask. So John Quinn used to plant questions or they'd call us and alert us, some of us, ahead of time, to who was going to be there and be ready with your questions. So some of us just automatically, as part of our job and routine work, came to the regular meetings ready to ask questions.
Ritchie: These meetings would be at corporate headquarters?
Bulkeley: Gannett would do year-end meetings. It used to do the year-end meetings of CEOs in various cities, but part of the program was always newsmakers. It eventually settled into having them here in Washington. Then lots of times there would be meetings connected with the Publishers Association, for instance. They might, in addition to having in-house meetings on corporate stuff, bring in somebody who was going to be at a conference anyway to do a speech or bring in somebody for a speech with question and answer. But the point is that some of us were expected and trained, in effect, to be sure there were questions—different questions, but of substance, than particularly the political newsmakers would get from the Washington press corps.
I got so that I waited until—as the company grew and there were more and more people there, I figured, you know, everybody ought to be doing this, so I sort of started waiting and only filled gaps with my questions. But that last meeting I had with John Curley that we talked about before, one of the things he said to me that I didn't remember when we talked was to quit asking questions. He said, "You ask too many questions, and everybody's getting tired of hearing you ask questions."
"Fine, John. You're the boss." So I never again asked questions, even after I moved to the Foundation, and after the Foundation moved from Rochester to down here. We got a new president and we also started having luncheons with VIPs, particularly those who were connected with grants. Betty Friedan would come periodically and brief us on her men, women, and media work. But lots of other people—journalism deans or whomever. Well, I still didn't ask questions, except once or twice when there were dead silences that were not at the right time. Yet the last
review I had at the Foundation, the president, who by then had been there a year and a half, chewed me out for asking too many questions, seven years after the last time I'd been chewed out for asking too many questions.
Ritchie: How would he have thought that?
Bulkeley: Well, apparently he was—and I'm guessing—but he still has lots of friends in the corporation. Whether he was running on myths in the negative story sense from the Gannett days—there are a couple of other things he complained about.
Ritchie: Do you remember what they were?
Bulkeley: He was talking about the way I'd screwed up newspapers. Well, that was some people's view; it wasn't Neuharth's view. It wasn't my view. It wasn't the view of anybody who ever worked for me. It wasn't the view of anybody who looked at the record, rather than just looking at computer printouts.
I've forgotten what the other one—being too demanding of my peers. I always sort of thought consistency was part of what you looked for when we were managing and doing grants in some things. In grants administration—and I've sort of made an end run around the core of the Foundation work, but we can go back to that—in grants administration, when I first went to the Foundation, the three vice presidents had their own stuff and sort of worked independently. I did some cross-cutting. But I always built evaluation into the grants I administered and had reporting back kinds of things, but I discovered that grants in other areas didn't.
The journalism grants—we seldom had complete budgets. The professional associations would never tell us what the other revenue was, what their dues amounted to, any accountability so we could see how what we were asked for fit within the whole thing, and whether those professionals who were using professional organizations to make themselves more valuable were, in fact, expecting somebody else to pay the whole load. By the same token, the adult literacy grants I was administering, the organizations were expected to be self-sustaining and to find other revenue to replace our grants in one to two years when we were working with people who were at the bottom of the heap financially, who were working very hard on their own, coming back to institutions after they'd been failed by the institutions when they should have learned to read and write and use those.
Those grant recipient organizations that I was working with were being held to a far higher standard than professional journalists were being held and organizations of professional journalists, and I tended to get a little impatient about that once in a while. We sat there one year down here, the first year of collective grant review, and agreed that while some of them could have repeating grants for routine operations, that they should have learned to pay for themselves, they would be told "No more. And henceforth, we want your whole budget and we need to see, when you ask for money, how it fits within the whole scheme of things, and how you're going to evaluate what you're going to do."
They were evaluating workshops by how many people came, not by how the performance changed when they went home, if there was a reporting workshop of some kind. Nobody ever had to submit clips that showed, "This is what I did and am now able to do because I went to your workshop."
So anyway, that first year I thought we made an agreement in committee on reviewing grants, that we'd start having some professionally responsible expectations for the professional journalism organizations. Ten, eleven months later when they came back with a new proposal, there was no more information than there had ever been, including no accounting for the prior grants, and no explanation of why they had not been expected to provide this material. So in these circumstances, yeah, I'd get a little huffy and I'd refuse to vote "yes" on a grant recommendation. It just didn't make sense to me in the era when we were still doing community-based grants and issues-based grants, that people who were scraping to get by and organizations that were scraping to get by would be held to so much higher a standard than professional journalists whose work affects the democracy.
If they didn't learn about expectations and responsibility, then I don't really want them doing my newscasts or my newspapers. They aren't the kind of people I would turn loose to go ask questions somewhere. I would have trusted a lot more of these literacy people that I met over the years, or literacy students, who had much greater sensitivity to responsibility and accountability than some of the journalism professionalism stuff that we were encouraging and aiding and abetting through the Foundation.
Ritchie: Were there not standard guideline applications?
Bulkeley: No. When I went to the Foundation—
Ritchie: You went as a vice president?
Bulkeley: Yes, which was the professional title. Technically, an officer that ran a program staff, grants administration, program administration.
Ritchie: How large was the staff?
Bulkeley: The Foundation at that point had a financial vice president, a communications vice president, and three vice presidents dealing with grants, a president, and support staff. A couple of people were added, a couple of writers were added to the PR staff later.
Ritchie: Were there any other women in a position the same as yours?
Bulkeley: Not handling grants. The communications vice president was a woman. The financial vice president was a man. All of us except the communications vice president had come from Gannett. The local grants vice president was, in fact, Cal Mayne, whom I had gone to work for on the editorial page and succeeded as editor of the editorial page.
Ritchie: Back in Rochester.
Bulkeley: In Rochester, at the Times-Union in the early seventies. The vice president who handled the journalism education grants was a man named Jerry Sass, who had been the personnel director at Gannett Rochester newspaper some of the years I was there, so I didn't really know him. He was a friend of David's from growing-up days—David, my husband. I had worked with Jerry a lot over the years on journalism grants. The grants dealing with status of women he'd have me look at. Some of the other grants, he'd have me look at any Missouri grants. Neuharth had originally had me involved with grants to University of Missouri back when I first became a publisher.
When I went to the Foundation, I was absolutely cut off from journalism. The story of my job change and the story of my successor in Saratoga was never sent on the Gannett news wire and was never sent to the journalism trade press. I kept watching Editor and Publisher magazine to see that the story was there so people would know where I was, and after a month when it didn't show up, I finally went to our communications vice president and asked if she would get to her contact there and find out what was going on, why they hadn't run the story. She said, "I didn't send it to them. Why would they?"
And I said, "Well, I did twenty-one years there. I was on one national board and a regional board that I had to resign from, and on a number of national committees I had to resign from. I had a few friends there. That was my whole adult life and half of my getting-to-adulthood life. It just seems to me that there should have been a story there."
"Oh," she says, and that was the end of the discussion.
Ritchie: So there was no press release sent out?
Bulkeley: The press release was sent to the philanthropy and foundation press only, and my successor in Saratoga kept waiting for the story on the Gannett wire so her friends in the company would know she was back at work—Margo Drobney. I had left with somebody—it was announced in mid-December, during the year-end meetings down here, so I had left appropriate quotes and stuff, assuming it would go on the Gannett wire immediately as Gannett stories always did. Well, it didn't. So my staff had to go and write the story anyway. They got the Foundation story sent to them, but not on the Gannett wire, and I had left stuff there.
Ritchie: You mean your staff in Saratoga?
Bulkeley: The staff at the newspaper, yes, the staff that I had temporarily and was leaving. So they dealt with it, but Margo called me a few days later and asked if I'd seen the story, had the wire been out and they missed it somehow, and I said, "I don't have access to the wire anymore." But anyway, she found out that they'd never put it on the Gannett wire.
In addition, then the newspaper association meetings or the journalism association meetings. The Foundation president, who was a thirty-year newspaper veteran, went to the key ones as the Foundation president. Jerry Sass went because he handled the journalism grants. By now the Foundation also had the Media Studies Center housed at, but not part of, Columbia University. It's a tenant and has some scholar exchange kinds of things. Two or three people from there go. So there's no way to justify me going, too, and Jerry had quit using me to look at grants. Now that I was down the hall from him, I was no longer asked to evaluate grant proposals. So it all was very strange to suddenly be cut off.
What I was doing at the Foundation, the job I took had been a part-time vice presidency held by a guy on the West Coast, primarily setting up what we called volunteer appreciation luncheons in the Gannett cities. The Foundation did 40 to 50 percent of its grant-making in the local allocations that I think we already talked about, to the local Gannett communities, another chunk in a major local grants competition I'll talk about in a minute, and then the journalism grants. On a rotating annual basis in the big cities, the Foundation would sponsor and pay for luncheons honoring the grant recipients with a speech by the Foundation president or somebody from the Foundation doing some philanthropy boosterism and putting that community kind of in the picture on how it stacked up, plus highlighting some of the best grants from that community.
It really is just a "thank you" to people for doing the unsung-hero work that most nonprofits do, but also some commercials for us.
So anyway, I was setting those up. We'd do twenty-five or thirty a year. The speech texts needed to be put together, the arrangements made.
Ritchie: Long distance you were doing this?
Bulkeley: The work would be done by somebody at the local Gannett property, but there were certain standards and expectations Gene [Dorsey] had. We'd never had guidelines to help the local people. Somebody would sit on the phone and talk them through it. So I wrote guidelines as I found out what was needed. I'd do guidelines and revise them, checklists for the local people, and just try to organize and systematize the thing, so when whoever was making the trip had whatever worked and was right for them in terms of facilities and arrangements. I was several months without a secretary. Once I finally got one, we also put the speech text together, and that was basically a formula format, using the computer printouts.
In addition to that, money had been budgeted for an adult literacy program, $300,000 the first year. Cal [Mayne] had a general idea. He was involved with Literacy Volunteers of America. That's an organization—LVA. He had a general idea on how the money could be spent, but I needed to set up a program, and I didn't know anything about adult literacy or the organizations or the rest of it, so I spent some time learning that. We ended up with $100,000 for local grants, which with eighty Gannett properties wouldn't go very far—$100,000 split a couple of ways or split between the two national organizations who do adult volunteer training literacy organizations, and another $100,000 for some special project stuff.
I said, "We have to have application blanks if I'm going to have to hold the locals accountable. If they don't know any more about this than I do, they don't even know what to look for, but an application will help them know what to look for, and guidelines." We never had either one.
Ritchie: For any of the grants?
Bulkeley: No. No. Some general guidelines had evolved on the grants competition, but no formal application sheet and no format for keeping track. I was told to design a program that could be self-contained or go on. This was 1985. Endowed foundations such as the Gannett Foundation are required to spend the equivalent of 5 percent of their assets every year. Well, during those years when the stock market was growing by leaps and bounds, that was no big deal, because the egg kept getting bigger every year anyway. But it also meant some years we didn't budget high enough, so we had extra money to spend during the year.
Ritchie: The Foundation.
Bulkeley: The Foundation did. We ended up doing nearly a million dollars that year in adult literacy stuff because we got so many valid applications back for the local grants that the president, Gene Dorsey, and the board agreed we should go ahead and put it into more local grants and help build the capacity of organizations. At that point, adult literacy organizations and those publicly funded adult education things dealing with basic reading, writing, and arithmetic skills were reaching about 1 percent of the estimated population in need of help at that basic level. Now they're reaching closer to 10 percent. The federal budget has increased by leaps and bounds,
some of that spending forced up in the late eighties by the amnesty act for undocumented immigrants.
The grants competition thing was an annual competition among the Gannett communities for grants of up to $150,000. Those were big grants by anybody's standards for a local organization. A lot of Gannett communities' total annual budget for Foundation grants was in the neighborhood of $20,000 to $30,000. The biggest cities would be three or four-hundred-thousand, but even there $150,000 for a grant was a big deal.
Ritchie: When you say a grants competition, they all applied and several grants were awarded?
Bulkeley: And there would be a limited number awarded. It required a needs ascertainment report of any of various kinds. The contest was called Community Priorities Program. So they had to document their priority problems and provide an innovative solution, show why it was new in the community, at least, why it was a high risk or a higher risk than usual grant proposal. And I helped judge that. Every year I was there, I read all eighty-some applications.
We started trying to develop guidelines or developing guidelines in judging sheets. The contest had been in place, I think four years before I went to the Foundation, and we had won a couple in Danville. But the guidelines were all very vague and we didn't really get a good critique back from them, so when I got there, which meant Cal had more captive help than he'd had before, judging it and thinking about it and analyzing it, we started working on guidelines and judging criteria and judging sheets. After the fifth year, the Foundation also commissioned an outside evaluation to go see what had happened to some of the early ones and to interview CEOs in the field about what they thought about the program, what was good, bad, indifferent, what would they change, as well as to talk to those who had the best records about how they evaluated proposals, how they scared up proposals, for that matter, and all the rest of it.
From all of that we started developing guidelines, and the proposals started getting fatter. The first year that I was there, it took about an hour a proposal. By the last year it was averaging two and a half or three hours per proposal to read them. They were usually due around Labor Day for early December announcements and start-up soon thereafter, so they could get them going.
Ritchie: Did these grants only go to communities that had Gannett affiliations?
Bulkeley: Yes, local Gannett subsidiaries. But there were eighty-some communities, including New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Seattle, Cincinnati.
Ritchie: Did they have to work through the local paper to do this?
Bulkeley: Yes, all local grants were made only upon recommendation of the local CEO. That's why the Gannett Foundation could do several thousand grants in the $25 million to $30 million total category with only three program officers, the three vice presidents, because all of the grant screening, in the vast number of grants the grant screening and administration was really done by those local Gannett properties. So they handled the vast majority. There would be a couple hundred journalism grants.
The Foundation's function in those local grants—and Cal handled it—was for legal and policy compliance. He didn't have to pick and choose among the grants. What he got were the grants recommended by the local property. He'd find things that needed more information and
better documentation certainly, but probably 90 percent of the grant proposal requests that came in could be handled as a technical paperwork pass-through. The rest would need more work or more questions or be rejected for some reason. Then there was the community priorities proposal, which was a big job, and there would be around thirty grants granted every year that then had paperwork. In the early years of that program, they had arbitrarily cut budgets or cut amounts out of grants to try to get more grants.
Ritchie: To spread the money around.
Bulkeley: To spread the money around, not necessarily with discussion, because nobody knew who won until they were announced at the year-end meetings. So proposals would be cut. Well, we started asking for more budget information partly to help them see how to justify the dollars and do better budget planning, and to help the Gannett people learn to evaluate nonprofit budgets when they were working on hard computer print budgets, profit-oriented budgets. But that also meant more paperwork, and the more information you get, the more questions it raises, of course.
One of the things I learned in the newspaper business was if your business office isn't functioning, the auditors write very short reports. But the better the records are, the more things they find to raise questions about, so even with internal auditors, you get longer and longer reports the better your office is. The better your budget proposals are because you zero-base them, the more questions you get from the corporate staff. Well, it's the same on grant proposals. So they kept getting fatter and taking more work.
It was wonderful stuff. When I went to the Foundation the first year, we went to the annual Council on Foundations meeting, and David went with me, and between us we could not get to all of the programs that offered new information on issues we were interested in or needed to know. By the third or fourth year, when I'd been exposed to these major proposals every year plus the literacy stuff, community foundation work, the volunteer luncheons, I did some of those speeches. By then the Council on Foundations wasn't so far ahead, and I realized that with all the autonomy we're allowing, that the Foundation allowed in grants, we really were getting cutting edge, both the big proposals. And once we'd learned the detail for the big ones, we could go back and see in the local grants that people out in the countryside were not only ahead of the news media (which I found out that at the council the experts were ahead of the news media, is part of what I read into that council experience), but also the people in the countryside who see problems and see each other at the grocery store or at work or at church or at the gas station or wherever, bake sale, talk about a problem and figure out how can we do something about it, and they go ahead and do it without access to the experts who might tell them, "No, you can't do that. No, it's never been done that way." Well, it is done that way.
The first year I was there, in 1985, in Fremont, Nebraska, one of the site visits I made was to the organization that coordinated the stuff for battered women. It wasn't the shelter, because the shelter was tucked away somewhere. But in 1985, in Fremont, Nebraska, guys who battered were walking in off the street, asking for help. In 1985, there were lots of progressive cities in this country that didn't even have shelters for the battered women or ongoing programs of advice. But in Fremont, Nebraska, it was so well established and so trusted and the battery syndrome being so understood, beginning to be understood on the streets, that guys would walk in saying, "Hey, I do that. I need help." In those early years we were seeing people move the services for homeless into the shelters, so the overnight shelters also became all-day get-help peer places. This city, Washington, D.C., in 1993 is only starting to talk about that. It's coming out of the churches and agencies in Northwest Washington, where the problem is the least and where it aggravates people the most, now starting to talk about a day-care center to get the homeless people off the
street in Northwest. Nothing has been done in the rest of the city where most of the homeless are and where the shelters are.
Ritchie: But you saw this much earlier?
Bulkeley: We saw this in the mid-eighties in other cities. We saw a huge variety of affordable housing and alternatives to the old downtown single-room occupancy hotels, a variety of ways neighborhoods, often with church leadership, would find alternate ways of providing housing. We saw early—well, in Rochester, we saw, not because of the Foundation—in-home intervention in single-parent children with children, but shortly thereafter we saw in-home intervention keep the family together and battering families coming out of Georgia. The earliest that we saw, we didn't find anybody else at that time who knew about it so we could see whether this was valid or not, so we said, "Go ahead. If anybody's doing it, it's still a secret."
We saw incubator businesses in old schools with little bitty start-up grants. Women's organizations were doing this in the early eighties in, I know, the Twin Cities and some other places—the $5,000 and $6,000 business start-ups. When the Small Business Association wouldn't talk to anybody who didn't have a business plan and need $150,000, women were moving their craft shops out into stores and their flower arranging into flower businesses for the $5,000 and $10,000 loans. We saw this move into more traditional businesses and incubators in the mid-eighties.
Ritchie: So you really funded a wide variety of programs.
Bulkeley: Sure, because we didn't have limits. It was really what was the community need. We saw clinics in schools, in the mid-eighties, or clinics near schools, so that kids could get all kinds of medical help. We saw a pediatrician set up a clinic. He retired from his fancy practice at age forty-two and set up a clinic where the combination of Medicaid and insurance payments within three years was financing medical care for any kids. By giving the assignment of insurance at market rates and assignment of Medicaid rates, they had enough income to cover the uninsured kids whose families had too much money for Medicaid and not enough money for insurance and no job insurance. Just all kinds of stuff going on out there.
Ritchie: Was it difficult to evaluate so many different types of programs?
Bulkeley: In the sense of do we know whether it's going to work or not, sure, we didn't know. But in the sense of how much does it cost to staff an office, we know how much secretaries cost and how much computers cost. We'd have to assume that the local experts knew what they were talking about when they'd say a case worker with generalist knowledge can help seven homeless people in a day, or we need X number of showers and X number of lockers. They've got to start somewhere. There are going to be mistakes made, but where else are you going to get the research and development money for social problems? Businesses aren't even spending it on their own future. Government doesn't have enough money to keep safety nets in place. Churches are running on flat real dollars, even though they turn half of those into social services. That was still the era of the Reagan cutbacks in safety net and social services, so in order to find new solutions for new problems or solutions to old problems that hadn't given into old solutions, somebody had to do it. We figured, why not?
Cal and I were both good analysts of money and common sense. We both grew up with enough common sense that even when we didn't have the plans, sometimes people wouldn't know how to deal with the forms and the guidelines, and you'd find the stuff in the letters of
endorsement that said, "Hey, these two individuals have their feet on the ground and their heads on straight, and they know what they're doing. Sooner or later somebody will come in who can put it on paper the way we used to, but turn them loose."
Ritchie: So you probably had done a lot of this in your position in both Saratoga and Danville?
Bulkeley: As publisher, I certainly was involved with community services, on boards of things and committees, and I had handled grant proposals to the Foundation, but I really had a committee that handled grant proposals—a committee of employees that I set up because I figured I was from out of town, I didn't know where money ought to go, and the geography was more than I could reach, so I invited employees from each department to make a committee to look at proposals and recommend them.
It turned out, as people found out later everywhere, in those days I wasn't to tell that I had a committee, that it was publisher's prerogative. So the Foundation president, it was Gene Dorsey's predecessor, a guy named Jack Scott, who is now dead. But when he was the publisher in Hawaii, occasionally filled in as the judge on "Hawaii Five-O." So Jack is still with us in more ways than one. But anyway, Jack said, "Well, just don't tell anybody you've got a committee. Really it's the publishers who are responsible."
I said, "Yes, sir."
He said, "But it's a wonderful idea."
I said, "Okay."
Well, a few years later, the Foundation was promoting it and saying, "You really need more input than a CEO can have. You really need committees working with—" And what we all found is the employees were so tickled to be able to do something constructive for community, on their own they'd go make site visits. A lot of times they'd end up finding places they wanted to volunteer and help or they'd be volunteering for something that was entitled to establishment attention and never had it because they never knew how to ask. Our employees, of course, had become empowered and could help them do it. So it just greatly increased the reach and the connection of the newspaper to the community.
But I also had, over those years, with the Women in Communications stuff originally and then community service stuff, learned enough to know that there are some core pieces of management that are the same, whatever you're managing, and there are some pieces of synergy and chemistry and creative insight that will never fit in a form and can never be explained, but if it's there, you can feel it even coming out of the paper. You could feel it in some of those proposals. While to read through it, it absolutely would not have passed muster if you were being computer printout rigid, but you knew they were on to something and you simply had to say, "Let them do it."
Ritchie: So you had the flexibility to do that?
Bulkeley: Yes. Our accountability was fifteen typewritten lines to the president and maybe six to the board of trustees.
Ritchie: The president of—
Bulkeley: Of the Foundation, who then made the recommendations to the board, plus news releases, the big ones for the local communities and summary releases for the others.
One of the problems we found with the program, the competition was for innovation, but by the time we had thirty grants to announce and put in a news release, they were all boiled down to one or two sentences, which didn't leave room to say why is this new and different. So among the people who thought the program was rigged and political, rather than a sincere attempt to find what was going to work, a lot of it was because we were our own worst enemy in our PR.
[End Tape 1, Side A; Begin Tape 1, Side B]
Bulkeley: We just needed to work a lot harder at getting the innovative pieces into summaries, explaining explicitly to those who didn't win why they didn't win, what they could do to win another year if that was still there or to make the proposal sounder. We'd get things like hospitals that were running 20 percent surpluses, the surplus being 12, 14, $16 million and 20 percent of the gross, applying for a grant for less than $150,000 for a $300,000 or $400,000 project that actually was going to add to the hospital's balance sheet.
One of them, as a for instance, was to convert a house in the next lot to the hospital into a senior wellness center. Well, okay. This was early in the senior wellness thing, but nobody ever told us why the hospital couldn't spend some of its own $14 million instead of our $150,000 to create what was going to become another income-generator for them over time, after it got past the introductory period, because people didn't know what those were at that time. In very short order it was perfectly clear it had the potential of being an income-maker, not a loss leader of any kind, and nobody told us whether the hospital had a policy against investing X number of dollars in new services or whatever. There might have been some policies that made it necessary to have outside money, but we didn't have any idea.
Well, the CEO responsible had never looked at the balance sheet and had never stopped and calculated that that hospital—in a comparison with prior years, we had, in effect, three-year budgets, and it was a nonprofit hospital, but its profit, its surplus, ran over those three years from 12 percent to 20 percent, and it was running probably 10 percent of unpaid. Well, I now know that that unpaid is what it would like to get paid for things that Medicaid and insurance won't pay. Very seldom is that service provided to somebody who had no money. I didn't know that at the time or I would have been even harder on hospitals that came in with proposals.
But anyway, we'd run into that kind of thing that just had never been well explained before.
Ritchie: Did you ever feel the program was rigged?
Bulkeley: Well, since Cal and I sat there and decided the recommendations ourselves, I know there were times when Cal wanted, or I wanted, to give money to people or programs that we thought ought to have it, that we couldn't prove ought to have it, and whether it was because they were favorite places or favorite people or just gut instinct that the program was right, is always hard to read.
Saratoga and Danville didn't get grants unless they had documentation. Some of my friends, the publishers, weren't in the big winners' list. I could show anybody who said to me, "You're rigging the contest," I could show quite clearly that any place I would have a preference for or favor for was not benefitting unduly from the judging.
There were a couple of times when Cal and I bargained over some, the ones his gut said "do" that mine said "don't" or that mine said "do" and his said "don't." But other than that kind of bargaining or bargaining over amounts in cuts, I don't think that there were grants given just because somebody felt sorry for somebody, or somebody said, "Well, he's a good guy and he hasn't had any lately. He ought to have one." I think most of the concern about the program came from our own not always clear handling of it. I think the effort to make the announcements quick and short as part of an overloaded year-end Gannett meeting and doing it verbally with pictures and not detail necessarily on a fancy slide show kind of thing, caused as much problem for the program as anything else, because if a day care said it was getting money, by the time you got the community, the publisher, the organization, day-care center, the amount named, you didn't have room to say what was new and different about it. Some of that kind of stuff. We worked on it.
Ritchie: Did you like working there?
Bulkeley: It was okay for a while, and I had fun doing the adult literacy program. One of the innovative things we did with that, ultimately we did a big project with USA Today. I felt the Foundation, in a whole lot of ways, kept itself from living up to its potential. The budgets were never approved until December for the fiscal year starting in January. We were not allowed to recommend grants for more than twelve months. Dealing with adult literacy, as a for instance, in a developing, evolving field, I had no way to assure a start-up organization or somebody working on innovative stuff like developing a technology for adult literacy learners, that I could fund them more than twelve months.
We wouldn't fund research, so there was no way to do formal academic evaluation of the adult learning stuff, which ultimately has to happen if it's to become part of the learning system, as it should.
On these community priority things, they could have renewal grants, but they'd have to apply for them by Labor Day or August, whenever the deadline was, which meant within four or five months from the start-up of an innovative project, which meant they probably didn't have any record with which to apply. To apply that early but not know till December whether they were getting money and how much, because we backed down on cutting budgets finally at some point, or cutting them so hard, that if an innovative project was to maintain any continuity and if our intent was to let them concentrate on building the record and documenting why other people ought to fund it, then to have to have them turn around with a new proposal and sit there and not know until December whether they were going to get money for the next month, with this new thing hanging in the balance, and often with publics that were hard to get involved anybody because they had been disappointed, abused, neglected, insulted, condescended to, screwed by agencies and governments before, a lot of it didn't make any sense. But nobody was ever willing to change it or do anything realistic about any spirit of philanthropy discussion about why weren't we willing to do it and to go ahead and do it.
Some multiple-year funding would have meant when you first started the overlap, you'd be short a couple of years, but ultimately they'd settle out so you'd have a consistent dollar amount to deal with every year. You'd just have to do some policy or operating decisions on how much you were going to commit and how far ahead, unlike the Congress, which seems to have committed the full federal budget for a number of years. You don't have to do that, and most foundations with big assets and big grants budgets operate on a longer string than twelve months, and it wasn't always twelve months. Well, we could do grants for twelve months. If I'd recommend a grant for approval in November, then it would carry through to the following November.
We set up one program where they said, "Yes, you can have two years' funding, but we won't approve it officially until each year comes along." With USA Today, to do literacy grants, my boss, Gene Dorsey, asked for ideas. Well, literacy is tied in with education system. The local stuff, by then I understood enough to know some economies of scale just didn't work, but basically I ended up, among my recommendations, my favorite one was seeing that there were collaborative state-level literacy coalitions in place to provide the link up to the federal government, the oversight of adult literacy money, which included not only adult education money, but some money out of jobs training, some VISTA [Volunteers in Service to America] volunteers, were the primary sources.
But also the link down, because in most states, people can get to a state capital for management training for literacy programs, for instance, or at the state level you can have a corps of trainers who can get out, train a whole bunch of people at once, where if you have to do it at the local level, the economies of scale just don't always work. So we did a grants competition with what we'd learned from USA Today and what I'd learned from the literacy stuff, and we were looking for systems change. We required governor's office, the chief education executive, the nonprofit literacy people, if they were present in the state at the state level, and in most states the nonprofits did have organizations. But the collaboration was new, both for the government people and for the literacy people, but without it there was no way we'd ever get a handle on the problem.
Ritchie: Were you successful in some states?
Bulkeley: Oh, we had a wonderful time with that package. We got proposals the first year. We gave them from mid-September till the end of the year to put their proposals together, and that's one of the places where you quite clearly could feel the energy. People had known they should talk to each other, but until this $100,000 was dangled out there, they didn't have an excuse to stop providing service and go talk about the future. In some of the places, you could feel the energy coming through from the fact that they all got together and figured out how much more they could do together than they were able to do adding up their individual efforts. Some of them were all dead, wooden kinds of things.
Ultimately we made thirteen grants the first year. We got some extra money. The stock market was still going up, so the Foundation usually had extra money toward the end of the year, so we got some more money for those. The next year we did renewal grants at 50 percent for the first-year winners. Then we had another open competition for all of the states that didn't have literacy packages.
One of the structural things I had learned, I needed an equivalent of the Gannett CEOs, because I had only me and whomever I could borrow from USA Today to read proposals. I'd have been dead if I'd had umpteen proposals from each state. Since the point was collaboration, we required the sign-off from the governor's office and the education guy. Not "Get it if you can," but "It's got to be part of the proposal." That really said, "All of you in the state have to get your act together. We are not going to do Solomon's stuff." Well, in some states we got multiple proposals. In some of them we'd get two that were kind of balanced between everybody there, but they hadn't gotten their act together.
New York State sent us a proposal on how they would hire a nonprofit consultant to spend a year doing long-range planning intervention with all of the different interests, because they couldn't all get together and agree without a consultant. So they wanted $100,000 for that.
Well, I called up my friends there and told them I knew what they were doing, and we weren't going to do it. I didn't tell them until we announced the winners.
In some states the proposal would come from the white folks, and we'd get a side proposal, the second proposal from minority groups—Urban Leagues or OICs.
Ritchie: What's an OIC?
Bulkeley: Opportunities Industrialization Centers. We talked about Leon Sullivan's. Or the anti-poverty program state executives, which, in effect, would say, "Don't be fooled. The rest of the community, the grassroots community, is organized in this state and should be in that proposal and isn't."
Ritchie: So these proposals were really removed from the Gannett people in the state.
Bulkeley: Yes. The connection was USA Today, which by then was doing high school kids' all-star teams by state, has its daily states page and does a variety of things at the state level, so it fit their format. With them as co-sponsors, there were a lot of places where Gannett Foundation $100,000 wasn't a big deal, but USA Today would give people the entr&$233;e to the governor's office, for instance, or whatever. USA Today, I had a partner from there who helped work out what we were doing and helped do the judging. The CEO of USA Today, Tom Curley, happens to be the brother of Gannett's CEO, John. Tom was the one who would sign off at USA Today for this project, and he's the one who ultimately made the call in doing state level out of the proposals I had put together. We talked through all of our stuff with him. He had sign off on the winners at the time we did them.
One state, with a change of governors happening, had an election during the first proposal round, with a new governor elected. We had sign-offs by the outgoing and the incoming, but then the incoming governor's staff tied the money up. I even made a visit, trying to shake it loose. But by the time the next year's grants were around, they hadn't done anything. We rescinded, took the grant back, much to everybody's surprise. They thought until they got around to it, we'd let it sit, because foundations don't take their money back. Well, we took it back and made more grants with it in the second round of the program.
At the same time, the national literacy field was putting in the first proposal ever in Congress to recognize adult literacy as a particular discrete field within adult ed, within job training, for people who needed the basic reading, writing, arithmetic skills, and how to use them in context. At the time they started introducing that legislation, the experts, including both social analysts and policy people who had dealt with other issues, said, "We might get it through by the end of the next Congress after the one where it's introduced," meaning at the end of four years. For sure we'll get it by the third Congress. The bill died in conference over Jesse Helms* wanting to be sure that birth control and abortion stuff was not ever any of the learning material that it would finance, at the end of the first Congress in which it was introduced. It got that close. The differences were reconciled over the winter break, before the new Congress was sworn in, at the staff level, so the adult literacy bill was signed, was passed and signed into law in the first four months of the second Congress in which it was considered—two years and four months after it was first introduced.
* Jesse Helms, (b. 1921). (R-NC). U.S. senator, 1973 - .
Ritchie: This would have been the late eighties?
Bulkeley: This would have been '89, '90, thereabouts. The point that I was getting to is the experts all say if it had not been for our grant program giving national attention and legitimacy to the state-level efforts and the governors' involvement as part of it, calling governors' attention to it, that bill would not have been passed that fast. Now, after it was done, it took President Bush a year and a half to appoint the committee, and a lot of it is still struggling to happen, but at least getting it through the Congress.
As I say, I only have anecdotal evidence to prove it was our activity that stirred it up, but some of the states that never got our grants were bound and determined that we were wrong in not giving them to them, so they set out and did without our money more than they had promised to do with it. The states with wannabe presidents for governors all saw USA Today, Gannett, and by then some other foundations dealing with it, and they all had governors' wives or governors' offices doing adult literacy. A lot of that has fallen by the wayside, I'm told, since our program, but I've been away from that for a couple of years now since I left the Foundation. So I don't know what's happening now.
The other thing we did that nobody else was doing was start getting the educational technology people thinking adult literacy. The adult literacy field snickered and giggled when I said, "What about technology?" Because I knew little kids were learning to learn with technology, and I knew everybody was using bank cards, but the adult literacy people snickered and giggled, and I said, "Well, that's not right." So I finally found a few people in the country who were doing adult literacy learning with computers, and we made a grant to have them call an invitational conference to look at what could be done. So the people who needed to hear the message, as well as some could deliver it were all part of that.
We continued to fund adult literacy and technology work for the rest of our program, which was five years. It never turned into a national organization of substance, but as far as I know, a steering committee still puts together an annual conference every year with computer vendors, software vendors in the literacy field, and makes enough money each year to seed the next year's conference, out of the work we did.
What we kept running into in the field, and I never could get solved, was people doing adult literacy were doing it because they wanted to help people. Managing was the last thing they'd do. If we didn't find a way to enforce a budget item that said "development work" or that said "management clerk to do the records work," it didn't get done. Our grants usually weren't big enough really to hold back a percentage and say, "We won't grant that if you don't do it right." So we never licked that one.
The difference is a foundation out of North Carolina, Kennan Family Trust, made a three-year grant to a former adult ed director state-level in Kentucky—her name is Sharon Darling—to do work with mothers and children, bringing the mothers into the schools, learning what they needed to learn plus learning how to help their kids do homework and working with their kids on homework, coming in on the school bus, going home on the school bus. That attacked a number of myths, including "Adult non-readers won't come into a school building because that's where they failed before," and, "Most adult non-readers don't even want their kids to know they don't know how to read, let alone that they're trying to learn." What they found out, of course, was the intergenerational stuff works a lot faster, providing the right environment for learning, provides the concentration, the mothers and the kids worked together fine, and
Page 222 discovered what we had learned elsewhere, that often the best tutor is somebody who's two weeks ahead of the person being tutored.
Ritchie: So they were on the same level.
Bulkeley: The same level. They can explain what it feels like. They haven't had hierarchy beat into them, and, "This is the way we do it," as opposed to, "Any of these seven ways are fine." Well, that foundation made a multiple-year grant, from the beginning made sure that everybody knew its intent was to document everything, to do formal academically and elsewhere acceptable research, to document what happened and why and how and where they changed things if it didn't work. Within three years, that was the basis of federal legislation on the Even Start program, basically creating a whole new way and format of involvement.
That foundation and others have continued to fund it, and it's now a major national training center, some pieces of which will be spun off into the federally financed one if it ever happens, but the difference being multiple-year commitment, recognition that if you want documentation, you've got to have staff, and recognition that if you want your contribution understood, you've got to pay for research, because the other people who hold money want research, and without it they're not going to recognize it and it won't institutionalize. If innovation is worthwhile, you also need the research so people can adjust it as circumstances change.
Ritchie: But your grant program wasn't quite at that level?
Bulkeley: My programs were basically stuck with the same rules that the local grants were—twelve months, no research, minimal administrative money, and generally only what it took to convert whatever records they had into what I wanted. Our trustees never really recognized that in an evolving field, you've got the whole learning curve thing to deal with. Even those whose career is education never understood that in a start-up, scattered across the country in a field without any resources, you've got to overinvest in the learning end even for the people who are leading it. You've got to overinvest in communication to find out what's going to work to create a field out of disparate parts, and out of parts that historically have not talked to each other and sort of been at odds over some things.
All of those things we needed to be, and our trustees never really understood that. Some of them really wanted to know how many more people have learned to read this year because of us, and how many words have they learned to read. As staff, we sat with trustees in committee for some discussion. The last meeting, one of our trustees said, "Our technology stuff should have just been having all of our famous friends read their favorite books on television and run the words across it, and everybody could learn to read that way, you know, like an adult 'Sesame Street.'" She said that.
At the other end of the table, a college president who's on our board says, "What research underlies our program?"
I said, "There isn't any, except the first-cut anecdotal stuff."
"Oh," he says, "there's got to be research underlying information."
I said, "There isn't. There's no money in this field."
The whole federal budget, at that point, for all of adult ed, not just adult literacy, was $200 million. The AIDS people are unhappy because they only have a couple billion for research. He gave me the name of somebody to call and find out about the research for the adult learners, and I called this guy. He said, "I don't know why he would have thought we'd have it. Our foundation, the Carnegie, only deals with K-12, this particular piece of the Carnegie money. But I do see at least summaries of most research, so I'll keep my eyes out and pass it on." Well, of course, I never heard from him again. There isn't any—wasn't any at that point.
So at one end I heard, "We have to do this Ph.D.-caliber work or post-Ph.D.-caliber work with all of the research, and at the other end I was having this, "Let our cameramen set some people up when they come to visit, and we'll drop it on all the television stations." Absolutely irresponsible.
She said, "Like Children's Television Workshop." So I went out and learned about that. In 1968 it had $8 million and did all known kinds of research on every step of the way, did state-of-the-art graphics because they found out fast, even in '68, kids wouldn't deal with less than the best. Because they wanted kids to relate to the stuff on television the way they related to toys, and television is only two-dimensional, they had to have the best graphics to be compelling and attractive. Well, anyway, which would have been the equivalent of $25 million by the time we were talking about this. So I said, "You know, CTW, Children's Television Workshop, wasn't a low-cost seat-of-the-pants operation." Then I recited the stuff. I said, "There's no research. So-and-so told me there's no research. He said he'd send any if he got any. I haven't heard from him."
But in the meantime, I had found out half of the people who watch the Children's Television Workshop stuff are adults. Of those, 20 percent—so it's 10 percent of the whole—have no kids in their house. Well, they've always been satisfied that in a lot of houses, the parents are watching with the kids, so they're helping. I said, "But what are the parents learning from it?"
"Gee, we don't know. We haven't asked."
I said, "Well, why are those other people watching?"
"Gee, we don't know. We haven't asked. We don't really care. We're doing this for the kids."
Next I found out Educational Testing Service was by now involved in adult literacy. I found out half of the people who take the high school equivalency test, G.E.D., had never been in an adult ed class; they'd just come take the test. Also half of the people who take the test don't pass it the first time. Nobody knows, at least at that time, ETS didn't know whether those were the same people, they didn't know where people got the courage to come take the test without the classroom first, or what motivated them. Maybe they're the same people who are watching "Sesame Street," but we don't know.
Third piece. The decoder people discovered that more immigrants were buying decoders than deaf people, especially the Asian immigrants, were using the decoders to get the words on the screen, to learn English. That much they knew. So we did find out that indeed people who are motivated and probably already literate in one language can learn off the screen without much more help. I said, "You know, the decoder is going to be in all sets starting by the next year. There probably really is a basis for something to go on cable or even general television that could
make the difference for the vast majority of those marginal and non-readers. We've got enough leads that we could go find out what is it or what are the choices of what is it."
Well, at this point the Foundation had started reinventing itself. It stopped all the Gannett local programs, decided to sell the Gannett stock that was the primary endowment, and invest in multiple ways.
Ritchie: The Foundation owned stock?
Bulkeley: The Foundation was endowed with 16 million shares, and they decided to sell all of that and do other kinds of assets, and to focus primarily on journalism programs and to work internationally and nationally, not locally at all. So even though I was quite ready to work toward a program that would satisfy the interests and ideas of both trustees and with my integrity intact, we didn't have a chance to do it.
Then shortly thereafter, I was invited to take a one-year terminal leave from the Gannett, so I did. The journalism stuff I had not been welcome to do before. The executive committee was still dominated by Rochester trustees, one of whom was the guy who had been after me from the day I was named publisher, that I never should have been named publisher, the same guy whose wife chewed me out at a party at the White House once upon a time for being a publisher when all those men should have had the jobs, and he was the one sitting there telling the Foundation president, "She couldn't run newspapers. Why could she run anything else?" When in fact, working against all common sense on what it takes to innovate and to do things from scratch, we had made great waves.
Ritchie: But then the whole focus was changing.
Bulkeley: The whole focus of the Foundation was changing, but with that guy sitting there, and the other one was the guy who had been the corporate news executive, who told me, no, not to get any more involved with my newsroom, and who then was as put out as some others in Danville when the negative readership report came out. They had been told and they had been warned, and I had tried to do things about it. They all said, "No, no, no, no, no, no." So they were all sitting there telling the new trustees, "She can't run newspapers. She can't run programs. She's done Neuharth's stuff for twenty-eight years, so she's entitled to better than just being canned. Buy her out." So they did. And I was tired of beating my head on a brick wall, and I also was ready to go to school.
Ritchie: Had you been thinking about that at all?
Bulkeley: Early, early, early, back when I was doing government and politics, I thought about law school, but I never lived where there was a law school, and I never was in a situation where I wasn't learning a lot doing what I was doing. I wasn't learning a lot about what I wanted to know about at the Foundation.
When I went to the Foundation, it was a move back to Rochester. For the first time, my public was not where I lived. As a newspaper person, I had always been accountable to, and trying to serve, people around me.
Ritchie: Did that feel funny?
Bulkeley: It certainly was different. David, who had been a priest, of course, was in the same situation. It gave both of us a chance to develop friendships or find out where there were friendships that we hadn't really been able to trust or acknowledge before. It gave us a chance to do as volunteers and with spare time what we chose to do because we chose to do it, not because it was what the publisher had to do. Part of what we did is get more involved with church, including a weekly discussion group on the scriptures assigned for the following Sunday. There's an international ecumenical lectionary developed by committee that has patterns and Old Testament and New Testament, gospel, and letters. The parish that we started going to, the priest had a weekly discussion with other priests and lay people on what do these readings say, what do they mean to every-day people and for every-day context.
Then I started doing some homework on that, and discovering that I couldn't learn this stuff fast enough by myself, but I also did not have enough calendar control—Rochester has an ecumenical seminary—but I didn't have enough calendar control to sign into tuition programs and their lay programs, non-tuition stuff wasn't any more depth than I was doing on my own.
So when we knew the Foundation was moving down here [Washington, D.C.], we also knew that I probably would want to leave once I had seen what we could do at the state level and with those dynamics and learned all we could from it, because a lot of the stuff that's going to happen in this country over the next few years is going to have to be worked at the state level. You can't localize from Washington, but you can't do economy of scale locally. School change has to come a lot from the state level. The money for schools has to come from the state level and federal—not federal necessarily, except R&D money.
Anyway, I figured once we get past this literacy thing, I really would have learned all I can learn from here, and if we're not going to take advantage of what this Foundation's files knew, to help enrich the public discourse, I'm going to reach the point of being too frustrated with it to stick around, and will start becoming more difficult to deal with than I have been anyway. But we also figured Washington was a better jumping-off place than Rochester, that I'd need to come and stay long enough to justify the expense of moving me, but then I could leave in good conscience.
As it turned out, they were ready to have me leave sooner than I thought I was entitled to, with a one-year pay and office support and stuff, so I left. As that was being negotiated, in fact, my father got sick and died, so I spent the first half of my terminal leave dealing with his estate and Mother and being out in Illinois rather than here. So I didn't get the admissions stuff done to the seminary in time to start as a regular student in the fall of '91, and I decided, well, I probably better find out if I can do it anyway. Wesley Theological Seminary has a special student status that's a truncated admissions process, and you're treated like a regular student in the classroom, and graded. I could have audited. Special student is regular four-credit student status, but you don't have to do the full admissions policy, so you haven't tied up the faculty and the academic admissions committee and that kind of stuff. You haven't bothered references about doing references. You just sort of come in and you record your credits and pay your tuition. Then if you convert to a degree-based program, you can carry, the catalog says, eight hours. The way my stuff split, I ended up with ten.
I did two semesters as a special student. The application process due in by second term would have been before I had any grades, even, to do the rest of the application process and come in as a regular student. I was spending an awful lot of time on the school work, because I was reading all of the recommended stuff as well as the required, and when we had only part of a book to read for assignments, I was reading the whole book. When we had to do outside research
stuff, I'd keep going one more source, one more source, and end up with three times the material I needed for a five-page paper. It was my first ever graduate work. I was in school the first time when those of us who could type automatically got a grade better than our classmates who were turning in handwritten papers, so writing expectations had increased. I didn't really know what it took at first for a five-page paper or ten-page, fifteen.
[End Tape 1, Side B; Begin Tape 2, Side A]
Bulkeley: Without some kind of feedback, I wasn't willing to put me on the line or the seminary on the line as a full student, so I did part time two semesters. Then in the spring after the mid-term, when I had mid-term grades, I took New Testament, a four-hour course, and I did that two hours and two hours split. I took Sociology of Religion that first term. The second one, I took the rest of New Testament, plus Ecumenicas and Ethics, so I got a third faculty member. By the time I knew that I could satisfy at least that many and was beginning to get a handle on how to spend my time so that I could do more than five hours a semester, I decided that really was what I thought it was and I really needed to do that. So I quit applying for jobs.
Ritchie: You had been applying for jobs?
Bulkeley: I had been applying for jobs—various things.
Ritchie: Were they journalism jobs?
Bulkeley: Some were journalism and some were grant-making and some were issues project kinds of things. I can do any of that stuff. I don't really know what's the best use of what I ought to do.
The newspaper business at that point was still in the throes—still going down in the recession and laying off people, which was unheard of. It had not flattened out, let alone started back up. It also had not started the big companies hiring away the women from the other ones. There was a long period when a lot of them still didn't think women could do the job. Gannett had lots of us. Then there was a period in which I'm told they all figured we'd be so loyal to our companies, we wouldn't leave. Well, that's never stopped them from going after men who discovered they were executive caliber when they started out with no thoughts other than professional-level work. Then they had to get to know us, because we weren't part of the social circles, where you get casual with people and find out whether they can talk sports or not. We just did some committee work.
But in the last year, a lot of that's changed. Companies have been bringing in outside men and women into publisher jobs and editor jobs, I've seen in the trade publications. The newspaper business, the news business, including the Freedom Forum, which is the new name of the Gannett Foundation, have suddenly discovered that the world cares about religion and the news media should learn how to cover it and how to recognize it when they see it in every-day issues. Well, that makes me more valuable as a reporter than I've been in a long time.
Ritchie: Would you like to be a reporter again?
Bulkeley: For the right place, with the right agreement. What I would like to be is respected for what I know and can do, and allowed to do it without being second-guessed, and if the rules are going to be changed, then let's talk about them, don't just impose new ones and expect me to sit
back and take it. I wouldn't have negotiated a deal in the first place. I don't know where I'd do that.
Some of the news companies have grown up enough since the days—the learning curve on learning to manage and learning to be publicly held companies meant a lot of very tight clamping down on people while they all learned what it took to meet the expectations of the market. They're beginning to understand the damage they did to newsrooms in those days and the damage they did treating news and newspaper executives as three-year rotatable items just like foundry managers and food processing plant managers. The specialist journalist, the same way.
They're beginning to understand that without knowing the gut and bone marrow levels of living in a community, you can't always or necessarily often make the right choices on news/news perspective. That takes people who either understand what's involved in social class and learning and knowing and people relations to institutions they're in or dependent on or subject to, which is a lot of the stuff I've been learning both on my own and through the seminary. Counseling classes make you a better manager than doing common sense, trying to be sensitive to and aware of and respectful of. Scriptural interpretation once again gives lots of understanding and ways of dealing with any kind of text, not just ancient text.
All of that kind of stuff should make me better in a newspaper or a news operation than if I had spent my whole life just doing news. The Foundation community-building stuff and learning from the streets of lots of places about how much regular every-day people can do with just a tiny little bit of encouragement and recognition, and how much they do without that, I think that's an understanding and a depth and a richness that I don't see in a whole lot of news.
A few people can do it. Some of those who spend all of their time out there listening, they may not know the research and the theory and stuff behind it, but they understand that there are different classes of people and different perspectives and different ways of being, and they work very hard at making their reporting reflect that. There are some news organizations that are working very hard at hearing the different parts of their community and adjusting their news perspectives and their world views, if you will, to that.
I'd be glad to work for them. I don't have to be paid as much as I've been paid or have cars or country clubs or any of the rest of it. Mostly I need to be allowed to use what I know and know how to learn for the benefit of the community or the benefit of the profession, because as long as we're taxed in geographically defined areas and we elect in geographically defined areas, I don't care what kind of fancy high-tech special communications you have to go find your special interest/ community of interest/community of purpose stuff. We've got to have information that reaches or is available to a whole community, a geographic community, on a uniform basis, which means we've got to have newspapers.
There may be something out there in somebody's think tanks that's going to give us the ease of access and information in context that newspapers could if they would, or that a dominant television station or local cable channel could if it would. But, boy, I sure haven't heard of it. If we don't have that, we don't have a democracy.
If we don't have a critical mass of people getting the same kind of information and good information, valid information about their tax dollars and their tax spenders and regulators, and whatever else is shaping their lives, if we can't get that bulk information to all of them, or available so they can have it if they want it at the same time, I don't know how you run a democracy and I don't know how you run a capitalist society based on relatively free markets, if
you can't reach everybody at the same time. The postal service can do it, but again that's print. You've got to have something for them to deliver. And advertising alone doesn't cut it.
Even some of the catalogs with the highest response are putting editorial content in their catalogs, and some of the advertisers who have always been sought after, their ads have been sought after, are now buying ads in the least likely places—paperback books with ads in them and some of those other kinds of funny things you'll run across, or the front and back of the movies that you rent and bring home. Now we know how come you can rent a videotape movie for a buck, because you've got ten minutes of commercials on each end. Well, all right. There are some things that we've just all got to have at the same time.
Ritchie: Do you think newspapers fulfill that now?
Bulkeley: Some of them do some of the time, to paraphrase our friend Mr. Lincoln—Mr. Lincoln or Mr. Twain or both of them. Anyway, and some of them do most of the time. Nobody does all the time, and not very many do it very well. If newsrooms understood the principles of advertising and classified, in particular, that there's some stuff that's got to be there all the time because over a period of a week or a couple of weeks everybody wants it, but not everybody wants it the same day, if they understood the principles of storytelling and letting people tell their story their own way, which is part of what makes some of the so-called entertainment television valuable—
Ritchie: You mean like the talk shows?
Bulkeley: Not only that, but the story shows. There's a lot of social change coming down through entertainment television because it's telling stories in contexts people can relate to, or it's telling issues they can relate to in a context that's not threatening. "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman" is an absolute knock-out program. They are dealing in contemporary language, but a safe frontier setting, with contemporary issues—contemporary language and contemporary ways.
"Star Trek: The Next Generation," I don't like the new "Star Trek" with all of those ghoulish people. While the commanders are all men and hierarchical, to some extent, in fact, the issues, the interpersonal issues they deal with in "Star Trek: The Next Generation" are the ones we deal with today. The high-powered women counselors with positions who in fact run the ship when the men are gone, and make the tough decisions on a sound basis, but also the relationship of powerful peers, because without the counselor, without the doctor, it doesn't matter whether those men are there to run the ship; they're dead in the water. When, in fact, the women can cover for the men running the ship, the men can't cover for the counselors or the seer or the medical person. So the women are absolutely indispensable, and we see adult relationships on a peer power basis, which so much of our generation has had so much trouble learning to do.
We see some of the same thing in "Medicine Woman." Those are safe places. But those are also stories we ought to be able to tell in our feature sections. Those are stories we ought to be able to tell as part of the profiles of candidates, as part of the profiles of the new chief executive or school superintendent or hockey coach or whatever. We ought to be able to tell those stories, but we're so busy telling the stories the hot-shot journalists think they have to tell, or that their bosses want for their cocktail parties, or because those are the questions we always ask, that we're not finding the ways to put the stories where the readers can deal with them.
A lot of us would like to know what goes on in our high schools, but what do you see in the "back to school" advertising sections that the advertisers want? All sorts of canned garbage
about what brand blue jeans and what brand sneaks. What if we ran the course descriptions? I helped judge a scholarship from the high school I went to this spring, and I didn't recognize much of anything they're taking in that high school. That little high school that's not much bigger, still 300 students, it now—well, it may have 350 students and it's graduating 70. We were 51.
Ritchie: So it hasn't grown very much.
Ritchie: It hasn't gotten much less.
Bulkeley: It hasn't shrunk. It's still there and they're in a wonderful new building that my dad helped do when he was on the school board. But they have multiple ceramics classes, English writing classes, and stuff I wouldn't have even bothered with in college, yet the applications were only semi-literate, most of them. Most of the essays that came with them would have been sent back for rewrite.
Ritchie: Had they been in your newsroom?
Bulkeley: Had they been in my newsroom, even as interns. It just is mind-boggling. I didn't think of this when I was running newspapers, but I'd like to see even the course descriptions, but maybe a "back to school" section that's the equivalent of the sports football season playbook.
Ritchie: Is that the kind of thing you could do as an editor?
Bulkeley: Sure, in the right place. I'd like to talk to teachers about new courses, anyway. What is the plan? What do you hope students will get out of this, and how will you know if they're getting it? And how will they know if they're getting it? I'd like to go back and do that about some of the basic courses, too. I think some of that kind of stuff would help adults know how to help kids that they encounter, whether it's their employees or their own kids or their grandchildren or the babysitter if they have little kids. I think it would help all of us have a better understanding of what's in school, and thus be able to do better with school board candidates. I think we could probably do quarterly reports not unlike financial reports, on faculty attendance by school, student attendance by school, library books checked out by school.
Ritchie: Do newspapers have room to do these kinds of things?
Bulkeley: Sure. They have room for all those sports scores. They've got room for all those financial tables, both of which serve a teeny tiny little bitty piece of their market. They've got room to let reporters write fifteen paragraphs of obscure literary allusion before they tell us why they're interviewing this famous person who's in town. If they don't have room to give us something that's relevant to our tax dollars and our future, that's clearly a known relevant and that has to do with whether we're going to vote or not, then they don't deserve the first amendment protection they have. If all they're going to do is indulge wannabe novelists and poets, to hell with them. The first amendment is there so that people can understand what the democracy is doing or trying to do and should do, and so people can have the information they need to govern themselves. And newspapers or television news that aren't providing that have no right to first amendment protections.
Ritchie: Do many of your colleagues in the journalism community share this view?
Bulkeley: You'll find mixed views. There are people who say their job is money, and you put around the ads what it takes to get them sold, and as long as we make enough money, we don't care whether 20 percent of the households read it, or 1,000—100 percent. There are people who say as long as we're not losing money, then we'll do whatever we have to to provide news the public wants. The whole range is out there.
I have not been at the journalism meetings in two to three years, so most of the debate that I see now is in some of the trade publications, and I've even had to stop reading some of those while I'm doing my school stuff, but they're easy enough to catch up on. There are people who think the way we've always done it is still the way to keep doing it, as long as we're making enough money. So there's all kinds out there. Some newsrooms think that they are the ultimate and people ought to accept what they put in the paper, and trust the newspaper to know what's important, what they ought to be reading, even though they write dollars in billions. They don't even know what billions of dollars are.
Ritchie: It's hard to imagine.
Bulkeley: Why can't they tell us how much the federal penitentiaries are paying for eggs this week and how they decide they're going to pay that per egg, and how much they're paying for cars and for auto mechanics? Why can't they give us those numbers that relate to things we know about in the real world and that are in dollar sizes we deal with?
Ritchie: I know you tried to do this in your work in Rochester. Do you feel you did that successfully in Saratoga and Danville, at your papers?
Bulkeley: We had a wonderful Saratoga example. Did I talk about the New York City Ballet and changing how we covered it? I don't think so. The New York City Ballet summered in Saratoga and did when I was there. I didn't know anything about ballet until Pete Wait, the bank president, was on the Fed and took me down because they had citizens at the Federal Reserve Board meetings in New York. When we got out of that meeting, he said, "Come on," and we raced up to Lincoln Center and went into a New York City Ballet rehearsal. I don't know how he knew I hadn't done ballet yet. But we were sitting second or third row center, and I suddenly realized what a superb art ballet is and what superb talent and discipline and training and stuff it takes to do ballet.
Then I went home and looked back and discovered that ballet is the same as anything else on stage—some of it stories, some of it is motion for the sheer joy of the motion, some of it is motion to describe something, whether music or something else. But the stories we had before the ballets didn't tell us any of that. Oftentimes our stories after the ballets didn't tell us that. I thought, "Why is this?" Because we tell what a musical is going to do or a non-musical play, we tell what a movie is doing, we tell what a book is doing. But we don't tell what an opera is doing, we don't tell what a ballet is doing, and we don't tell what the symphony is doing. We tell how often it's been staged where and who costumed it when, and all of that stuff that really doesn't mean a whole lot to the greasy spoon owner or cook or the bank teller or loan officer or the school teacher who's trying to help kids learn how to connect to the world, and those are the readers of our paper.
So I went out to the Performing Arts Center and sat down with the executive, and I said, "I need the stories of the ballets. If they're not telling stories—" "Coppelia" was one of the great Balanchine ballets—George Balanchine. Another one was "Jewels." He had a western one called "Rodeo," and was, of course, still alive and still up there. And the Philadelphia Orchestra
residencies in Saratoga. So I went out to the Performing Arts Center and said, "I need the stories. I don't care about this stuff that the New York Times wants for the ballet fans and aficionados. I need information to tell every-day Saratoga people what's going to happen if they go out there, and basically so they'll know whether they want to or not."
"Okay," he says. "When do you want to start?"
I said, "Now." This was in the fall, for the next summer. So we worked out a schedule. He had his public relations people do draft material for me late that winter. I edited it, asked questions, gave it back to him, and they did it over again. We had to edit some of the fluff and puff out of it, but basically we got the stories for the ballet and the symphony, and did them in Saratoga. We published a tabloid magazine once a month, basically the start of each phase of the summer season. So we did all the advances in there on the ballets and at the right time for the symphony. But then we ran advances again as each one opened, and we summarized the story in each review. That summer, which was the tenth summer of the ballet, the per capita attendance leaped up at a faster rate than their chart for ten years. It leaped off the chart, and thereafter went up at a higher rate of increase. They had had steady increase in per capita attendance all of those years, and it had gone from the first year having to import the whole kids' ballet for "Nutcracker" to having two or three local applicants for each slot. They had done that.
So it may have been a critical-mass question when enough local people were involved that the dynamics changed and more and more people went to the ballet. The ballet people say our change in coverage changed the dynamics.
Ritchie: So they recognized that?
Bulkeley: Yes, they gave us full credit for it. Neither one of us commissioned any research to figure that out, but it's an example comparable to the budget stuff in Rochester. What is it people are entitled to know and should know so they can deal with this if they choose to?
At the Performing Arts Center is a state park, so everybody knows there are strange rules about booze, but what are they? We put the alcohol rules in, and we ran them regularly in the paper, about what were the rules at the park about alcohol, about picnics. We ran park maps showing where the rest rooms were, and did everything we could think of to do to help people take advantage of it. As I say, the ballet people are convinced that that jump off the chart and to a new dynamic came from us. The orchestra numbers weren't as clear-cut, but then orchestra music people are more used to. The high schools did have orchestras and you do hear orchestra music on radio and see it on television more, and it can promote itself better because it can promote familiar themes in radio ads and stuff.
I also had discovered Lake George Opera Company did a couple of Saratoga residencies, and I discovered the political intrigue, the story of Boris Gudonuv. Well, shoot, I would have loved that, but I'd never been to opera and I'd never paid any attention to it. So we did the same thing with that. Opera has continued to evolve up there, and I have no idea whether we were responsible.
But a government situation, garbage collection in part of the city was done by city crews and part of it was done by private crews. The city was at its constitutional tax limit. It could not raise any more money through property taxes at one point, and needed to with routine increases and benefits—payroll and stuff. Well, I knew what we were paying our private garbage collectors, so I got the city budget from the reporter and calculated the per-household cost of the city
garbage collection. It was three times what the private was. Well, we wrote that and put it in one of the budget stories, and we raised the questions about why is this so, and what can we learn from the private ones about efficiency, and is it even really necessary for the city to do garbage collection when we have private collectors in place. Well, the council—it also just happened to be about the kind of money they needed, so the council just automatically, almost, went ahead and gave up the garbage collection business as a city business and turned it over to the private contractors. That took some of the controls off the private contractor, and if we'd been smarter about privatizing, there would have been other things we would have looked for and done in those days. It was shortly thereafter that I left.
But all of that just comes from asking the other questions. In Danville, we had so much. Danville was so archaic in the newsroom and we had so much we had to do, none of those department heads had seen budgets for their departments. Again we've talked about a lot of that remedial work. But even to bring that newspaper's news coverage up to the minimum standards of the other two places was a multiple-year project because I was being fought tooth and nail by editors. Ultimately, Ron Dillman went off to St. Thomas. I had him spend one summer doing the budget for the whole paper, because I knew he wanted to leave, but the odds were he didn't really want to leave, he wanted to run Danville. His only other interest was St. Thomas, which is pretty interesting—a guy from the corn fields wanting to live on an island. I knew there was a possibility that that would come through, at least the news part of it, but he needed to know the whole budgeting thing.
Ritchie: So you gave him the opportunity.
Bulkeley: So I had him put it together and work out the conflicts and contradictions and stuff among departments, and the coordination, and give me a finished budget, basically.
Ritchie: Did you ever put stories on the front page that a man might not have?
Bulkeley: Probably. I don't really have examples. I didn't spend a whole lot of time in Danville on the news thing. The decision-making cycle in Danville was peculiar, because the feature pages and sports pages were pretty well locked up before they had the news meeting. They also never thought ahead on anything. When we got to another election year two years after I'd been there, I discovered that they weren't planning their campaign coverage and they weren't anticipating and assigning ahead the election result stuff. They were going to wait until they came in the day after the election and figure out what they had to cover and do it.
Ritchie: After the election?
Bulkeley: The day after the election, they were going to figure out what they had to cover and make the assignments and do it, and we'd get the paper out sometime that afternoon, but probably not on time. Well, I had to do such remedial work like that, and I also didn't have access to the news digest because I wasn't allowed a news computer in my office. So unless somebody had time to print it off the machine and tie up the computer to run a printoff for me, I was having to just listen by ear to what was going on in the nine o'clock news meeting. But with those other two sections locked up ahead as long as we were stuck with that, and we were for longer than we should have been, I really couldn't affect the front page a whole lot, except I started flagging which sports things came into the consciousness of those of us who weren't sports people, and insisting that they be moved out, which killed everybody, because they knew I had no interest in sports anymore other than golf, and they'd just get hysterical when she'd say, "Get the horse race out ahead of time. The story needs to be on the front, including when it's on television," or,
"The World Series is coming. Get it on the front, because that interferes with everybody's workday." Well, they wouldn't call it interfere, but a lot of us knew better than to call certain people during the games. And the state basketball tournaments in Illinois, some of that kind of stuff.
So in that sense, I was changing that newspaper in ways nobody would have ever expected, because you would have thought that those guys would have long since wanted the sports stuff on the front. Well, the sports guy said, "Our readers don't know to look on the front part of the paper; they always look on the sports page." I said, "Fine. Put a little box on the sports page that tells them the big story's on the outside." There was just so much remedial stuff, and it took me a long time to find out enough to know what else wasn't covered and what other angles, and to get women into decision-making and key reporting roles to pick up on stuff.
We ran weddings and engagements months and months after people sent them in. Again, I talked earlier about the ice cream stand. Well, people thought we were hysterical because there would be stories saying, "So-and-so was not available for comment," or, "This is all we know about this story by deadline," yet on the weddings, there would be one that was six months old and we were just publishing it. In lots of ways we really were the laughingstock of the community because we made absolutely no sense. The stuff they could see and know about, like you have your pictures taken the day of the wedding, so why isn't it in the paper next week?
Ritchie: Why wasn't it?
Bulkeley: Well, we didn't put any deadlines on it, and when people got around to sending it in, we published it. We didn't want to impose deadlines on people who just changed their lives and just went through all of this. Well, I'm sorry, but I had never lived anywhere where there weren't deadlines. With all the other detail you do at weddings, you can fill out the form, too, because you know all the detail months and months and months ahead. A lot of papers require the stuff in ten days or two weeks ahead of the wedding, and they'll run it that weekend or they won't run it. People were saying, "We always wonder if you're going to get the wedding in before the first birth announcement." So just all of that kind of stuff.
We'd run awful letters to the editors—harangues and insults and just vicious. They contributed nothing to the public discussion or discourse, and they'd go on and on and on and on, and nobody would ever edit them. We'd run letters to the editor stating things as fact that weren't. We'd run editorial pages the day after election with unrelated editorials on it, because nobody wanted to have to think about what it meant and do it in time to meet the production constraints.
Ritchie: So there were many, many things there that you had to put your attention to.
Bulkeley: True. Besides teaching financial management to the finance office, bringing the ad department up to snuff on contracts and being a full service ad department, not just carrying ads in and out.
Ritchie: Did you miss it all when you left and went to the Foundation?
Bulkeley: I missed activity and I missed having access to knowing what was going on. The Foundation was on the twenty-sixth floor of a building with a lousy elevator system. While you might be able to catch an elevator and get out in two minutes, as often as not it would take ten. I was used to whipping out. As publisher, I'd been on the ground floor, so if I needed to walk around, I could go out and walk around the building or up and down Main Street and visit
customers or whatever. Or I could wander through my building and see what was going on, or go poke around in the basement or be sure that the rest rooms were being cleaned, or whatever. I had nowhere to go in the Foundation. It was just our little row of offices on one side of a building and six or eight other people who were there. I couldn't get outdoors in less than ten minutes. The best I could do was stay out a whole hour or more at lunch, which was a little hard to do in downtown Rochester, which had really become nothing but an office place with not much for stores or anything, unlike other cities.
I also didn't have a secretary, and while I was very good at detail—well, not very good, I was almost very good about detail in the newsroom. I could never letter-perfect any copy on paper. They always found typos and things I didn't catch, but I could do my own chasing of details for budgets and things. But by the time I'd had secretarial help for twelve years, without an aptitude for that, the ability to do it had atrophied. I went to the Foundation and didn't have a secretary. I didn't even have a terminal. The secretaries had modest word processing attached to the financial computer. The men, some of them had typewriters and some of them dictated. Two of them dictated. But they didn't even have a spare typewriter for me. They had to go borrow. By then, of course, the Selectrics had all disappeared and they didn't want to buy one anyway if I was going to be on a terminal. Well, the printer situation was so bad that I ultimately got a Selectric typewriter and a terminal, but I was five months before I had a secretary. I had to rely on the receptionist who did backup secretarial work for the executive secretary, I had to wait until she had time for stuff, so I couldn't communicate. I could, but not so it looked like much, or I couldn't be sure of the timing on it.
I was still developing the work to be done, so a lot of times I had to work hard to find something to do because I was waiting for decisions or whatever.
Ritchie: So it was a different pace.
Bulkeley: There was a lot of the crap I didn't miss, like circulation complaints in the middle of the night or from drunks or whatever, or dealing with second-guessers at corporate headquarters, or explaining computer printouts that were invalid printouts anyway because they weren't really relevant to the work that was going on. That kind of stuff I didn't miss and don't miss to this day. I wouldn't mind if I'd never experienced it.
Ritchie: But it's all a part of your business.
Bulkeley: As I got more and more into the grant stuff and found out how far ahead of the experts in the world our grant recipients were, then I'd get frustrated that we weren't doing anything with it, and I kept coming up with ways and formats to do that, but nobody else ever got excited about it, so it just became a drag up there, too. The adult literacy stuff, we weren't putting enough money in in a way to make the kind of difference that our volume of money should have been able to make, and that what we knew and the context we had should have made.
As I said earlier, I guess, I just wasn't learning enough anymore, but even more frustrating was I wasn't able to use what I knew. So when I passed that cycle, the learning curve was okay once I had enough to do to learn. Watching it happen and fixing it and all of that was fine. The outside learning was fine, but it ran out. Neuharth had his own agenda and wasn't going to rescue me anymore, and that's all right. I'm adult and have learned my way around the world a time or two.
So there's a lot of stuff about the newspaper business I'd just as soon not have to deal with, and in some ways I'd probably much rather go be a reporter making sure religion is recognized than to be an editor or publisher again, but for the right people I'd do that again, too. But maybe I'll just go play golf.
Ritchie: That's a good solution. Are we ready to stop?
Bulkeley: I'm about ready.