SK MOST PUBLISHERS about women's advancement in the newsroom and brace yourself for a litany that is equal parts statistics and verve.
Women, they will rightly tell you, have made significant gains during the past 10 to 15 years. Just a decade ago, the number of women in managing editor or deputy managing editor slots was pathetically small.
It's true that women now hold many top-level positions at daily newspapers across the country. But it's also true that only a fraction occupy the very highest spot: editor or executive editor. Beyond a certain level, the number of female faces drops precipitously.
Time and demographics, many women say, will soon right the gender imbalance. Those who currently are second- or third-in-command believe they have a fair shot at the top job when it opens up.
"Women are working their way through," says Ellen Soeteber, managing editor of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel.
"I predict that over the next five to ten years, you will see more women rising to editor."
Recent high-level editorial changes at the Chicago Sun-Times didn't include any women. The newspaper brought in Nigel Wade, assistant editor and foreign affairs editor of Britain's Daily Telegraph, as editor in chief. And Larry Green, most recently director of classified advertising, was promoted to executive editor.
Both, however, have had lengthy journalism careers. Wade began his more than 30 years ago, while Green's career spans over two decades.
Sun-Times managing editor Julia Wallace was philosophical about the pace of women's progress.
"There's been a gradual evolution," she said. "You pay your dues, you get experience.
"A few years ago, we would say that there weren't many women managing editors," Wallace said. "This will be less and less of an issue as time goes by."
Will it? Some women aren't sure.
"Ten or fifteen years ago, I thought there were a lot
of women in
the pipeline," says Sandy Rowe, editor of the Portland Oregonian, secretary of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, and a member of the Pulitzer board.
"I do think there are more women in significant editorial positions in the last decade, but there aren't nearly as many in the top jobs that I expected," Rowe said. "I don't know why. I'm puzzled."
Geneva Overholser, Washington Post ombudsman and former editor of the
Des Moines Register, warns against apathy.
"There is far too much readiness to have an attitude of 'been there ? done that,' " she said. "We tend to think it's fine, and the truth is that it's not."
Pressing economic concerns have newspapers scrambling to squeeze more out of less. In such a climate, diversity issues may take a back seat, Overholser added.
"There is enormous economic pressure and people have pulled back in general," she said. "At this point, the industry isn't looking to the future. It's hunkered down."
Hunkered down? Understandable, some women allow. Head in the sand? Not acceptable, they say.
"If we as an industry can't keep our attention focused on more than one issue, then I think we're in trouble," Rowe said. "It's a question of where our commitments are and how deeply we believe in them."
Women's relatively recent ascent to high-level editorial positions may help to explain why there are so few women editors, said Helen Donovan, executive editor of the Boston Globe.
"There are factors that might weigh against a woman, like experience, how long in a management job and what kind of management job," Donovan said.
Such differences will disappear "in another generation," she believes.
If there are to be major changes, most expect them over the next five to ten years.
Marion Gregory, managing editor of the Raleigh News & Observer, has high hopes for the "critical mass" of women in prominent jobs.
"Women have gotten to the launching pad, such as managing editor," Gregory said. "When the editor spot comes up, you need to have worked as a managing editor for a number of years. Until recently, there haven't been that many women who have done that."
Even years spent paying dues, however, doesn't guarantee a timely shot at the editor's position. The coveted jobs don't turn over very often, and managing editors or deputy managing editors can end up in a career-holding pattern.
"There will be a point where women land the top jobs. Clearly we're ready for that and God knows it's past due," said Pam Johnson, managing editor of the Arizona Republic. "But it gets harder and harder to move up, because there are fewer and fewer opportunities as you climb up the ladder."
"It's not as bad as the symphony, where if you get the top oboe spot, it's yours for 20 or 30 years," Gregory laughed. "But I do wonder how often, at some of these newspapers, those jobs come up."
Optimism is inextricably tied to expectation. Levels for both are running high for women at newspapers across the country. Whether or not that cheerful vision is warranted should be clear over the next few years. Until then, many women look at past trends for indications of the future.
"In 1980 there were few, if any, women managing editors," remembers Jane Healy, managing editor of the Orlando Sentinel. "There were few, if any, women editorial page writers. There were virtually no top editors at over-100,000 circulation newspapers.
"There aren't huge numbers in those spots now, but there is a fair amount, and there is a good pool of women," she added. "The next five years will be very telling."
Newspapers, too, need to remain committed to attracting and keeping talented women.
"You need to have a proper pool," Rowe said. "If you have a diversified pool, the women I know don't need any special favors.
"A lot of people may have thought that because of good intentions, success would automatically come," Rowe added. "I think that some newspapers should reexamine their efforts, not just their intentions."
?(? Sandy Rowe, editor, Portland Oregonian) [Caption & Photo]
?(-Geneva Overholser, ombudsman, Washington Post) [Caption & Photo]
?(-Jane Healy, managing editor, Orlando Sentinel) [Caption & Photo]
By: Dorothy Giobbe Inside The Pipeline p.9