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The right person rarely gets the credit

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Writing authoritatively as women
Katharine Whitehorn Writer
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I think one of the things that is enormously different is the number of women who are not just being able to be journalists... there always were terrific reporters and so on... but who are able to write authoritatively, but as women. I mean, The Times has Libby Purvis. They’ve got Camilla Cavendish, who pretty well singlehanded got the children’s courts open to that. Nobody gives her credit, especially not The Telegraph.  But it was of course a woman who uncovered... an American woman at that, Heather Brooke, who uncovered the scandal. And I... there’ve always been one or two wonderful women reporters. 

There actually were women reporters in the 19th century in America, but what it is now is that there are women’s columns which are taken quite as seriously as anything else. I think you could say, and I dare say people do say, that there’s been an explosion of too many columns, male or female, but the lifestyle column can be deeply boring if you haven’t got anything to say. You know? What somebody, you know, called watching the paint on the cot dry. But I think that... that the whole of Fleet Street and magazines... well, magazines are different... but the whole of Fleet Street has become far more personalised, and therefore actually far more accurate about the human condition, I think. Not just scandals and so forth.

I think there are things I don’t care for, the sort of celebrity culture, which is, I think, tiresome. But I think what’s there is much more important than what isn’t there. And what is there is that for one thing, don’t ever anybody really say our press is rotten when we’ve still got national papers that have six or seven different points of view in them. I mean, we’re not financed by government as, sort of, Eastern Bloc things. We’re not entirely run by the one paper in a local district.

I mean, one of the things that Thomson did in Canada... had a long chain down the west... the east coast of Canada. And he looked at what actually made them pay and it was mostly the small ads. So in fact what he did was to sack half the journalists, get an awful lot from the wire services, from Reuters and PA, and rely heavily on ads and so forth. But who there would have been able to uncover the corrupt mayor, the police chief who was sleeping with the wrong person?

A distinguished journalist and renowned author, Katharine Whitehorn has written for The Spectator and Picture Post. She was the first woman to have her own column in the Observer and was their star columnist for the best part of 40 years. Educated at Newnham College, Cambridge, she is recognised as someone who has transformed 20th century women's journalism. She takes a keen interest in social welfare issues, is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Medicine and was the first woman rector of the University of St Andrews.

Listeners: Bob Bee

Bob Bee is a Scottish documentary maker who has made many films on the Arts and Science for ITV, BBC and Channel Four.

Tags: The Times, The Telegraph, Fleet Street, Thomson Corporation, Reuters, PA, Press Association, Elizabeth Mary "Libby" Purves, Hilary Camilla Cavendish, Heather Rose Brooke, Roy Thomson

Duration: 2 minutes, 58 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2010

Date story went live: 16 February 2011