Helen Thomas: a Truly Great Journalist

Much has been penned of the recent passing of the reporter Helen Thomas. As unfortunate -- or even outright brutish -- as were the ill-spoken comments that brought the curtain on her active career, she is worthy of a moment of appreciation.

As one who teaches and has taught in various journalistic capacities, today most of my journalism students are women. I am delighted to say that for the most part, while they wonder -- rightly -- why there are not more women in the most senior news executive ranks. None of them ever questions whether they have a right to be there or they are not competing evenly with the men in the class.

And yet it is not even two generations ago that the likes of Helen Thomas and the lesser known but no lesser Fran Lewine literally kicked down the doors of Washington journalism, even as the men on the other side tried to hold them closed.

There have been at least two generations of Washington women journalists since who have all pushed that door further and further open and become powers in their own right. Since Thomas, Washington, D.C. has had its share of women bureau chiefs as well as TV news anchors and newspaper and magazine publishers. Is it an even playing field? Likely not. But it is undoubtedly a more even playing field than the one Thomas forced her way onto.

So, as I look out over my students, I think of Helen Thomas: a woman whom they never met and most have never heard of.

As a working journalist in D.C., Thomas had little direct influence on me or on what I did. But she changed the world for all of us.

It was a different age. A different journalism. But none what is playing out today in the media would have been possible if Thomas had not gotten herself into that front row of the White House press briefing room.

She was human, and the changing of the media landscape did not treat her well. And hers will be a name, regretfully, that will likely not be remembered by future generations of D.C. journalists, but it should be. Because we all stand on the foundations that Helen built. One question, one story, one refusal to give in at a time. Here's to greatness.

Thank you, Helen.

Jul 22, 2013 at 5:36 PM Claire Sanders Swift

Dear Amos, Thank you for your thoughtful story on the greatness of Helen Thomas. Thanks also for reminding us that she broke barriers for women that young women today might take for granted. She always looked out for the underdog until the end, like her or not. For Helen, it was not about being liked, it was about supporting the cause. She was gracious and supportive to countless of our women club members,(Helen was a lifetime honorary member and inspired our Excellence in Journalism Award) new ones especially, for decades and helped mentor countless women who are high in the ranks of journalism today. Thanks again for getting the story right on Helen. Best, Claire Sanders Swift/President/American News Women's Club

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