The Friday List-down: 18 Fearless Female Journalists, Past and Present
There’s been a lot of discussion about the dearth of female bylines in major intellectual magazines. It was the cause of inspiration for Ann Friedman to start her project, Lady Journos, which allows her to highlight some of the great reporting and writing women are doing. But it’s worth pointing out that women have been doing phenomenal, life-changing journalism for a long time. Here are just a few women—past and present—who have been exposing injustices with their fearless journalism.
1. Ida Tarbell
This lady journo often ranks among the most famous of historical muckraking journalists in the Progressive Era, during which a combination of investigative journalism and social activism sought to expose injustice. Her investigation of the Standard Oil trust was published in McClure's Magazine, which she later turned into a book, The History of the Standard Oil Company. Her portrayal was damning to the tactics and practices of big business at the time
2. Ida B. Wells
Wells was a journalist and early leader in the civil rights movement. She fearlessly documented lynching, which she published in Free Speech and Headlight, an anti-segregationist newspaper her husband owned and she edited. She later founded the National Association of Colored Women and the National Afro-American Council,an organization we know now as the NAACP.
3. Rachel Carson
Though Carson got her start as a marine biologist and nature writer, it was her expose of the effects of the pesticide DDT’s effects on animals, published in her book The Silent Spring, that spurred a generation of environmental activists. She is largely credited with the United States’ reversal on a policy of using dangerous pesticides.
4. Nellie Bly
When you talk about embedding yourself into a story, you can’t get much deeper than Bly did when she faked a mental illness to expose the horrific conditions women underwent at the mental institution on Blackwell’s Island. She later wrote a book on her experience, Ten Days in a Madhouse. Her work not only drastically increased funding and quality of care at the institution, but pushed such asylums to adopt policies to ensure committed patients were actually mentally ill.
5. Gloria Steinem
Though we now think of Steinem as the quintessential second-wave feminist activist, some forget that part of her work started in journalism, when she embedded herself as a Playboy bunny in the New York Playboy Club. Her report detailed working conditions at the club, and she later went on to found Ms. Magazine, one of the first overtly feminist women’s magazines.
6. Nancy Hicks Maynard
Maynard was the first African American journalist at The New York Times, where she covered vital issues like the race riots at Columbia and Cornell universities. She later went on to cover health care, including important Medicaid issues. She and her husband went on to found the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education, which is based in Oakland, Calif.
7. Ethel Payne
Known as “the First Lady of the Black Press,” Payne helped define advocacy journalism. She covered issues important to the civil rights movement, including the Montgomery Bus Boycott, desegregation at the University of Alabama, and the 1963 March on Washington.
8. Anna Politkovskaya
This Russian journalist opposed the Second Chechen War and the actions of then-Russian President Vladimir Putin. Her work exposing human rights violations was published in the newspaper Novaya Gazeta and earned her death threats. She even experienced a mock execution when arrested by the Chechen military. Politkovskaya was ultimately murdered under mysterious circumstances in 2006.
9. Margaret Fuller
Fuller was a feminist and author who became the first female full-time book reviewer in American history at the New York Tribune in 1844. Her book, Women in the Nineteenth Century, is a major feminist work. She later became the first female foreign correspondent in England and Italy for the Tribune.
10. Jane Mayer
Mayer is an investigative reporter for The New Yorker, writing major pieces on the right-wing Koch family, the bin Laden family, and the United States’ controversial policy on extraordinary rendition. She was the Wall Street Journal’s first female White House correspondent and in 2008 won the John Chancellor Award for Excellence in Journalism for the investigative reporting that was later published in The Dark Side.
11. Monika Bauerlein and Clara Jeffery
The co-editors of Mother Jones have done an excellent job of leading a longstanding investigative publication into a new era of online journalism. Bauerlein was formerly the magazine’s investigative editor and once covered the negotiations to end the first Gulf War. Jaffery came to Mother Jones from Harper’s Magazine, where she was a senior editor. She edited six National Magazine Award nominees, including Barbara Ehrenreich’s magazine feature that later became Nickel and Dimed. Under the supervision of these two editors, the magazine has increased circulation and web traffic when many publications have laid off reporters and editors. Read Campus Progress’ interview with Bauerlein and Jaffery.
12. Isabel Wilkerson
The winner of the Pulitzer Prize for her writing at the New York Times, Wilkerson won for her coverage of Midwestern floods in 1993 and her profile of a 10-year-old boy who was responsible for his four siblings. She is the author of the highly acclaimed 2010 book, The Warmth of Other Suns, which tracks the Great Migration of African Americans following the Civil War to Northern cities. Read Campus Progress’ interview with Wilkerson.
13. Katie Couric
Love her or hate her, Couric made history when she became the first female anchor of the CBS Evening News. Her interview with vice presidential candidate Sarah Plain won her the Walter Cronkite Award for Journalism Excellence.
14. Christiane Amanpour
The daughter of an Iranian father and a British mother, Amanpour did serious foreign coverage for CNN for decades, covering the Iraq-Iran War and the end of the Cold War. Last year, Amanpour moved to ABC News’ This Week one of the Sunday morning talk shows.
15. Gail Shister
Shister is widely regarded as the first “out” journalist in mainstream news. She joined the Philadelphia Inquirer as its first female sports writer in 1979. Her sports writing broke the same barrier at The New Orleans States-Item and the Buffalo Evening News in the 1970s.
16. Alexandra Pelosi
The daughter of the first female speaker of the house, Pelosi is breaking some barriers of her own. She started as a television producer at NBC covering George W. Bush’s 2000 presidential campaign. She’s created numerous award-winning documentaries, including Journeys with George, Diary of a Political Tourist, Sneaking into the Flying Circus, Friends of God, The Trials of Ted Haggard, and Right America: Feeling Wronged.
17. Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg
These two documentary filmmakers have been pushing important stories. They co-directed The Devil Came on Horseback, which helped expose the genocide in Darfur and won seven festival awards. They also co-directed and produced The Trials of Darryl Hunt, a story about a man who spent 20 years in prison for a rape and murder he didn’t commit.
18. Lisa Ling
She may have really hit it big on Channel One News and The View, but Ling is a serious journalist who now does many investigative pieces for her show on the Oprah Winfrey Network. On her show, she’s reported on bride burning in India, gang rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and the aftermath of the Virginia Tech massacre.
David Spett is the Journalism Network Associate at Campus Progress. Kay Steiger is the editor of CampusProgress.org.