Educating women who go on to high-profile media careers has become a Mount Holyoke tradition, right up there with preparing future PhDs in the sciences. From the Boston Globe to The New Yorker to NBC, Mount Holyoke can claim more than its share of newspaper, magazine, and network executives. Ellie McGrath '74 is articles editor at Self magazine; Pamela McCarthy '74 is senior vice president and deputy editor at the New Yorker... the list goes on and on. What's the secret of MHC's success? The student newspaper is a good place to start.
Priscilla Painton '80, senior editor for national affairs at Time, was editor-in-chief of Choragos (which became the Mount Holyoke News), an editor remembered for asking tough questions of the administration and for creating the paper's third-world pages. Choragos, she believes, helped hone her skills as a news gatherer and a manager of writers and editors.
Who says extracurricular activities don't count? Priscilla Painton '80 parlayed editorship of the MHC campus newspaper into - eventually - a spot as senior editor for national affairs at Time magazine.
"Mount Holyoke in general - the classroom dynamics, the committee work - teaches you to get along with people," she says. "I didn't think I'd end up as a manager. I wanted to stay in reporting [en route to Time, Painton was a reporter for the Berkshire Eagle, the Washington Post, and the Atlanta Constitution]. But after I had my second baby in 1993, I had to stop traveling. The only way I could stay in the news business was to sit at a desk and head other people."
Helen Donovan '69, executive editor at the Boston Globe, also wrote for the student paper. But, unlike Painton, a career in journalism was not on her mind; she planned to earn a PhD in English and teach.
Says Donovan, "I worked hardest in my English classes; Ms. Kaufman and Ms. Sudrann made quite an impression. The main impact Mount Holyoke had during my time at the College was the influential people, not strictly in the academic sense, but all the people who conveyed a sense of high quality and standards and the acquisition of learning - things particularly relevant to my job today." After earning a master's in English and working as a copy editor at Fortune, Donovan landed in daily journalism as a reporter and editor at the Berkshire Eagle. Twenty years ago, she moved on to the Globe, rising to the paper's number - two slot.
A career behind the scenes was one Nina Lederman '81 did not foresee during her acting days in Rooke Theatre productions or her summer stints as a TV news commentator on the island of St. Maarten. "I wanted to be an actress," the vice president of production at NBC Studios says, "so I went to New York City. I looked for work, but after a time, I wasn't making it in acting." She found a job as assistant to a Broadway producer, moved on to TV shows - behind the camera - worked her way up, and never looked back. At NBC Studios, she handles all aspects of production, from preproduction to final delivery to the network or cable outlet. (She oversees the production of Working and the new half-hour comedy, Union Square.) Lederman feels she developed more backbone and self-esteem at a women's college than she would have at a coed school, personal resources, she believes, that have served her well in an industry where the glass ceiling is now beginning to crack.
Cassandra West '79, assistant editor for two feature sections at the Chicago Tribune - where a newsroom colleague is classmate Elizabeth Taylor, the Tribune's book review editor in chief - came to Mount Holyoke with a long-standing interest in writing. "When I left," she says, "I was a better writer and had practical experience." She wrote a volume of poetry, and later, as a Winter Term project, wrote an admission brochure for prospective African American students. "No matter your major, Mount Holyoke is great preparation for anything you want to do; it helps you become more organized and manage a lot of information in your head quickly and efficiently, which you need to do in the newspaper business."
Meeting deadlines, switching mental gears, concentrating on the task at hand, and getting the job done whatever the challenge, were certainly part of these alums' Mount Holyoke experience. And they are part of the trade for every alumna in the media. Painton recalls a Saturday night in late August, when, wineglass in hand, she sat on her porch. At 10:30 the phone rang. "By midnight I was on the computer writing what [Princess] Diana meant to us." Lederman, a French and theatre arts major, remembers the complexities of working on a project at the opening of EuroDisney that required her fluency in French, Dutch, and German.
Meanwhile, in Blanchard Campus Center, students are putting the finishing touches on this week's edition of the Mount Holyoke News and preparing their WMHC shows. Some seniors are in the Career Development Center, poring over media directories, looking for a small-town paper in upstate New York or Georgia where they can earn their journalism stripes before graduating to bigger papers in bigger cities. Someday their names might be on a front-page byline or in a magazine masthead, too.