Nancy Hicks Maynard: Unsung Trailblazer

Nancy Hicks Maynard was one of the first female African-American journalists for the New York Times. She was an owner of the Oakland Tribune, a founder and first president of the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education (MIJE).

Despite these achievements, her work isn’t easy to find, unlike that of Bly or Mitchell. I spent what seemed like hours searching for some of her articles. In the end I was able to find two pieces written in the mid-90s and a textbook. I thought for her being one of the first female African-American journalists for a major newspaper, her work would have been better archived. There was little biography to consult. Learning about who Bly and Mitchell were outside of their careers was exciting and informative and I wanted that same opportunity with Nancy. Even with the limited resources at my disposal, I am determined to do Mrs. Maynard justice.

She was born Nancy Alene Hall in Harlem, New York City. Her interest in journalism began when the media misrepresented her community after a fire. After graduating from Long Island University with a degree in journalism, she began working for the New York Post as a copy girl. (A “copy girl” was a way to identify female copy editors.) About a year later, she was snatched up by the New York Times. Once she reached reporter status, she hit the streets covering strikes, race riots, campus takeovers, education, and health care. In the early 70s, she traveled to China to report on its medical system. She later covered NASA’s Apollo program.

In the late 70s, she and her husband Robert C. Maynard quit their respective jobs and founded an institute for budding minority journalists. The institute now bears Robert’s name as the Robert C. Maynard Institute for Journalism Education. The institute is dedicated to helping journalists of color find jobs in news media. Nancy served as its first president and sat on the board until 2002.

At the time the institute was founded, 4% of journalists in major American newsrooms were of color. Now, the percentage has climbed to about 16.6%, according to the American Society of News Editors.

During the 80s, the Maynards bought the struggling Oakland Tribune. As publishers, they helped the paper recover financially and bring more diversity into the newsroom until Robert’s death in ’93.

Nancy Maynard died in 2008 due to organ failure.

Speculation on the Future of News Media

Unlike the other women I’ve been studying, Maynard’s style is far more serious. Out of the three so far, she writes the most like a typical journalist. That is to say, she focuses more on facts than people. (At least this is true for the articles I was able to find.) While I enjoy writing that features emotion and personality over facts and figures, it certainly is NOT a detriment to Maynard’s style. Without a personal angle, Maynard is able to provide an abundance of information on a rather nebulous subject: the future of journalism.

In all the work I had access to, she speculates on the future of news media, a topic journalists are still debating about. In “Managing the Future” she says newspapers serve two masters–– advertisers and readers. For the “media triangle” to avoid a collapse into a straight line, newspapers need to find a way to remain relevant and integral to the process. Maynard writes to do so is more difficult than it sounds.

“General news is omnipresent. It has become a commodity that doesn’t command a high commercial value.”

She explains that audiences appreciate predictability which general news lacks. To a large extent, each day in news is different. In contrast, sports news follows a pattern. In each game there will be a winner and a loser and fans can expect a rundown of significant plays and have access to game statistics. While Maynard remains neutral on the subject, I think the lack of expectation is what makes “general” news exciting.

Maynard moves on to conjecture on how people receive news in the future. It wasn’t spot on but I did find it interesting to read where people in the mid-90s saw the future heading.

“With fax and color-copying technology, each household could become its own printing site — at a fraction of the cost of traditional newspaper printing and delivery.”

Thankfully, the internet became the go-to place for news instead of the fax machine.

Maynard opens her next piece on Media Economics by asking “Where Is Page One in Cyberspace?”. In the digital world, where does everything begin? In digital (as well as print) journalism, what comes first––an idea or the money to fund the idea? She wasn’t able to answer the question definitively, but in the course of the article she makes the case for money being an important factor in how a pitch becomes a story. Maynard investigated how much money it took to crack big stories such as Watergate or the Pentagon Papers. The Answer: Lots. Once papers spend a fortune on investigation, they need to sell or bring in enough ad revenue to cover the costs. As Maynard writes, “Good journalism can be profitable.”

By the time I got around to reading Chapters One and Two of her book Mega Media, I was frustrated. Why couldn’t I find any of her early work? Why did I have to resort to reading a textbook? (Reading textbooks would be a lot more fun and manageable if more were done in comic form!) But Nancy herself helped me come to terms with my dilemma.

Chapter One is about news going digital. Back when computers were the size of whole rooms, it was harder to preserve content and it was expensive to track down old news. Before 1995 and the increased usage of the World Wide Web, news was perishable. Now,

“The digitization of the news, then, is like food refrigeration: All presumptions about freshness, perishability, production, and delivery times and methods are in the consumer’s favor. Search engines “defrost” information when we want it. The public largely controls what it knows and when it knows it.”

Maybe this is why Maynard’s articles aren’t able to be “defrosted” for me––perhaps no one really collected her old articles to be digitized. Before, I didn’t think about all those journalists before Maynard whose writing has since been lost.

Mega Media focuses heavily on the digital age and how embracing it makes news better. With content and statistics stored digitally, the process of gathering material is much faster. Older ways of content collection, like using the telephone, are still effective and digital methods can act as a helping hand.

Speaking of content gathering, how important is the distribution of the content? In fact, which is more important–– the content or the distribution? In recent months, I’ve heard many people say content is king. However, Maynard explains in Chapter Two of her book a combination of the two hits the sweet spot. Even good content can’t make it on its own. It must go through several channels before it can become effective. On the flip side, it won’t matter if the message is distributed through a hundred channels, if the content is not up to snuff.

Let’s go back to the question of Nancy Maynard herself. I did happen to find a tapped interview with her on the Maynard Institue’s website. Unsure how much this would yield, I saved it for last. I should have started with it. In this two-hour interview, she narrates her journey from childhood to adulthood in elaborate detail. She had storytelling in her veins. In person, she was animated and could recall the past in such elaborate detail. I learned New York Times editors were her professors at Long Island University, she worked on her campus newspaper, and was able to get a job at The New York Post right after graduation. Though she was at the post for a little over a year, she was there at the same time Nora Ephron was! At the Times, she struggled with her editors because of her race and gender, but she stuck it out and moved departments. By moving departments, she was able to experience more than the education beat and flourished in science and health care. In the 70s, her editors wouldn’t pay for her to go to China for a story, so she paid her own way, and her story made the front page. She said she was never afraid to go out on assignments alone, a feat she credits to her youth and naivety. Maynard wasn’t afraid of risks as she left one uncertainty for another. Her job at the Times could end at any time, and the move to Oakland might not work out. But it did work out, and she was able to help hundreds of minority journalists achieve their goals. Lastly, while running the institute and raising children, Maynard found time to attend Stanford Law School.

What I Learned:

Listening to Nancy talk about her life and her career was like turning on a lightblub.

Be tenacious in everything: Like with the other two women I’ve encountered through this project, Nancy had to work for what she wanted. Because of her race, she had to work harder for some opportunities. By not letting others tell her what she could or couldn’t do, she was able to accomplish a lot.

Be open to sharing knowledge and resources: Nancy quit her job at the Times to use her experience and resources to help others like her to become journalist and to increase the percentage of journalists of color in newsrooms. Extraordinary things can happen when people come together and help each other out.

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Margaret Mitchell: From Debutante to Rebellious Writer

When most people think of author Margaret Mitchell, they think Gone With the Wind. Before Scarlett O’Hara was written into existence, there was Peggy Mitchell, a pavement-pounding reporter chronicling life in the Jazz Age South.

Margaret Mitchell was born in 1900 in Atlanta, Georgia and was a rebel from the start. From a young age she dressed in boys clothing and often went by “Jimmy”. Mitchell found herself drawn to storytelling and writing as a young girl but school was a different matter entirely. She often found it boring and wasn’t as studious as her strict mother would have liked. At about 11 years old, Mitchell was thrown from her horse and suffered an ankle injury –– the first of three that would bring an end to her journalism career. During the war years (1914-1918) she attended Atlanta’s Washington Seminary for girls where she began to use the name Peggy.

fullsizeoutput_c15Mitchell went to Smith College at her mother’s insistence, but her mother’s death cut her tenure short. Mitchell caught the first train home, but arrived too late. She finished out the academic year, and returned home to be with her father and brother. A year later, she made her debut into Atlanta society as a debutante. Always one to shake things up, Mitchell also became a flapper, started a group called “The Rebel Debutantes” and performed a rather edgy dances at a debutante ball.

In the same year (1922) the country was mourning the death of Nellie Bly, Mitchell finagled her way into a job at the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine. Though she lacked experience as a news writer and had never touched a typewriter, she lied to the editor and got the job.Version 2

Mitchell was married to “Red” Upshaw at the time she began working for the Journal Magazine, but she opted to use her maiden name as her byline. Upshaw was many things–– a bootlegger, unemployed and violent. Their marriage did not last long. He left her, returning months later broke and angry, provoking Margaret to file for divorce.

According to Mitchell’s editor at the Journal Magazine, Angus Perkerson, she proved to be a valuable report who was ready for any story thrown her way. In a 1945 interview Perkerson said, “…she never looked down on any story. And she wrote like a man… Her stories did not require much editing. They ran as she wrote them.” She wrote about Georgian society, the role of women, voting rights, relationships and marriage, personality sketches, and gangs for over four years. Her stories were often the talk of either controversy or high praise. Her profiles on Georgian Civil War generals were hugely popular and provided inspiration for Gone With the Wind (GWTW).

During her time at the Journal Magazine, Mitchell married fellow journalist John Marsh who happened to be the best man at her first wedding. Marsh would become her primary editor for her first and only novel. Mitchell’s career as a reporter ended after she re-injured her ankle. Mitchell wrote more than 200 articles as a journalist.

The first manuscript for GWTW was completed in 1929. She drew on the stories of Confederate soldiers she’d heard as a child. Over the next five years, Mitchell worked on her novel periodically but made no effort to publish it, thinking it wasn’t polished enough. Finally, in 1935, Harold Latham, a literary editor, convinced Mitchell to let him read the gigantic manuscript. During the next five months, she edited, cut, and revised her work as much as she could. The final edition of Gone With the Wind was published June 1936. It was a smash hit. By October, a million copies were sold. In the same year, Mitchell sold the movie rights to producer David Selznick for 50 million dollars. The popularity of the novel earned Mitchell the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, and the annual American Booksellers Association award.

The film version of GWTW premiered in Atlanta in 1939. Come awards season, it received 10 Academy Awards, including “Best Picture”. Even with the success of GWTW, Mitchell chose not to write another novel. Instead, she spent her time answering letters from fans. When America entered WWII, she volunteered as a Red Cross nurse and used the income from her novel to help others. Though she had a complicated relationship with African-Americans, she donated a lot of money to support the education of black doctors. She remained a secret benefactor for the rest of her life.

Mitchell met an untimely end in August 1949. While on the way to a movie, a car hit her, putting her in a coma. She died five days later. In her will there were instructions to have her work burned. Marsh followed her request but grabbed a few pages of GWTW before they burned incase Mitchell’s authorship was ever questioned.

Pavement Pounding Journalist

In the 1920s, it was still uncommon for a married woman to work. A husband was expected to be the breadwinner. This was not so in Mitchell’s first marriage. The one good thing to come from her union with Upshaw was Mitchell’s need to work. Her first assignment for the Atlanta Journal Sunday Magazine was to report on Atlanta socialite, Mrs. Mary Hines Gunsaulus, and the newest fashion she’d seen while in Europe. During the interview, Gunsaulus mentioned she’d witnessed the Fascist revolution in Italy. Originally, the Fascist bit was tacked onto the end of the style report, but Mitchell’s editor turned the story on its head, making world political news relevant to Atlanta society.

Angus Perkerson, managing editor of the Journal Magazine, hired Mitchell to cover the style and entertainment beats, thinking her social connections would come in handy. In a collection of her articles, edited by Patrick Allen, her work is divided into sections such as “Mode and Manners”, “The Debutante and the ‘New Woman'”, and “In and Out of Wedlock”. While these stories were much lighter and fun to read, Mitchell didn’t shy away from hard news. She covered a criminal beat, reporting on Bunko Gangs, rum runners, and thieves. Even these articles focused more on the human aspects rather than the crimes.

Most of her articles, even ones that would typically be classified as “Hard News”, have a distinct story-telling feel. Readers do not feel as if they are getting a facts-only, straight news article. Mitchell’s are full of personality, humor and color.

Mitchell’s work follows patterns found in non-fiction and new journalism, as they are more immersive and focus on truth over fact.

“Fashion is fickle in all things, from the position of waist lines to the size of tips, but nowhere is She more changeable than in slang expressions.”

-“The Cat Has No Pajamas”, June 1924; pg. 31-34

In her articles on styles in slang, she presents a subjective truth that fashion is never stagnant especially in the words we use. fullsizeoutput_c17She has her readers imagine Miss 1923– the most fashion forward and ideal woman of the modern age. Miss 1923 is up-to-date on everything, most importantly, language. (“Spring Styles in Slang Reach Atlanta”, April 1923; pg.9-11) Mitchell’s presentation of Miss 1923 got me thinking about what Miss 2018 would be like. Would she be an aspiring Instagram model wearing the latest in hipster fashion and have multi-colored hair? She’d almost certainly use words like “bae”, “lit”, “yaass”, “extra” or “low-key”. While Miss 1923 and 2018 would appear completely opposite, their attitudes towards the world, style, and language might be surprisingly similar. In many of her writings, she allows her humor to poke through. Her brand of humor is less subtle than Bly’s but isn’t as outright as more modern writers like Chuck Klosterman or Nora Ephron.

“Men are endowed with ostrich-like attributes which Providence spared women.”

-“Just Like a Woman; Ditto for Men”, March 1923; pg.85-88

Style was only a small part of her repertoire. Like Bly, Mitchell writes many articles on women. She also covered marriage and relationships, voting rights, and work in a woman’s world. In her July 1924 article, “Do Working Women Make the Best Wives?” she explores the quandary of whether a wife should be employed. Version 2While some believed having a job would make women less feminine and too independent, others argued the experience would give wives a better understanding of their husbands and the value of a dollar. She wrote it was smart to work and “As for making a good wives, the girls declare that far from ruining them as homemakers, a job before marriage is the best insurance of a happy married life.” (pg. 102)

The structure of a typical article written by Margaret Mitchell begins with a short headline and a snappy lede.

Shot Three Times, Missed Him–– Divorced

Last Straws.

The little things that break the backs of camels and the yoke of matrimony.

Some of her articles feature a short synopsis before the lede and a great many are segmented. The article above has four subheadings, ‘Threw Bed Clothes on the Floor’, ‘The Dentist’s Wife’, ‘Trailed by Detectives’ and ‘Missed Him Three Times’. I feel this can be a good way of presenting a story as it naturally sets the reader up for a new idea. It could also be a good way to transition if other methods aren’t working.

Despite having a short career in journalism, Mitchell went on to write one of the most popular books in American history. She may have been born with story-telling in her blood, but her stint at the Journal Magazine prepared her and allowed her to hone her skills before embarking on the road to Gone With the Wind.

What I’ve Learned:

Every News Article is a Story- While hard news typically stays with the facts, there is no reason not to make the piece compelling. Mitchell achieved this by using her natural lyrical style and providing plenty of description of her subjects.

“Grandma Veal is a slight, tiny figure, yet erect of carriage. Her small face is wrinkled and faintly yellow, but marked with determination.

Her eyes, undimmed by age, gleam vivaciously over her spectacles and her small hands are constantly in motion as she talks.”

“Grandma Veal Speaks Her Mind on Her 102nd Birthday”, October 1924; pg. 172-179

99yr-old Flapper

While reporting on Grandma Veal, Mitchell came across a 99 year-old flapper who celebrated her recent birthday by getting a bob. When Grandma Veal hears the story she is flabergasted!

The Lede is as Important as the Headline- Mitchell knows how to write a good headline. Both her headlines and ledes are fantastically crafted. A punching headline will get readers to look at the article, but a good lede will get them to continue reading.

Thank You, Mr. Watterson

Like I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I absolutely love Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson. I was raised on the comics, learned how to read with them, gained a broader imagination through them, and I still read them to this day. I want to use this post to explain just how much I love this strip and how it has impacted my life. However, I don’t know if the words I have are adequate or even enough to really show my apprieciation for Mr. Watterson. 

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All strips featured in this post are from The Indispensible Calvin and Hobbes (1992). [View Larger]

For quick reference, Calvin and Hobbes is a comic strip about a mischevious, intelligent 6 year old boy and his stuffed tiger. Written by Bill Watterson, the strip ran from 1985-1995 and ran in 2,400 newspapers worldwide.

When I was little (probably about 5-7 years old), my dad would pull out a book of Calvin and Hobbes and read me to sleep. Dad’s only mistake was thinking that it would put me to sleep. Calvin’s adventures and vast imagination filled my head with stories and my own possible adventures that kept me awake. Now, about 17 years later, I’ve begun making my own comic strips and incorporating many things I’ve learned from Mr. Watterson and Calvin.

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Spaceman Spiff is one of Calvins’s many alteregos. Thanks to Spaceman Spiff, I wanted to grow up to be an Astronaut-Princess who piloted her own spaceship and faught menacing aliens. [View Larger]

From his comics, I’m learning how to organize my comics in an asthetically pleasing, yet readable way, how to write the dialogue of comics, and how to turn everyday experiences into fantastical adventures.

I could say here how clever, creative, enduring, intelligent, thoughtful, thought-provoking, and hilarious Calvin and Hobbes is, but anyone who’s read the comics already understands. And if you haven’t read them, stop what you are doing and go read them. I suppose I don’t have much more to say, other than Thank You, Mr. Watterson.

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My take on Bill Watterson’s style. I created this comic in response to hearing a lot of Christmas talk before Thanksgiving. (It’s actually one of my biggest pet peeves.)

Comics Spotlight: Blondie

On September 8, 1930, Chic Young’s now insanely popular comic strip, Blondie, appeared in newspapers across America. It began with a pretty flapper girl, Blondie Boopadoop, and a bumbling, awkward, billionaire’s son, Dagwood Bumstead. At the beginning, Dagwood was just one of Blondie’s many boyfriends, but eventually, the two fell in love. They tied the knot in 1933, in a highly anticipated and memorable comic strip. As a result of their marriage, Dagwood was almost immediately disinherited and written out of his father’s will and “Dagwood and Blondie had to go out into the world and hack it like the rest of us” (Dean Young).

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Before I drew a comic inspired by Blondie‘s style, I figured I’d practice by drawing the two main characters and the logo.

Today the strip is written and illustrated by Chic’s son, Dean as well as head artist, John Marshall. Dagwood and Blondie’s day-to-day escapades revolve around their work and home lives. The Bumsteads have two teenage children, Alexander and Cookie, and a dog, Daisy, all of whom make frequent appearances in the strip. The strip also features the Bumstead’s neighbors and coworkers.

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A Blondie strip from Oct. 25, 2015, which includes characters from other newspaper strips such as Dustin, Zits, and Baby Blues. 

In its early years, the strip’s success led to the creation of several “Blondie” movies spanning from 1938-1950, and a 26-episode TV series in 1957. Blondie was portrayed by Penny Singleton in the movies and Pamela Britton on TV while Dagwood was played by Arthur Lake in both.

I think the strip’s enduring popularity comes from its ability to represent and show the absurd and hilarious in the mundane. While this is the aim of most comics, Blondie does it particularly well as it comes off extremely relatable and makes me laugh almost every time. Another reason I find Blondie so funny is that I see a bit of my dad’s personality (and maybe a bit of my own) in Dagwood. I think the most incredible thing is that the strip has been in print for almost 90 years. I can’t think of any other comic that has endured so long. The creators must be doing something right!

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My comic inspired by the Blondie comics. I wanted to find a way to include Dagwood’s famous sandwiches and it just so happens that I really DO get excited about sandwiches.

The Funnies

It comes as no surprise that print newspapers are on a steady decline to obscurity. So what does this mean for the comic strips published in the papers? Will they die out too, or will they continue in the digital realm? It’s hard to say, but with webcomics and apps like Webtoons, comics like Blondie, Beetle Bailey, and Garfield might be able to continue on.

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Garfield by Jim Davis (October 6, 2017)

While the “golden age” of comics tends to focus on comic books, it was a golden age for all comics. Newspaper strips also featured recurring characters and entertaining storylines. These comics were more aimed at small cracks of humor rather than a drawn out story. By creating comics featuring the same characters each day or week (depending on the comic’s publishing schedule with their syndicate) helped keep consistency and a loose focus for the overall comic. It also helped readers connect to the strips and develop a dedicated fanbase. However, it was the ability to have the characters in different situations or center on different topics that appealed the casual scanner of comics as well as readers looking for a little variety.

Typically, most comics (both strips and books) have simple backgrounds so the focus is on the action. Comic strips often simplify the background quite a bit, where some have no background (just white behind the character) while others use a flat color, sometimes to indicate emotion. To indicate place or setting, many comic artists just use a line to represent the ground, counter, or wall, while others will include simple furniture—such as a chair or table—to aid in the storytelling.

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Blondie by Dean Young and John Marshall (October 2, 2017)

Another difference between the two comic forms is the overall art style. Newspaper comics are all about simplicity. Most newspaper cartoonists have a daily strip and can’t afford to spend a lot of time on it. On the other hand, comic book artists have longer deadlines and typically use a more detailed style. I think the simplicity of strips is appealing because they allow a reader to fill in the details and see themselves in the comic if they wish.

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Calvin and Hobbes by Bill Watterson (this particular comic is from the collection The Calvin and Hobbes Lazy Sunday Book)

My love of comics began with newspapers. As a little kid, I looked forward to the weekends when I’d get good breakfast and could sit on my dad’s lap while we read the comics. He introduced me to the comics I still love to read today—Blondie, Garfield, Peanuts, Zits—and my all-time-favorite, Calvin and Hobbes. Bill Watterson’s comic about an imaginative, troublemaking 6-year-old and his stuffed tiger remains my favorite because it presents mature themes through a child’s eyes.   

A quick note about my comics for today: I really focused on emulating the simple backgrounds. I often feel the need to fill the background space with something but I never know what to do. I think I’ve learned that comics don’t always need a background, and the simple addition of color can just as effective as a setting.

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A witchy comic I did for Inktober day 3. Here I use the flat color background I was trying to emulate.

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Nessie Vs the Tourists- Inktober day 4