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3 Bold Women Who Broke The Mold In Journalism

Journalism is often a defiant act—it seeks the truth, shines light on injustice, and gives voice to the voiceless. As part of our #BreakTheMold series, we’re taking a look at three women who fought norms to report the facts and tell stories as only they could.

Dorothy Thompson

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“She rides in the smoking car” read the caption of Dorothy Thompson’s picture when it graced the cover of Time magazine in 1939. Known by many as “The First Lady of American Journalism,” and a lover of cigarettes as much as barrier-breaking, Thompson was one of the most regarded journalists of the 20th century. In that same issue of Time, the magazine recognized her as the second most influential woman in America, next to Eleanor Roosevelt.

The work that put Thompson on the map was groundbreaking, indeed. After getting her degree in journalism from Syracuse University in 1914, Thompson joined the women’s suffrage movement, then relocated to Europe in 1920, where she was Bureau Chief of the New York Evening Post in Berlin.

She interviewed Adolf Hitler in 1931 and was one of the early voices to speak out against the Nazi regime. For her criticism, she was expelled from Germany in 1934—the first journalist to be removed from the country. She relocated to New York where her journalism career continued to flourish, and she eventually died in 1961. She left behind a remarkable legacy perhaps best remembered in her own words: "Only when we are no longer afraid do we begin to live."

Gwen Ifill

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From the age of 9, Gwen Ifill knew that journalism was her calling, despite a dearth of role models: "When I was a little girl watching [news] programs... I would look up and not see anyone who looked like me in any way. No women. No people of color," she recalled in a 2013 interview with The New York Times.

Although she worked in a field dominated by white men, Ifill racked up many firsts for women in journalism, including being the first African American woman to moderate a vice presidential debate in 2004, with a repeat performance in 2008. Through her career, Ifill worked for the Washington Post, The New York Times, NBC and PBS, and won a Peabody Award in 2008 for her work on Washington Week.

“A journalist’s journalist,” Ifill, along with her PBS NewsHour co-host Judy Woodruff were the first all-female anchor team on a national news program. Reflecting on this achievement, she said "I'm very keen about the fact that a little girl now, watching the news, when they see me and Judy sitting side by side, it will occur to them that that's perfectly normal—that it won't seem like any big breakthrough at all.”

Gloria Steinem

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Gloria Steinem’s name usually is followed quickly by a list of roles: writer, feminist, social activist, journalist, organizer, lecturer—an ever-growing testament to her long career in issues surrounding women.

Working as a freelance journalist in the 1960s, she added Playboy bunny to that list of roles, having gone undercover as a waitress at New York City’s Playboy Club to write an exposé of the club’s exploitative working conditions. The work, though well-received, stymied her career for a time because, as she noted, “I had now become a Bunny—and it didn’t matter why.”

Eventually she went on work as a columnist for New York magazine, leaving the “bunny” stigma far behind, and later co-founded Ms. magazine in 1972. The magazine has outlasted many of its critics, such as newscaster Harry Reasoner who said “I’ll give it six months before they run out of things to say.” 45 years later, the magazine is still in publication. She has published a number of books, directed films, and scored an Emmy nomination for “Woman,” the TV documentary series she produced for Viceland.

Now 83 years old, she has lived in New York City for over 50 years, and in true New Yorker fashion, hasn’t yet learned to drive. “I couldn’t live anywhere else” she says, and “I can’t imagine not working.”

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