Opportunity deferred: a 1952 case study of a woman in network television news.

Author:Ozmun, David
Position:Report - Case study

By 1952, the American television networks had established themselves as the major source of news in television homes (Advertest, 1952). NBC's Camel News Caravan was the highest-rated news program (cited by McAndrew, 1952). In New York City, more than 40% of survey respondents said they viewed the program regularly (Advertest, 1952). One primary reason for the popularity of the program and other NBC news services was the network's commitment to filmed coverage of news events (Karnick, 1988). NBC was the first network to provide battlefront film of the Korean War, almost from the very beginning of America's involvement in 1950 (Frank, 1991). The network and its New York flagship station committed significant resources to their news-oriented programs, several of which ranked fairly high among survey respondents. Their primary competition, CBS, did not begin hiring news photographers until 1953 (Matusow, 1983, p. 64).

In addition, the Truman administration combined forces with NBC in a 1951 television series exploring post-war Europe's relations with Washington. The program, Battle Report--Washington, was popular and newsworthy enough to warrant a second season (Bernhard, 1999). In August 1951 Gallup found 64% of survey respondents thought the United States should continue to send military and economic aid to Europe (Gallup 1972, p. 1004). A month later 56% indicated that war and foreign policy, Russia, threats to peace and the Cold War were more important than the domestic problems facing the United States (p. 1018). NBC used much of the material from the series for Camel News Caravan (NBC, 1951).

The team responsible for filming and interviewing foreign leaders consisted of twin brothers Charles and Eugene Jones. They had also provided NBC with reports from Korea. Newsweek ("Double Trouble," 1952; "The Jones Boys," 1950) celebrated their work, and NBC (Thoman, 1952a) prepared to send the twins back to Europe. Little known outside the relatively small news division was the addition of Natalie Jones, wife of Eugene, to the team. Mrs. Jones subsequently served as interviewer, photographer, and sound operator during early 1952.

Although women had served as radio war correspondents, and Pauline Frederick had been covering the United Nations for ABC radio and television since the 1948 political conventions, by 1960 it was "occasionally possible to see Aline Mosby reporting from Moscow, Phillis Hepp from Turkey and Athens and Lee Hall from Cairo and Havana" (Marzolf, 1977, p. 165). When NBC asked Far Eastern Bureau Chief George Folster to report on potential independent news reporters (stringers) in the Middle East, Southeast and Far East Asia, his account noted that though there was a lack of American voices available (along with a scarcity of photographers) he was hesitant to recommend any females unless the network would accept a woman's voice (Folster, 1952). This opinion prevailed despite inroads made by female reporters during World War II, and women, "with few exceptions, were expected to cover women's news" (Hosley & Yamada, 1987, p. 81). But was announcing and reporting the extent of a woman's career possibilities?

Using taped and telephone interviews, photographs, network correspondence, and personal letters as evidence, this case study examines Natalie Jones' interviewing, filming, and recording duties; her contribution to the production of news material provided NBC; and her acceptance by newsmakers in the gathering of news. The assignment handed the Jones reporters in 1952 was compared with the previous venture, when only the brothers produced the content. If, as this essay suggests, Mrs. Jones' participation was substantial and substantive, it adds to the testimony of other broadcast pioneers who disproved the early belief that news gathering could only be undertaken by men.

Meeting the Jones Brothers

When the United States committed troops to South Korea in mid-1950, the Jones brothers, award-winning newspaper photographers in Washington, DC, convinced NBC news director Frank McCall to hire them to cover the war. The twins, who had served in the Marine Corps during World War II as combat still photographers, were enthusiastic about filming the action for television. They did not consider themselves merely cameramen; their intent was to write and report for the network as well as shoot film. In fact, they earned some additional income recording interviews for NBC's radio network. Much of their war footage found its way to the Camel News Caravan broadcasts (E. Jones OHI, n.d.).

Upon their return from Korea, NBC sent the Jones team to Europe in January 1951 "to be the first real political and feature television reporters with sound cameras developed by NBC for foreign coverage" (Taylor, 1951 a, p. 1). The brothers filmed interviews with many of Europe's leaders along with footage about their countries. Although NBC utilized the material on Camel News Caravan and other news programming, the network's primary beneficiary of the Joneses' film was Battle Report--Washington ("Jones Twins Return Home," 1951). As noted, NBC produced the program with the support and assistance of the White House, whose objectives included shedding light on how the Truman administration was fighting communism. It often starred one of the President's special assistants, John R. Steelman, who interviewed federal and military officers (Bernhard, 1999, pp. 117-118).

The Jones brothers' work earned them both praise and awards, but it was not without controversy. They had argued and "wrangled" with both communist and American embassy officials in Yugoslavia, where they attempted to secure an interview with Marshal Josef Tito (C. Jones & Jones, 1951). American Ambassador George Allen (1951) predicted the two would create difficulties for other American journalists. While the brothers did capture on film the opening session of the Yugoslavian Congress, they missed an interview with Tito as he slipped out through a rear door.

Another major problem arose with their equipment. In order to record the interviews, one of the brothers operated the camera, changing film after 3 minutes of recording. The other managed the microphone, lighting, and the automobile batteries they were forced to utilize when NBC batteries failed. One result of such burden was the creation of an unprecedented--but unusable--feature on Pope Pius' Easter blessing from St. Peter's; the audio had been recorded at slow speed (Kisseloff, 1995, p. 373). A third person would have eased the equipment burden on the twins.

The Truman administration was pleased with Battle Report but NBC's news director decided, for economic reasons, to bring the brothers back to the United States a few weeks early (McCall, 1951). A considerable amount of film was shot, and the network did not think it had reaped much "subsidiary value out of the material" (p. 1). Consequently, talk of extending the Joneses' assignment to the Middle East was dropped.

Upon their return to the United States, the Jones brothers found they could do little work until they resolved problems with the Union of International Photographers of the Motion Picture Industries over their application for union membership (Taylor, 1951b). There were, however, others who sought to employ them. According to Eugene, producer Fred Friendly at CBS offered them a chance to work with him and Edward R. Murrow on See It Now (E. Jones OHI, n.d.). But the brothers decided to stay at NBC. For one thing, Eugene had married Natalie Reiff, a publicist for the Earl Ferris Agency, whose clients included Camel News Caravan. They had met in 1950 when the brothers were guests on The Kate Smith Show. During the program, Eugene was presented with the first Purple Heart medal given to a correspondent working in Korea. Two weeks after the wedding he and Charles departed for the territory of Alaska, on assignment for NBC.

Battle Report--Europe

When the network (Thoman, 1952a) assigned the brothers a return trip to Europe in 1952 for 6 months instead of 3, Eugene said he would not go without his wife (C. Jones & Jones, 1952a). Although NBC was open to the idea (Natalie had actually handled the brothers' business affairs during their first European assignment, and dealt with McCall, who looked to her to "keep them in line"), there was the problem of nepotism (N. Jones OHI, 2005). NBC's parent corporation, RCA, would not allow husbands and wives to work together. CBS had a similar policy. Reporter Joe Wershba and his wife, Shirley, a producer, kept their marriage secret from management. In fact, the policy at CBS forbade any relative from working within the company (Gladstone, 2005).

The final arrangement served to keep Natalie's name off the NBC books and thus at least superficially to meet network policy. NBC's vice president in charge of television Sylvester "Pat" Weaver arranged for Natalie to be paid through the Paris bureau. She was accredited by NBC (Thoman, 1952b) and by the U.S. Department of Defense, and her passport identified her as a...

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