Written by Shelley Plett Tuesday, 22 March 2011 14:27
“Signora, between Austria and Italy, there is a section of the Alps called the Semmering. It is an impossibly steep, very high part of the mountains. They built a train track over these Alps to connect Vienna and Venice. They built these tracks even before there was a train in existence that could make the trip. They built it because they knew someday, the train would come.” —Martini, “Under the Tuscan Sun”
I know a lot of successful people who have followed the rules laid out in front of them, did all the right things in the right order and never hit a hiccup along the way (that’s remotely visible anyway).
I also know a few who have come into their own by way of impossibly steep mountains. I don’t think they necessarily thought they were “laying tracks” for whatever the future held. I think they just “did it” because they were driven to.
I like that. Laying tracks on an impossibly steep mountain for no apparent reason. Who actually does that?
Ask (and research) and you shall receive. March 16 was International Women’s Day. (March is National Women’s History Month). I work for a newspaper. What better reasons to throw a spotlight on one of the women who laid the tracks for every female journalist during and after their time?
“The Postmistress,” a novel by Sarah Blake, is the story of a fictional female radio journalist named Frankie Bard who travels to Europe to cover the war in 1940 under the direction of Edward R. Murrow.
Frankie’s character was partly inspired by the author’s research of Martha Gellhorn, an international war correspondent who’s six-decade career began with her coverage of the Spanish Civil War in 1937 and ended with the U.S. Invasion of Panama in 1989, when she was 81.
Gellhorn didn’t believe in objective journalism, which could be argued against in typical news coverage. But in World War II, during her early days of reporting, when the media were one newspaper and one radio station for every area in the U.S., a journalist who knew how to transfer the human element from the streets of London to a kitchen in say, Kansas, was an amazing thing.
Women have been on the forefront of wars alongside their male counterparts ever since. (Often writing under male names—some were banned from press conferences or only allowed to submit their stories after the men.)
In February 2009, I wrote about one woman named Mariane Pearl. Her husband was Daniel Pearl, an American journalist beheaded by Al-Qaeda in 2002. Mariane has worked as a Glamour Magazine consultant and her “Global Diary” stories are still available online at http://www.glamour.com/magazine/2006/07/global-diary-cambodia. (And still worth reading).
And most recently in the news was CBS journalist Lara Logan, who was attacked, assaulted and raped while she was covering a story in Egypt. It was reported hundreds of reporters were targeted, assaulted, threatened and arrested. Add being a woman to that equation—in a large mob in an Arab country—and the target on her back instantly grew.
These women know what they’re risking and they keep on going. It’s easy to overlook what their goal is when we have access to news coverage 24/7. Then again, how much of what we now call media are actually reporting news?
“The Postmistress” opened with a quote from Martha Gellhorn: “War happens to people, one by one. That is really all I have to say, and it seems to me I have been saying it forever.”
That seems to be the case for the journalists who cover them, too. So here’s to the women who laid the tracks before the train was built.