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From Soft News to Hard News: The Long Journey of Women’s Sections

Afternoon Lecture/Seminar

Wednesday, September 27, 2023 - 12:00 p.m. to 1:15 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0292
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Materials for this program

Society page of the Pittsburg Press, 1920

Get the scoop on the evolution of the women’s pages of newspapers and a female journalist who defied the staid conventions of her times and attracted millions of readers.

From the 1880s through the 1970s, the women’s pages were essentially the place for women to work in journalism. And the typical women’s section focused on what were considered traditional female issues—clothes, homemaking, and child rearing, i.e., soft news. After World War II, the sections began to come into their own as they expanded and their editors became more progressive in the issues they covered. Yet the perception that the sections were merely fluff continued for years. Kimberly Voss, author and professor of journalism at the University of Central Florida, explores the significance of these sections and how they evolved over time to cover more hard news.

Soft news didn’t interest journalist Elsie Robinson, who wrote a well-read column for the Hearst empire in the early to mid 20th century. For more than 30 years, Robinson used her “Listen, World!” column to share her blistering and unapologetic opinions in support of women's rights and immigrants; deride capital punishment, racism, and antisemitism; and urge women to realize bigger, more fulfilling lives. She reached some 20 million readers. Robinson also was one of the first columnists in the country to draw her own accompanying editorial and political cartoons. It’s no surprise that William Randolph Hearst made her the company’s highest-paid female writer. Allison Gilbert, a journalist and co-author of Listen, World!: How the Intrepid Elsie Robinson Became America’s Most-Read Woman, delves into Robinson’s career and life.

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