Today and throughout February, I am posting brief excerpts from my upcoming memoir, “Coming Full Circle — From Jim Crow to Journalism.”
“Ooooh-ooo-wee, Sister Lloyd!” a deacon said one Sunday morning as we were passing each other in the hallway near the office at Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Arlington, Virginia. My husband and I had joined Mt. Zion a few years after we were married in 1975 and I moved to the Washington, DC, area where he was living, and where he had lots of family around.
“I saw you on TV the other day, Sister Lloyd.”
“Good morning, Deacon, what do you mean?” I slowed my walk through the hallway that was crowded with laughter, hugging and children racing about between Sunday School and the 11 am worship service.
“I saw you on C-SPAN sitting at the head of that big table at USA Today with aaaall those white folks around you.
The deacon went on to describe the conference room where the editors were working, an expansive table with seats for about 20 people, a wall of TV sets running different channels and another wall with newspaper front pages. He wanted me to know what he observed, perhaps to be convincing that he was really watching.
“Sister Lloyd, you were in charge.”
I was Senior Editor/Days and Administration at the time. The innocuous title, not one of my choosing, was nevertheless one that put me in a seat of influence at the newspaper, where I had rapidly shot up the newsroom ladder after joining the staff in 1986 as a deputy managing editor, and after many years in editing roles at The Washington Post and three other newspapers before that.
The “administration” part of my title gave me responsibility for oversight of the newsroom training and performance improvement, financial budgets, staff and internship recruiting, relationships with readers and journalism associations and just about anything else that came along as a short- or long-term project. The “days” part of my job meant I was in charge of planning each day’s newspaper from morning until evening, when other editors would take over the duties of what we call “getting the paper out the door.” I led two of the three daily news meetings and made sure potential Page One stories and photographs were well into the planning process for the coming days’ editions.
Occupying a seat at the table at USA Today gives editors the responsibility of sharing story ideas that might make it to the next day’s front page, or the front of other sections in the newspaper. There is no greater position for a newspaper reporter than to have his or her stories appear on page one.
The timing of the Sunday morning encounter with the deacon was in the early 1990s, when very few people of color — and certainly almost no women of color — were in positions of influence in mainstream media newsrooms, not at newspapers and not in television news. Very few of us had seats at the table.
Next: “Negro girls don’t work for newspapers”