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Editor's Weekly: Changes in news rooms continue, but slowly

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, June 8, 2011 - Jill Abramson and Linda Eardley have both been in the news recently -- two journalists whose achievements trace a remarkable path for women in newspapers.

Abramson was just named executive editor of The New York Times -- the first woman to hold that position. Yes, other women have served as editors of major newspapers. Yes, the Times has been shaken by the economic and technological challenges facing the industry. But yes, her appointment is still a big deal, finally cracking the ultimate glass ceiling in the traditional media world.

Eardley was just elected to the St. Louis Media Hall of Fame. In 1969, she became the first woman hired directly onto the city desk of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Her career as a reporter and editor included a variety of news and feature assignments, from education to floods. It's mind boggling that as late as 1969 the Post-Dispatch had never hired a woman to be part of the paper's primary news coverage operation. Eardley's quiet professionalism helped push the door open for others, including me.

My own print career spanned much of the long transition from Eardley's entrance to Abramson's appointment, so I'm particularly pleased to celebrate the achievements of both. But more than that, I'm eager to apply the lessons we learned from the difficult history their careers represent.

As the new media world takes shape, I'd like to think old struggles to achieve workplace equality are over. At the Beacon, women hold several key positions, and our staff is diverse in race and other factors. But the Beacon seems to be something of an exception. At new media conferences, as at old ones, participants and panelists tend to be overwhelmingly white and male.

We think of the digital world as a place where all can participate freely. But the evidence suggests that old imbalances persist. Correcting them is not only the fair thing, it's the smart thing. Diversity is a resource – not only in covering diverse communities but also in creating new kinds of news organizations.

It took nearly half a century to progress from Eardley's hiring to Abramson's ascension. I hope the new media world learns more quickly.