Alumni Memory: Susan Becker (Davidson), BJ ’66

History in the Making

It never occurred to me when I headed from Calgary to Ottawa in the fall of 1965 for Carleton’s one-year BJ program, open to those who held another degree, that I was a woman facing what was then primarily a man’s occupation. But I soon learned. For in those days most women journalists were stalwarts of “the women’s pages,” rather like the “you” pages now. The thing was, none of us women in our fairly small class were aware that we might be ground-breakers in our chosen field. Indeed, we were among educated women everywhere who had begun expecting equal job opportunities. So we studied, got our degrees and went on. For example, on graduation a classmate and friend, Gail Scott, became CBOT’s first woman television reporter, doing all sorts of general news and going on to a remarkable career in TV, including a stint in the Parliamentary Press Gallery.

My first bump into the problem of male bias came when I wasn’t long at Carleton Journalism: a major news organization’s Ottawa office advertised on our bulletin board for a “copy boy.” I was about to ring for an interview from the Journalism School’s phone when Joe Scanlon, our news reporting instructor, came by and told me it was no use: ” He won’t hire you because you’re a woman.” So I waltzed into my interview saying, “I’ve been told you won’t hire me because I’m a woman. So I’ve come for the experience of applying for a job.” Needless to say, I didn’t get it, but later in my reporting career he did hire me and said he wished he’d done so the first time.

At the School we got what I found exciting and useful reporting assignments, with mock press conferences thrown in and sometimes thoughtful discussions of ethics, protection of sources and such. I had a successful week’s placement by the School to the Ottawa Journal. That later helped me get my first reporting job after graduation on general news at the paper, one of the then two major Ottawa dailies. I loved walking down the long, glass-sided corridor showing the enormous presses, rumbling and rolling out the printed sheets, especially if I had a front-pager. A year later I went to work for a few years at The Canadian Press Ottawa Bureau, doing general news plus features on women who were becoming prominent and newsworthy in other fields by then. It was a heady time, with Canada’s Centennial and the Liberal Party’s turn-over from then Prime Minister and Nobel Laureate Lester Pearson to Pierre Trudeau of “Trudeaumania” fame and, as PM, implementing the War Measures Act during the Quebec terrorism crisis. From the vantage of being one of a handful of women in the Parliamentary Press Gallery, (later Senator) Joyce Fairburn among them, I got to see history unfolding in front of me. And it all began thanks to Carleton’s School of Journalism. – Susan Becker (Davidson) (BJ ’66)

Alumni Memories are part of Carleton Journalism’s 75th Anniversary.

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Monday, June 7, 2021 in
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