Sarah Greene

greeneSarah Greene was born in Gilmer, Texas on January 11, 1929. Her grandfather bought the local paper in 1915 and her parents ran it. She began selling subscriptions to the paper at the age of 8 and worked around the office, including running election returns from the courthouse.

She attended Stevens College in Columbia, Mo. After her sophomore year, she enrolled at the University of Texas as a journalism major.

She worked for The Daily Texan and landed her first job on the city desk at The Dallas Morning News where she was the only woman not in the society department. She and her husband moved back to Gilmer to work with her father as editor.

Link to Greene’s newspaper:

http://www.gilmermirror.com/

Read Sarah Greene’s interview:

My name is Sarah Greene.  I was born in Gilmer, Texas, on Jan. 11, 1929, and I still live there.  I guess you could say I was born into newspaper work because my parents owned the Gilmer Mirror at the time I was born and my grandfather had bought it in 1915 and they had joined him.

So what drew me to it I guess was inheritance and what I like best about it is that if a person has any kind of intellectual curiosity it is a job in which you can, a career in which you can always try to find out what’s going on.  And I guess I have that.

And my newspaper career began when I was probably about eight or nine years old when I would go around town collecting for subscriptions, knocking on doors and getting a little commission on each one that I collected.  And then I did various little odd jobs around the office, my favorite one of which was on election night when my father would represent the Texas Election Bureau and I would run the returns from the courthouse when they came in to him at the newspaper office and he would call them in to Dallas which was a very important seeming job.

And then I, of course, graduated from high school in Gilmer and went to Stephens College in Columbia, Missouri, a girl’s school, for two years and I did not declare a major.  At the end of my sophomore year I realized I was, couldn’t put it off any longer and I   at the time I thought that women’s only roles were you could either be a secretary or a nurse or a school teacher.  And none of those things appealed to me.  There were really very few other career roles for women at that time so as time ran out and I had to decide where to transfer to.

I enrolled in the University of Texas at Austin as a journalism major.  After that, after I graduated with a BJ in journalism in 1949, I went to work for the Dallas Morning News on the City Desk staff and worked there for three years until I married my UT classmate and colleague on the Dallas News, Ray Greene.

After a year in Fort Worth when he was working for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and I worked briefly for the Government Airplane Plant Number One, the Convair Plant in the Service Engineering Department, my parents invited us to come to Gilmer and he became editor of the paper and co-publisher with my father.

As for what education helped prepare me, the University of Texas Journalism School was crucial.  Working on the Daily Texan and at that time it was part of the class work.  You had no choice but to work as, in the reporting — when you took the reporting course and the editing course you worked on the Texan. But I also did volunteer work on the Texan at night and became news editor and that was just invaluable.

Then as far as lessons I’ve learned from my working life.  It is that it’s a large responsibility to be involved in a community newspaper in a small town like I have been for most of my career because I’ve always considered it sort of a quasi public utility that the people have, you know, didn’t matter whether you liked somebody or not they have the right to have their story told and it becomes a historical resource; really the only, the main one in a town like Gilmer or any other small town.

Favorite stories from my newspaper career? There have been so many of them that I hardly would know where to start but one of them was early in my Gilmer career in the 1950s when we had a sheriff who had a, was a very kind man and he had a trusty, a young man who he was letting leave on the, letting out to do work around town on the weekends and the guy disappeared one day.

And it became a cause celebre in the town and the sheriff actually got indicted for letting this prisoner escape. And it became a national story when Life Magazine showed up to cover his trial and at the climax of the trial his defense attorney said “I’ll now call to the witness stand the man who escaped who had found out his friend the sheriff was in trouble and has come back” and it became a spread in the — I still have the Life Magazine and the photographer, John Dominis was who took the pictures, was a young man who went on to become one of Life’s more famous photographers.  So that was a fun story.

And as to what distinguishes journalism from other fields.  Well to me, it’s just so much more interesting.  You wake up every day and you don’t know, you know, don’t know what’s gonna happen next and it’s not like just going to a —  living, dealing with advertisers in stores or waiting for somebody to come in and buy something or not buy something.  It’s just a lot more interesting I think.

I think of myself as being pretty laid back as far as trying to lead anybody else because I’ve never been —  I don’t like being bossed around in a high-handed way myself so I try to let people do, under supervision, but to try to bring out what, the best they can do.

As to what I’m proudest of in my career, it’s I guess having kept this home-town, independent, family-owned, newspaper. My role in keeping that going over a period of more than 50 years now with all the tremendous changes that I’m sure everybody will tell you about in the terms of your advertisers and the technological changes and that’s, has been quite an experience for all of us who have been in this business I think.

I did face an ethical dilemma that was, I think unique in my career.

In about 1992 a young woman named Kelly Wilson, a 17-year old, disappeared. She was working at a video store downtown and she closed it up about 9 o’clock one night and has never been seen since.  Of course all the law enforcement mounted a search for her and after a certain length of time a 7-year-old child told his case worker at the Department of Human Services, Child Welfare worker, that he had seen this woman at the foster home that he had been placed in and that this family who lived out on the Cherokee Trace, a country road north of Gilmer, that this family was running a Satanic cult and had killed her and eaten her.

This became a national story, you may remember it.  And the ethical dilemma for me became the fact that I was — that the policeman on the case, a Gilmer policeman a man named James Brown, was indicted for her murder even though there was no body and has never been found and I was on the grand jury that indicted him.  And I’m still under oath, I still can’t tell what went on in that grand jury, but it became a national as well as a local story in that people thought that…

Well, one local man got up on the courthouse square and told a mob that Sarah Greene was covering things up and accused me of telling my reporters what was going on in the grand jury, which was the last thing I would do.

They were very enterprising, my reporters knew actually more about the case than the grand jury did and eventually Victoria Lowe of the Dallas Morning News came out and I couldn’t tell her anything but I talked to her a lot.

And the Attorney General was called in and exposed the whole thing as a hoax and the two members of this family that I still have a closet full of tapes that the two women in the family that the 7-year-old boy accused, totally fabricated this story. Mike Cochran of the AP came out, NBC News came out, and ten years later Dateline NBC did a documentary on it.  And so that was to me was a unique experience in my time in the newspaper business.

As far as an ethical code, I think that you have to, I believe in what, everything that the Freedom of Information Foundation stands for and I try to support it.  And you have to… I don’t believe that the current opinion that journalists are not objective. I don’t— I just disagree with that entirely.  I think you have to be as objective as you possibly can be and to me it’s always been easier to be objective than to go out on a story and think now let’s see what side of my story am I on and who am I going to try to look better or worse in this particular event.  I was trained in objectivity and I try to do that.

That comes down to the biggest influence on my professional life.  I went to the University of Texas when the late Granville Price taught the editing class. I still think of him.  I recently had a conversation with Dick Elam who was my classmate there and we talked about Granville Price and I said that I wish I could mark- up the front page every week like Granville did to show where you’d gone wrong.  Dick Elam said “Oh, I do that.”  He’s the owner of the Wharton and El Campo papers and I said “Well, if I did that, I’m afraid everybody would walk out.”

But that would be my ideal to be able to do that.

The other biggest influence was Jack Krueger the now legendary, late city editor of the Dallas Morning News.  I felt really privileged to work under him because this was a time right after the War when there were a lot of talented young veterans back, both in my time at UT and on the Dallas News, a lot of talented people who have gone on to imposing and important careers and I’m even in touch, still in touch with some of them and we reminisce about those times.

As to the state of journalism today, well, to put it mildly it’s certainly in a state of transition. I’m sure we’re all agreed that nobody knows exactly where it’s going in this new Internet Information Age and it’s a challenge for both small and large newspapers to figure out how it’s gonna settle out. But I think it will settle out and you see through a glass darkly right now because it’s hard to tell, but I think there will be a new business model and I hope… because I think that the topic of the day now is blogs.  Well, blogs are very interesting and I read them all the time but how do you know whether one is authoritative or not?  I still think you have to have journalists who you can rely on to go by the facts and not some alternate reality.

Wanda Cash:  What about the role of women in journalism, Sarah?

SG:         Well, apparently it’s becoming more important, more women publishers, more women in all sorts of roles and I remember in our weekly newspaper business at the time when World War II started we had an all male staff and that’s been changing from right after World War II on. And I think that women are certainly going to be vital in the future.

Well, in fact, when I went to work for the Dallas Morning News most of the jobs, it was very hard to get a job outside of the society news department.  And I was so determined not to work in society news that when I signed on I worked for a couple of months in the morgue and a couple of months as the receptionist outside of the newsroom and I finally got inside and on the city desk and got to start writing obits.  And now of course it’s women columnists, women reporters, women editors, and women publishers are just taken for granted.

WC:         Was it like Ginger Rogers dancing backwards?

SG:         [Laughter] Sort of, yeah.  It was.  My good friend and I shared an apartment with Dorthea Lyle McGrath who was the labor news reporter for, she was several years older than I was and had started in Wichita Falls, and she was unique as a labor news reporter in the ‘40s and early ‘50s and she had to be better than most of the men to do that.

WC:         When you took over more of the leadership role at the Gilmer paper did you encounter obstacles from people in the community who didn’t, might not have thought it was an appropriate role for a woman?

SG:         I don’t think so because, and the reason I don’t think so is that my mother was a very strong person who had worked on both of the, both the advertising side and the news sides from the time she was a young woman and I think that because of coming out of the family I did. I really didn’t have that obstacle that some women might have had.  If they thought, if anybody thought that, they kept it to themselves.

I’ve never felt discriminated against and I’ve done all the usual things like president of the chamber of commerce and on the board of the industrial foundation. I was for 20 years a bank director and I was the only woman on the bank board and right now I’m the only woman on the Industrial Foundation Board so I just think I’ve been fortunate in that respect.

WC:         In small communities is there an unusual pressure on the publisher of the paper when the publisher is called upon to sometimes make decisions that are best for the community or maybe not in the best interest of the newspaper?

SG:         I definitely think so and when you, and you know your advertisers and they’re, it’s hard to keep the wall of separation between the advertising and the news as rigid as it is on a bigger paper and I think that’s definitely a problem.

WC:         Has your coverage ever cost you friends?

SG:         There were times when I thought maybe so, but not in the long run. I don’t think so.  Now I have told, I’ve told all my friends and acquaintances too, that I can keep a secret but you’ll have to tell me if it’s a secret because otherwise anything you tell me is liable to end up in the paper.  And I think they don’t tell me things necessarily because they suspect that.  [Laughter]

WC:         What worries you, if anything, about what’s going on today?  You mentioned blogs and not knowing the source of the information and worrying about your credibility and the information that’s out there.

SG:         Well I think that our… It worries me a great deal because I see so many people just following…  In years past, people, it seemed to me like, didn’t just think what they wanted to think. Nowadays if, if it suits their political, you know, there is this kind of alternate reality where people just think what they want to think.  And it’s a problem right now in the presidential election and in a divided country and there’s no… When a newspaper like the New York Times or the Washington Post or the LA Times is not accepted by people that would rather believe say Rush Limbaugh’s facts, I just think that’s very worrisome.  You can’t say well you have to believe one of these.

But there are standards in journalism that matter and it just bothers me to see them being ignored.

WC:         From what you can tell are journalism schools doing a good job?

SG:         I hope so. I hope my alma mater is and I think so and I’m proud of the people that are still, that are enrolling in journalism schools now because from one standpoint you could say well are they training to be railroad telegraphers?  Is it going down?  And I think the journalism schools are helping keep the… keep hope alive and keep the dream alive that we can have quality journalism that matters.  And I think it’s, well, we’re all familiar with all the quotes about from Mark Twain to Thomas Jefferson and everybody else about rather have, you know, how important newspapers are.  And of course newspapers. Now I’ve seen a whole lot of change from when the television relied on newspapers for the news and now that’s no longer so and it’s a worrisome time but…

WC:         Where do you think journalism is headed?

SG:         Well that’s where I say I see through a glass darkly because I hope it’s heading for a continuation of the best of what it has been through the years but it’s hard to tell.

WC:         What do you think about this trend of citizen journalism where anybody with a computer and a modem can be a journalist these days?

SG:         Well that’s one of the things that worries me. If you believe in free speech, which of course I do, you have to think that that’s a good thing.  Both of my grown children have blogs as many millions of others do and I think that, well I don’t know, over the…

I think it’s just too early to tell what the long-range effects of that trend [noise] and I would like to pass along the thought that the young people of today should not assume that they can just get on their computer and start pounding opinions and be a real, they might call themselves a citizen journalist, but that doesn’t mean they’re a real journalist.

WC:         Would you sum up for us?

SG:         Right.  I think that I hope that in my life that I have been consistent in trying to, well I’ve had a life of course, I’ve raised two children and have a grandson and I’m inordinately proud of all of them and that’s been my personal life.  And in my professional life I have always kept in mind that this community was being served by a newspaper that had a real responsibility to represent the best in that community and I’ve always like the motto of the Abilene Reporter-News, I’ve forgot who, it used to be on their masthead, I guess it may still be, it said “With or without offense to friend or foe we sketch your world exactly as it goes.”  And that’s, I think, a good ideal to try to live up to.

1 comment to Sarah Greene

  • Jerry S. Jordan

    Excellent interview and nobly long career. Enjoyed the entire account and, especially, comments about journalistic ethical concerns and the future through a glass darkly.

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