How Barbara Walters Broke the Glass Ceiling for Women in Television Journalism
Timeline of Her Career
During the 60s and 70s, all the news anchors and the reporters on American TV were men. David Brinkley, Walter Cronkite, Douglas Edwards, and more. In 1961, NBC hired Barbara Walters to work as a researcher and writer for its popular Today Show. Initially, her assignments were stories aimed more toward woman viewers.
But, the next year, she became the first woman to co-host NBC’s Today show. (She wasn’t given that official billing until 1974, and was restricted from asking questions of the show’s “serious” guests until the male co-host had finished asking his).Walters stayed on the show for 11 years, during which time she perfected her “trademark probing-yet-casual” interviewing technique. By 1972, she had established herself as a skillful journalist, and was chosen to be part of the press team that joined President Nixon on his historic trip to China. In 1975, she won her first Daytime Entertainment Emmy Award for best host in a talk series.
From 1976 onwards, Walters became a pioneer for women in journalism when she accepted a job at ABC as the first woman co-anchor of a network evening news program. Walters also launched the first of a series of Barbara Walters Specials. She faced a lot of criticism from many of the men she worked with, but she persevered and scored some of the most exclusive interviews of all time. Many of Walters’ male colleagues were angry and openly judgmental of her success. One of the most outspoken was her ABC co-anchor, Harry Reasoner, who was very condescending on camera.
In 1984, Barbara Walters became co-host for the ABC news show, 20/20 – the first female news anchor of an evening broadcast. Her reported $12 million yearly salary made her the highest-paid news host in history.
In September 2004, at the age of 73, Walters stepped down as co-host of 20/20. Walters has conducted interviews with world leaders, providing viewers with three-dimensional view of these larger-than-life personalities. They included the UK’s first woman prime minister, Margaret Thatcher; the Dalai Lama; President Richard Nixon; the brother of Osama bin Laden and many more. In 1999, Walters’s two-hour-long exclusive with the former White House intern Monica Lewinsky made broadcasting history as the highest-rated news program ever broadcast on a single network.
Over the years, Barbara Walters has refined the art of “personality journalism” and “being the first” interviews. Walters’s comprehensive and wide range of interviews presents a chronicle of the personalities that influenced the 20th century.
In August 1997, Barbara Walters premiered a mid-morning talk show called The View, for which she is co-executive producer and co-host. The program features unique perspectives from five women on politics, family, careers, and general public-interest topics.
Barbara’s Walter’s Legacy as a Feminist Idol
Barbara Walters smashed glass ceilings during a career that spanned more than 50 years. She influenced many female reporters and is generally known as the most important woman in the history of broadcast journalism.
KNTV’s Jessica Aguirre said that: “She arrived at a time when the thinking in this business was that the man is the king of the desk and that the woman is more or less a sidekick. Thankfully, that doesn’t exist anymore — and she helped to change it.”
Barbara retired in 2014 (but she remained an executive producer on her popular talk show The View). People say she had the kind of career that can be described as “legendary”, “pioneering” and “iconic.” Television news looks the way it does today in large part because of her. And, most importantly, women are taken seriously on TV, because people like her battled their way through a deeply sexist world.
She paved the way for many other women journalists, or women in similar fields. As she aged with the industry, she continued to open doors for women, and also confronted on-air ageism. Other women journalists and interviewers followed in her footsteps, such as Diane Sawyer, Katie Couric, Oprah Winfrey and Lesley Stahl, and women broadcasters are now seen regularly on all stations. It is about being smart, educated, and exceptional at the job, and not about the age or gender you are when you are doing it.