Longtime St. Louis journalist Linda Lockhart retired this month after a media career spanning more than four decades. It all began in the summer of 1974, when she walked in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch newsroom.
From spittoons, snuff and liquor bottles hidden in bottom drawers to typewriters, Lockhart recalls many memorable newsroom characteristics of that time.
“The telephones were ringing and the AP bell was dinging, and there was just noise and people yelling and calling out for copyboy to come and get their stories and take them over from the reporters to the editors,” Lockhart said on Friday’s St. Louis on the Air, comparing the evolution of the newsroom to today.
“And now we're in this room that's so quiet. And people are like, ‘Oh, I'm trying to work. I can't think. Can you guys keep it down over there?’”
Representation and diversity in newsrooms
As a young black woman, Lockhart said she felt she entered the journalism field during a time when there were growing numbers of women and people of color being accepted.
“I did see a good opportunity of diversity in the newsroom. I came in a good time, I think, there. But unfortunately, I almost feel like a lot of news agencies are sliding back the other direction,” Lockhart added. “I feel fortunate to have been able to work here [at] St. Louis Public Radio, which has a very diverse workforce compared to others; we can certainly do more … [but] we see opportunities to keep our workforce reflective of our community.”
She cited studies by the American Association of Newspaper Editors, which found that newsrooms and stations around the country weren’t reflective of the communities they serve.
“[When] we get to the important jobs of who's making the decisions, who are the editors and the editors’ chairs who are deciding what stories get covered, how much space and time those stories are – those seats are still predominately filled by white people, mostly white males,” Lockhart said.
“And so the decisions are still being made, not by the people whose lives are affected, whose stories are being told, but those that are sitting at the top of the food chain.”
But Lockhart also explained that diversity doesn’t necessarily mean that only people of a certain demographic have to cover those specific groups.
“And I think that's a very important thing in telling stories of the people around us – we all can learn. And certainly I learned lots of stories about people who weren't like me … I went in and covered issues in south St. Louis County and Jefferson County and Franklin County that had nothing related to my personal experience and the lives of the people there, but I told their stories,” she said.
Paying it forward
She has also been active throughout her career with the National Association of Black Journalists and helped to establish its St. Louis chapter.
“I feel very honored, because we have helped young people through high school journalism workshops … I had great mentors that did help me and so obviously, I think that's something that I need to do to keep the next generation ready. So we never want to hear anybody say, ‘We can't find anybody qualified for this job.’ That's a bunch of crock,” Lockhart said.
She shared stories of key moments in her career where she said she took the opportunity to learn from her in-depth reporting on things she’s never known before – such as when she talked to farmers in Waterloo, Illinois, who almost lost their soybean fields, or when she covered the homicide of a high school student killed for wearing a leather jacket.
After covering various news beats such as crime and education, Lockhart worked her way up to various editor positions.
“The editing is the bug that really hung up with me that I really wanted to do to help make stories better. I thought I was a pretty decent reporter. But again, [getting to sit] in the room where the decisions are made … that was something that was very important for me to try and take on,” she added.
“And so I feel very fortunate, I've had that opportunity to sit at the big table. And all my ideas aren't always accepted, but at least I make my points known.”
St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Alex Heuer, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.