AJR  Features
From AJR,   October 1993

Married with Bylines   

Two-journalist couples pose interesting challenges to employers – and to the couples themselves.

By Katie Hickox
Katie Hickox is a reporter for the Orange County Register.      

At her office, she kept a picture of him on her desk. At his office, he kept a picture of her on his desk. A typical working couple except that Marie Dillon and Rich Gordon worked in the same office, and their desks were touching.

"The reporters gave us a really bad time," says Dillon, 35, who met and married Gordon, 35, while the two were editors at the Palm Beach Post. "...They said, 'What do you need those pictures on your desks for? In case one of you goes to the bathroom?' "

Even short distances can seem a long way when you're in love. But when both partners carry a notepad, marriage can take some interesting turns.

Career moves can be tricky. In an era of the one-newspaper town, is he likely to find a job in a place where she is offered a position? What happens when a couple works for competing publications – do they buy separate phone lines and home computers?

While no one has ever tried to count the marriages in the nation's newsrooms, in recent decades two trends – more women taking jobs in journalism and fewer newspapers to work for – have made courtships as common as copiers in many offices.

"If you go into any newsroom, you're going to see couples that are married and if they're not married, they are living together," says Nancy Woodhull, a founding editor of USA Today who now heads a media consulting firm specializing in new media opportunities and audiences.

But along with the wedding band comes a quandary for some media organizations. Some papers, like the Washington Post and the Philadelphia Inquirer, have nepotism rules that prohibit spouses or relatives of employees from getting jobs in the same newsroom.

Others, like the Miami Herald and the San Francisco Examiner, actively recruit couples when both partners seem qualified for available jobs.

"I see more and more places being very interested in couples because they [newspapers] don't have any other economic choice," says Woodhull. "They usually wind up being two good employees."

Evidence of journalistic matrimony abounds. Some couples are well known, like former Washington Post Executive Editor Benjamin Bradlee and Sally Quinn, an erstwhile Style staffer at that paper. Or Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl Wu Dunn of the New York Times, who shared a 1989 Pulitzer Prize for their reporting on China. Or Ann Devroy of the Washington Post and Mark Matthews of Baltimore's Sun, married competitors. Merrill McLoughlin and Michael Ruby, who are married, are co-editors of U.S. News & World Report.

Gordon and Dillon are a more typical example: He is now an editor for the Broward County edition of the Miami Herald, while Dillon works as an assistant state editor at the paper's main office.

Gordon joined the Herald in 1990, while Dillon got her job at the paper about 18 months later. The two met at the Palm Beach Post.

What started as a couple of beers after deadline turned into a lifetime commitment. "On her first day..I was the person to show her how to do her job. And we started going out for drinks after work," Gordon recalls.

"Reporters, being reporters, were aware a lot faster that we were an item than the editors were," he says. After their marriage they literally worked side-by-side for about a year. Aside from good-natured jibes, they say there was little hassle about their union.

"We certainly didn't kiss each other on the city desk," says Gordon. "We probably would send funny messages to each other. We were being discreet."

Did it ever get, well, a little weird working every day next to the same person you went home to every night?

"For us, it wasn't weird at all," Gordon says. "One of the pieces our relationship was built on was that we saw each other every day."

At the Palm Beach Post, the two said they rarely fought over copy but sometimes dis-

agreed on different reporters' strengths and weaknesses.Sometimes reporters would treat the two as interchangeable, substituting one person's opinion for the other's. "They treated us as one individual, as a community property brain," says Dillon. "It bothered me a little."

Now that he works in a bureau and she works in Miami, to make up for the separation they try to have lunch as often as possible. They say their views are not considered interchangeable anymore, and sometimes they feel a ripple of competition between them for future jobs.

"Certainly there will come a point where there is a job out there that we will both be qualified for," Gordon says. "I don't know what we'll do when that happens."

Competing for positions is a problem – but it's worse if your paper suddenly doesn't have any jobs at all. Take Mackenzie Carpenter, 39, and Gary Rotstein, 35, who both worked for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette when the paper went on strike.

"I think in this day and age, you see more and more couples in the business, and fewer and fewer newspapers around, it's not like I can get a job at one paper and he can get another job," says Carpenter, a projects reporter for the Post-Gazette. Rotstein is a reporter covering city neighborhoods.

Carpenter was on leave after giving birth to twins when the labor dispute between the Teamsters and the Pittsburgh Press Co. began in the spring of 1992. Contract discussions with the company, which published the jointly operated Press and Post-Gazette, dissolved in May. Picketing started. Pittsburgh residents relied on television and suburban papers for news as frustrated city reporters looked on helplessly. The whispers began: Which paper would emerge from the strike alive?

"It was awful. We started to worry – if it got to be too lengthy of a strike, it would shut the paper down," Carpenter recalls. "Then we would really have been out on the street."

Carpenter and Rotstein were out of work for six months, their combined incomes dropping from $80,000 to $60,000. They collected unemployment and strike benefits, and watched the clock.

They cut corners: no vacations, rarely a meal out, and no new purchases. Just as the couple was ready to give up hope, the strike broke in December 1992 and the two were back at their computer terminals by January.

"We were still hedging our bets by being in the same business and at the same company," Carpenter says. "It's not an easy risk to take."

No Spouses Need Apply

While many papers have faced the economic realities of working couples, some newspapers still close their doors to newspaper couples to avoid charges of nepotism.

The Philadelphia Inquirer bans the hiring of spouses or relatives of newsroom employees. But the paper will hire spouses of Daily News employees, according to Inquirer Executive Editor James Naughton.

The paper's nepotism policy has evolved, some say not enough, since its inception two decades ago. At first, the paper banned all hiring of relatives, including spouses, in the newsroom. The ban extended to Daily News employees, since both papers are owned by Knight-Ridder, Naughton says.

The policy was softened about three years ago to allow hiring of family members, including spouses, of Daily News employees. Hiring spouses of employees who work in separate departments is also permissable, Naughton says. But the newsroom ban on married hires stays.

Naughton says he's protecting morale; already cynical reporters would suspect favoritism in spouse hires. "It's difficult enough to have an energetic and enthusiastic newsroom," he says. Like the Washington Post, the paper does not ban marriages of people already working at the paper, and about 65 out of 500 Inquirer staff members have a family member, usually a spouse, at a different department or at the Daily News, Naughton says.

The Washington Post also forbids hiring relatives, including spouses, of its employees. "It prevents travesties of the worst kind," says Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. He says the policy has prevented newspaper inbreeding, where incompetent family members of high-ranking employees get plum jobs. The nepotism policy includes not only wives and husbands, but cousins, children and parents.

Once they're at the Post, people are free to marry people already working at the paper. A short list of the hitched: Moscow correspondents Margaret Shapiro and Fred Hiatt, Metro reporter Kevin Sullivan and National reporter Mary Jordan, Canadian correspondents Anne Swardson and Charles Trueheart, New Delhi correspondents John Ward Anderson and Molly Moore.

While Downie sticks by the Post's anti-nepotism policy, other newspapers have discarded rules barring the hiring of married couples. Talented reporters are hard to come by; so what if they happen to be married to each other?

"There came a time that we knew this issue of two-career couples was a reality," says Douglas C. Clifton, executive editor of the Miami Herald. "You cheat yourself from a whole range of talent if you say, 'Nope, married people can't work at the same newspaper.' "

Clifton says the Herald has had hiring policies banning couples from supervising one another since the 1970s. A former managing editor of the Charlotte Observer, Clifton was on hand to see the death of that paper's anti-couple rules four years ago. Not surprisingly, most espoused scribes applaud the lifting of what some consider to be anti-marriage rules.

"I think it's totally outdated and out of touch with reality with two-career couples," says Carpenter at the Post-Gazette.

Fears of favoritism sometimes arise at newspapers where one spouse is in management, while the other reports. But Woodhull says she hasn't seen a problem with couples managing one another. "I've never had any problems with couples," she says. "I've had problems with people who were best friends and who favored their buddies."

Woodhull says most spouses in management tend to "bend over backwards" to prove there is no special treatment for his or her mate.

Clifton separates couples to avoid conflicts. Rhonda Prast, a design desk editor married to Steve Rice, the Herald's assistant managing editor for graphics, reports to a different boss to avoid being supervised by her husband. Clifton says he saw no problem with the two, but wanted to avoid misperceptions.

Beyond management, there can be other logistical problems for couples. Ricardo Sandoval is a 35-year-old business reporter with the San Francisco Examiner. His wife, Susan Ferriss, 36, is a general assignment editor.

Sandoval says he turned down a job offer to assure that he and Ferris stay in the same area code. "It takes a lot of compromises because we've decided to link our careers as much as possible, not only as much as what we do, but where we do it," says Sandoval, who married Ferriss last year.

The two dated long-distance for three years after meeting at a 1988 pesticide conference at Stanford University. "We met over DDT cocktails," Sandoval jokes. He was working at the Stockton Record, she at the Monterey Herald. Sandoval later joined the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and kept seeing Ferriss as much as possible. When the paper folded, Sandoval went to the Orange County Register for a year, and then on sabbatical, moving to Monterey in 1991 to join Ferriss. Committed to making their next career move as a couple, the two received job offers at the same time they were making marriage plans.

"I guess we just had faith that we'd be able to stay together," says Ferriss. "It seemed like it really was the only thing to do."

The two have endured many separations, including a three-month period while Ferriss was on a journalism fellowship in Mexico. Ferriss still marvels at how the two were able to find jobs at the same paper that suited both of their interests. "How often do papers have two positions open, two positions that you would be suitable for?"

Playing for Competitors

If not working at the same paper, newspaper couples frequently find themselves playing for competitors. Take Dave Warner and Lil Swanson, who work for the Philadelphia Daily News and Inquirer, respectively.

Swanson, 41, is a former suburban editor who now directs the Inquirer's training programs. Warner, 49, was editor of the West Chester Daily Local, located in the Philadelphia suburbs, and isnow a deputy city editor at the Daily News.

Last spring, a call came in to the Warner-Swanson household about upcoming gubernatorial surgery. It was for Warner: Pennsylvania Gov. Robert Casey was undergoing a heart and liver transplant operation.

The story was big – big enough that every paper, wire service and television station anywhere would get it in a day. And the news was not unexpected; rumors about Casey's health had simmered for years. Warner didn't worry about his wife's paper finding out about the story, but he wondered how many people the competition was sending to cover the news.

"I would never ask my wife, because it would put her in the most awkward position," says Warner (Swanson was home at the time of the call). "But I really would have liked to hear how the Inquirer's going to cover this."

But, as Warner does every day, he pushed the wish from his mind and dispatched his reporters from a phone in another room.

Warner says he tries to keep Lil, and himself, out of trouble by just not talking about competitive stories.

Competition cuts a little deeper in some marriages: Ann Devroy and Mark Matthews don't even share a phone.

Devroy, 43, covers the White House for the Washington Post; Matthews, 42, is a foreign policy writer for the Sun in Baltimore. Their beats intersect sometimes, when soldiers are dispatched or foreign aid is debated.

To avoid conflicts, the couple has three phone lines at home (one on each floor). "We're not going to end up punching each other out over the phone," explains Devroy.

On big scoops, each keeps mum until the ink on the next day's paper has dried, she says. Tensions do arise: Sometimes the Post reporter has better sources, sometimes the Sun reporter has better stories. "He's had stuff I wished I had more than I've had stuff that he wished he had," Devroy says.

Breaking stories can also eat up both reporters' time. Matthews and Devroy were enjoying an evening at home with their daughter Sarah when the phone rang. It was for Devroy: The Bush administration would hold a briefing on a military action in Panama later that night.

"I stuck my head out of the door and said 'There's a military action,' " Devroy says. "I'm not going to walk out of the house at night and say, 'I'm not telling you where I'm going.' "

On the way to the briefing, Devroy stopped the car to call her editors. When she walked into the briefing, she bumped into her husband. "I said 'What are you doing here?' " she recalls. "He said, 'Covering the story.' "

Matthews got his call for the press conference shortly after Devroy left and had already deposited eight-year-old Sarah with a babysitter. He got to the press conference first, says Devroy, because "he drives like a madman."

The two are veteran reporters, so late-night stories are just another day at the office. But the office has also interrupted vacations.

Devroy and Matthews had left for a springtime vacation in Virginia when David Gergen was named counselor to President Clinton. The family car became a mobile communications unit: Devroy kept a cellular phone glued to her ear for two days of the trip.

"My husband perfectly well understands because the next night, he may well be called and have to do something at midnight," Devroy says.

Couples as Bureaus

Most reporters married to other reporters say an understanding of the job and its hours keeps homes happy. Some two-bylined couples say "normal people" – anyone in another profession – don't think the same way as reporters. The truly addicted see everything, even gossip at a neighborhood barbeque, as potential stories. The tendency to frame life according to newspaper stories can be seen as twisted behavior by outsiders.

"If you're married to a journalist, the way journalists look at the world is clear to both of you," says Warner of the Philadelphia Daily News.

But the same things that bring a journalistic couple together – particularly mutual understanding of hours spent chasing ambulances or political campaigns – can rip them apart. Talented and hard-working reporters are rewarded with posts in the state or national capital, or perhaps a stint in a high-profile foreign country. But there's not always room for two in a bureau.

Some major newspapers turn their couples into reporting teams at foreign bureaus: China correspondents Wu Dunn and Kristoff of the Times, Canada correspondents Trueheart and Swardson at the Post are just two examples.

"We are very imaginative and innovative in how we help married parents work together," says Downie. Requests for similar hours or assignments are taken seriously, he says.

There is a another reality that media couples must contend with: It's difficult to meet anybody but other journalists. Dating sources or political figures is taboo. Anyone with a 9-to-5 job may grow weary of the spouse's erratic hours. But days spent on a stakeout or in a newsroom together can foster a bond quicker than any dating service.

"The newsroom was sort of a fun place," recalls Carpenter, who met Rotstein in a "dusty" Harrisburg office shared by reporters from various newspapers, radio and television stations. "It went through this phase where you have a lot of single young people."

Philip Meyer, a professor of journalism at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, offers an interesting theory as to chemistry between journalists.

Reporters suffer "status inconsistency," says Meyer, himself married to a wedding announcement writer he met at the Topeka Daily Capital in the 1950s.

Like most white-collar professionals, reporters are well-educated. But unlike most doctors, lawyers or business people, they are not well-paid. The day when reporters considered themselves blue-collar workers has long gone, so journalists feel like they're suspended between social classes, Meyer says.

"Journalists don't fit into other status groups," he says.

Reporters hold other professions up to ethical scrutiny, reporting on such issues as the employment of the spouses of politicians. To avoid appearing hypocritical or incestuous, newspapers should disclose the jobs of their staffers' spouses, suggests David Protess, who teaches ethics at the Medill School of Journalism.

"Viewers and readers don't know," he says. "I think they would be curious."

As far as Protess is aware, no one has published any inter-office marital announcements in the social pages. Similar suggestions to require reporters to disclose outside incomes, as politicians do, have largely been ignored. But this is an era when even in bedroom matters, reporters sometimes can make the news – witness CBS anchor Connie Chung's very public quest for conception with her husband Maury Povich.

But for now – especially since last names are rarely changed – most people are surprised and sometimes nervous when they hear of marital links.

"I guess they're wondering," Devroy speculates, "if they ever said [in Devroy's presence], 'God, I hated that story Mark Matthews wrote.' " l