Even in countries like the US and Britain, few women head programming, editorial boards, or media houses. But these 10 women haven’t let that stop them from blazing their own trails and redefining the media.
Christiane Amanpour (54) is global affairs anchor on ABC network, host of CNN International’s nightly interview programme, ‘Amanpour’, the network’s chief international correspondent and runs the Amanpour.com blog for the network’s digital platform. Not bad for a girl born in London but raised in Tehran, Iran.
Amanpour graduated with a BA in Journalism from the University of Rhode Island. She has been in the industry for 30 years, reporting from war zones and disaster areas around the world. She has interviewed most world leaders – including getting the only interview with Hosni Mubarak during the Arab Spring. She has won all the major broadcast awards there are. She is undoubtedly the most well known woman television war correspondent in the world, inspiring many young women to become journalists.
Anna Wintour (62) is the long-time and legendary editor of American Vogue. Queen Elizabeth awarded her an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2008 for her contribution to British journalism and fashion. Wintour was born into journalism – her father was the editor of the London Evening Standard – and began her career in 1970 in the fashion department of Harpers & Queen in London. Wintour’s penchant for fancy eyewear and icy mien are well known. She is credited with turning around the British and American editions of Vogue, redefining fashion magazines and helping to launch the careers of many a young designer. Lately she has been involved in politics, using her star power to raise funds for Barack Obama.
From journalist to conservative politician to liberal figurehead to digital entrepreneur, the life of Arianna Huffington (62) is one of transformation. Huffington is best known for founding The Huffington Post, possibly the most influential news website and blog ever. She was born in Greece and studied economics at Cambridge. After a long relationship with her mentor, journalist Bernard Levin, she moved to America where she married the conservative politician Michael Huffington. When he ran for Congress, she got into politics – and stayed there, although her political views swung sharply left in the late 1990s. She founded The Huffington Post in 2005 and made millions when AOL bought it for $315 million.
The daughter of a politician, Diane Sawyer (66) began her career as a press aide to President Richard Nixon in 1970 and later helped him write his memoirs. In 1978, she joined CBS News as a co-anchor of their morning news show and her TV career since has been nothing short of stellar. In her time, she has got exclusive interviews with George W. Bush, Barack Obama, the Clintons just after Bill’s election – and Saddam Hussein. She was the first woman to anchor CBS’s flagship 60 Minutes and she developed a reputation as a brilliant investigative journalist. Sawyer has won numerous awards for her work on documentary films. She has been anchor of ABC’s flagship World News broadcast since 2009.
Helen Boaden (56) is BBC’s director of news, which means she oversees the broadcaster’s news output and current affairs shows. This may sound even more impressive when you consider just how many people BBC news reaches. Apart from Britain itself, the world services are broadcast or delivered via bbc.com/news to 240-million people in 200 countries and territories. She herself is an award-winning journalist with a long and impressive career in radio. She has several honorary degrees and is a fellow of Britain’s Radio Academy. Boaden has just been assigned the unenviable task of restructuring her division as the broadcaster looks to streamline and move into the digital age.
Jill Abramson (58) is the executive editor of the New York Times (NYT) and the first woman to hold that title. She was educated at Harvard and went on to report for among others TIME magazine, The American Lawyer and The Wall Street Journal. She headed the NYT’s Washington bureau, was a professor at Princeton University and was named a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. She took up the editorship at the NYT in September last year. Abramson is also famous for being hit by a refrigeration truck, writing a book on puppy rearing and getting a tattoo of a New York subway token when she moved back to the city.
Tina Brown is 58 now, but at 25 she was already editor-in-chief of Tatler. As a child she was expelled from three schools, but she somehow made it into Oxford University. After graduating, she freelanced for top British weeklies and was offered a regular column in Punch. In 1979 she took over the reins at Tatler and a few years later was asked to consult on the ailing Vanity Fair, which under her was not only revived but transformed into a commercial success. She has since edited the New Yorker, overseen the launch of a (failed) magazine, Talk, hosted a TV show and written a biography of Princess Diana. She founded the Daily Beast, a news website, in 2008, which has since merged with Newsweek. In 2000, she was awarded a CBE (Commander of the British Empire) by Queen Elizabeth for her contributions to overseas journalism.
Another anchor on our list, Rachel Maddow (39) is also an icon because she was the first openly gay anchor on a primetime news programme in the US. Maddow went to Stanford, was a Rhodes scholar and has a doctorate in philosophy. She has worked in radio and TV and now has an eponymous show on MSNBC. Her nightly political round-up is delivered in a humorous, acerbic style and is seen as a left(ish) counter to Fox News’ infamously biased broadcasts. Sometimes Maddow’s private life as a lesbian seems to receive more attention than her work, but she is proving herself in the tough, personality-driven world of current affairs shows.
The Media last year profiled Pat Mitchell (69), who visited South Africa in November. Mitchell is the CEO and president of media thinktank Paley Centre for Media in New York and Los Angeles and was formerly CEO of the United States Public Broadcast Service (PBS) – the first woman, producer and journalist to hold this position. She is a multi award-winning anchor, reporter and talk show host. Documentaries of which she was executive producer have won Peabody, Emmy and Academy awards. Most interestingly, she has dedicated her 30-year career to advancing women and foregrounding their issues and achievements through her talk show ‘Woman to Woman’ and her documentaries.
And finally, no list like this would be complete without the most obvious candidate: Oprah Winfrey. Winfrey (58) needs no introduction. It is no overstatement to say that the talk show queen and entrepreneur is one of the most influential women in the world, let alone the media. The Oprah story has been told so many times it’s now legend: born Orpah Gail Winfrey, she dragged herself out of a life of dire poverty and abuse to become the richest black woman of the 20th Century. Oprah conducted the most watched interview ever (with Michael Jackson in 1993). She made talk shows the emotional, confessional affairs they are today and she makes the career of anyone she punts. Oprah has a special love for South Africa, where she has opened a school for previously disadvantaged girls.
This story was first published in the August 2012 issue of The Media magazine.