Wednesday, Aug 15 2012 04:51 PM

Newswomen thrive in former men-only club

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    Photo courtesy of KBAK-TV, Channel 29 Carol Ferguson, a reporter for KBAK-TV, Channel 29, will speak at “Women in Television News," a discussion Sunday afternoon at Seven Oaks Country Club.

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    Alissa Carlson, a reporter for KGET-TV Channel 17, will speak at “Women in Television News," a discussion Sunday afternoon at Seven Oaks Country Club.

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    Jackie Parks, a reporter for KERO-TV Channel 23, will speak at “Women in Television News," a discussion Sunday afternoon at Seven Oaks Country Club.

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BY JENNIFER SELF Californian lifestyles editor jself@bakersfield.com

The contents of Carol Ferguson's car trunk reflect the unpredictable nature of her job as a news reporter: Jeans, boots and a T-shirt for the natural disasters, and a black turtleneck sweater for more formal emergencies. A comb and small bag of makeup are the only concessions she makes to reporting the news on television (in hi-def, no less).

But it wasn't always that way for the 30-year industry veteran. She remembers a time when what she said was perhaps just a perfectly coiffed hair more important than how she looked saying it.

Related Info

'Women in Television News'

When: 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Reservations strongly recommended; 634-3773

Where: Seven Oaks Country Club, 2000 Grand Lakes Ave.

Admission: $12 at the door (includes light refreshments)

A lunch meeting last week with two friends at a local restaurant perfectly illustrated to Lynne Rosenstein just why the League of Women Voters matters.

"We asked the waitress if she planned to vote, and she said, 'No. I'm just not that interested in politics.' Which is too bad because politics affects us all. Who we elect affects us all. I'm sometimes glad that people who don't read the propositions don't vote."

It's the mission of the League to inform and educate the public about issues facing the electorate. "That's our reason for being," said Rosenstein, a vice president of the local chapter.

But another focus for the group is the commemoration of the Aug. 18, 1920 ratification of the 19th Amendment, a law that forever changed the lives of American women by giving them the right to vote.

"For those of us who are older, 1920 wasn't that long ago. My mom was growing up then. And women should inform themselves and get themselves to the polls."

The League is open to anyone who wants to join. Dues are $75 per year, or $100 per household.

The organization meets monthly, and president Lois Watson encourages those who are interested to check out a meeting. Call 634-3773 for more details.

"I think there were obstacles in the beginning. I was expected to be cute, and I'm way past cute at this point. I'm a grandmother."

-- Carol Ferguson, television news reporter

THE LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS OF KERN COUNTY

"I think there were obstacles in the beginning," said the general assignment reporter at KBAK-TV, Channel 29. "I was expected to be cute, and I'm way past cute at this point. I'm a grandmother."

But, tuning out the occasional boorish boss, she simply put her head down and focused on getting the story, outlasting archaic views that applied not only to women on television but in the workplace in general.

Ferguson, 59, will offer her unique take on "Women in Television News" during a discussion of the topic Sunday afternoon at Seven Oaks Country Club.

The League of Women Voters of Kern County is hosting the occasion to mark Women's Equality Day, the anniversary of the passage of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote.

Ferguson will be joined by KGET-Channel 17 chief meteorologist Alissa Carlson and KERO-Channel 23 news anchor Jackie Parks.

"These women are in our living rooms every evening, and you get a sense that you know them," said Lynne Rosenstein, vice president of the local League chapter. "This will give us a real sense of knowing them."

The Bakersfield organization celebrates Women's Equality Day every year by "recognizing women who have done something special towards breaking into careers that are usually considered men's careers," said League president Lois Watson.

Last year the focus was on politics, and the speakers included state Sen. Jean Fuller and former and current Kern County supervisors Barbara Patrick and Karen Goh, respectively.

"I think the people who came to talk to us were very candid," Rosenstein recalled. "That was a program I think everyone left feeling like they knew those folks better and they thought they had an enjoyable afternoon."

Organizers hope for just as lively and frank a conversation this year between the audience and the three media professionals, beneficiaries of the groundbreakers who came before them, Watson said.

"I remember when I was growing up, my father said women can't be on radio or television because their voices are too high."

But it was precisely her voice that Ferguson relied on at her first broadcasting jobs in Bakersfield, initially on radio at stations KERN and KKXX.

"I thought (radio) being federally regulated would make it easier for me as a female; less opportunity for discrimination, and that probably wasn't the case. I started out wanting to be a disc jockey and there wasn't that much opportunity for that in those days. I kind of fell into news."

But the obstacles that came with being a woman in broadcast journalism at that time were nothing compared to being a working mother to three children.

She intended to stay home with her young sons, but it didn't work out that way.

"There were a lot of challenges as far as working the hours I work. I always say it was amazing my children survived me."

One accommodation to career advancement Ferguson was unwilling to make was leaving Bakersfield for a bigger media market, since it would have entailed moving her children around.

"For me, this was my definition of success: to stay here and take care of my family and make a contribution to this community -- or try to."

When asked which of the hundreds of stories she's covered in her long career showcases her best work, Ferguson doesn't hesitate: a series of reports on the structural integrity of Isabella Dam.

"After the Katrina disaster, I got to thinking: What would we do if there was a large-scale emergency here? So I started to look into that. ... You peel the onion."

Still, for all the meaningful reporting done in local newsrooms, Ferguson said the media in general has been getting a bad rap in recent years, in part because of what she sees as inaccurate and irresponsible depictions of the press in movies and on television.

"They portray things we could never do, like go live in the middle of a prison riot or making things up without getting sources and doublechecking facts. It's bad for the profession."

The life of a real TV journalist is "a lot less Hollywood," she said, but no less interesting.

"I feel lucky that I'm still working and doing something I enjoy. Most days.

"There's been a lot of zigging and zagging, and here I am."

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