Thursday, October 31, 2002

Carol Williams

Welcome sign of maturity?

Maybe this is a simple personnel change. I prefer to think it is more.

Channel 9's Carol Williams returned to the 11 p.m. anchor chair this week with a new nine-year contract. Nine years and four months, to be exact, which is a lifetime for women in television. When she was 32, Carol's boss squinted and said "you don't look that old." She arrived in Cincinnati in 1986 as Pat Minarcin's co-anchor at WCPO-TV. She said she was hired as his equal, but "Pat was more equal than I was." That's the way it was then.

But over time, she burrowed in, finally teaming up with Clyde Gray. That twosome won a number one spot in the ratings. Then, in July of 1997, Carol asked to be put on days, with fewer hours. A lesser job in the TV news biz.

The reason was as old as time and as new as the Mommy Track. Carol was divorced and her daughter, Katherine, 6, was starting kindergarten. She's in her "mommy phase," Carol said then. "She wants to spend time with me right now. I know it won't last forever."

Midwest values

Katherine still likes spending time with her mother, but she's old enough now to understand some things, like what it means to do something you like, something you're good at.

When Carol told her daughter about conversations she was having with the station's news director, Bob Morford, the fifth-grader said, "It sounds like your boss thinks you'd be the best one, Mom."

He apparently has thought so for some time. About a year ago, he accidentally e-mailed a "to do" list to the entire newsroom that contained his intention to ask Carol Williams to return to the 11 p.m. newscast.

He asked. She declined. Katherine is first on Carol's "to do" list. "What if I found a way to respect that?" her boss persisted.

More flexibility. More vacation time. "I have a longer dinner hour," Carol says, "and I'll still be able to help Katherine with her homework. They've "been great," she says, about making concessions for sick days and snow days and field trip days and all the other "days" working parents need.

"I'd like to take credit for this," Bob Morford says, "but it's the people who watch the news in this market who are allowing me to do this. Cincinnati is a place with Midwest values, a place that rewards experience."

A few weeks ago, I visited a class at Ursuline Academy. One of the girls wondered why television "gets rid of women when they get old." And by "old," I am sure she meant extremely elderly - maybe as old as 32. Another guessed that you can't be a mom and a television anchor, "unless you're Katie Couric." Or unless you're Kit Andrews or Cammy Dierking, working in Cincinnati.

A pragmatic executive is betting time and money that Carol Williams can put his station back on top - even after a side trip on the Mommy Track. Even after she blew out a few more candles on her birthday cake. Maybe it doesn't prove experience always trumps a "fresh face," which is code for "young."

But I prefer to think it's a sign of maturity.

Not Carol's. Ours.

E-mail or phone 768-8393.

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