The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Morgan Shiver, Contributor • June 20, 2024
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SMU professor has trailblazing history

Patrick Barta remembers calling his mother everyday when he got home from school between four and five o’clock. What is there to eat? What is there to do? What time will you be home?

Carolyn Barta took the calls and answered her son’s questions patiently and calmly.

Patrick Barta said that as a child, he didn’t realize his mom was a successful political journalist. Getting calls from her children must have been “highly stressful,” he said. Yet she still had time for him, even for his calls at deadline.

SMU journalism professor Carolyn Barta worked for The Dallas Morning News more than 30 years, and she still writes political stories for the Morning News and writes columns for Dallasblog.com.

Barta started her career in the 1960s as a Texas Tech student interning at the DMN. After graduation, she worked in the Women’s News Department covering home furnishings, cooking, society news and other feature stories.

In 1963 she quit the paper and moved to Hawaii, where she continued to work writing for a weekly newsletter.

“I just wanted to go somewhere and do something different,” she said.

In Hawaii, Barta broke a story about the city of Dallas buying the transit system. A Dallas official was in Hawaii and she got an interview. Barta called editors at the DMN, asking if they were interested in the story. They were.

“She impressed the men,” said Anne Atterberry, Barta’s former editor in the Women’s News Department.

In 1964, before she went back to the paper, Barta worked for Texas Senator Yarborough in Washington, D.C. She moved to Austin in the fall of 1964 to continue working on his campaign and to get her master’s degree at the University of Texas.

She returned with one of the three jobs available to women on the City Desk of the DMN, according to Atterberry.

Atterberry said Barta joked that she came back “because the candy canes melted on her Christmas tree,” but Atterberry knew it was really because she wanted to work on the hard news side of journalism.

“Women were at a decided disadvantage. You had to double prove yourself as a woman. You had to be better than most of the men,” Barta said.

Barta saw a lot of changes throughout her extensive career. When she first started, Barta used a typewriter to write her stories. The editors literally cut and pasted corrections line by line.

By the early 1970s, Barta was covering state politics in Austin. To get her stories to Dallas she had to take them to a Western Union telegraph station so they could be wired to the main office in Dallas.

In the 1986 Texas gubernatorial race, Barta noticed that reporters started quoting campaign members and consultants rather than the candidates. When Barta began her career, most people looked to the newspaper for in-depth coverage of political events because that was the only significant news outlet, said Tracy Everbach, Assistant Professor of Journalism at the University of North Texas.

“She was a reporter back in the day when political reporting was more investigative,” she said.

Barta said in the 1990s the trend of relying on experts in political stories continued because candidates were concerned with their image and were less available.

“You could probably count the number of press conferences Ross Perot had during his 1992 presidential campaign on one hand,” she said.

Barta also noted the more sophisticated approach to political coverage now. Reporters, she said, have shifted from event coverage to analysis.

But that’s not necessarily a good thing.

“I think in some ways it’s harder for the reader to figure out what’s what,” she said.

Barta doesn’t advertise that she was what her son calls a “trailblazer,” working in a male-dominated profession in the 1970s.

“I would have loved to cover sports, but there were no women in sports. None,” she said. Barta has two sons. When she got pregnant with each, the newspaper said she had to quit, said Atterberry.

Barta was rehired after the boys were born in 1968 and 1971, but after the first she had to wait five months for a job opening. But she didn’t give up. She came back and kept reporting.

“Eventually the paper bridged her service,” said Atterberry, which means they gave her credit for the time she was out because of her pregnancy.

Everbach said Barta paved the way for women in journalism, which allowed others to get jobs in the business.

“Women in journalism should be grateful to Barta,” she said.

“I had a great career. I just enjoyed the hell out of it,” said Barta.

Barta’s office at SMU has a wall with four bulletin boards filled with political buttons she’s collected over the years from Ronald Reagan, Ross Perot, George H. W. Bush, Pat Schroeder, Michael Dukakis, Jesse Jackson and others.

Barta was always energetic and enthusiastic, said DMN colleague Todd Gillman.

“I couldn’t even keep up with her,” said Gillman, who covers politics in the paper’s Washington bureau.

“She was a bulldog on stories,” said Bob Compton, who was an assistant city editor when Barta worked on the city desk of the DMN.

Barta currently lives in Dallas with her husband, Joe. Her son Jay is in corporate communications with Nortel.

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