Garfield the Cat’s School of Journalism
By Joe Hight, 2013 inductee
I’ll never forget the phone call that early morning in 1988.
I had just worked the night shift for The Oklahoman’s copy desk. I had been offered the slot chief’s job, but instead opted for an assistant city editor’s position under future Hall of Famer Gene Triplett, who was city editor at the time. Triplett and I eventually made a pact: we’d do everything possible to make the other look good. You had to if you wanted to survive on that desk.
But before I started the new job, I received a phone call at 7:30 a.m. I was still asleep when I heard the ring. I groggily answered the phone.
“Joe, this is Mary Goddard.”
At this point, I thought I had committed an act that Goddard deemed
suitable for posting on the bulletin board. I remembered the time when one of my stories as a Metro reporter had been posted on that board at the downtown Oklahoma City office, full of red ink, bleeding like I was emotionally after seeing it.
“Oh, hi Mary. Can I help you?”
Goddard spoke in that raspy voice formed by years of smoking. She, Mary Jo Nelson, and Ann DeFrange were among the tough-minded pioneer women journalists in the newsroom at the time. All became members of the Oklahoma Journalism Hall of Fame. Goddard had a face that resembled the comic character “Garfield the cat.” So much that we gave her a Garfield phone on the day she retired. So much that she wrote an internal “Garfield” column distributed to newsroom staff members. Each page was full of criticisms about our writing as well as witty and sarcastic comments. You dreaded that your work might be mentioned or were surprised that for some reason you were praised or mentioned in a positive way.
“Joe, congratulations on being named assistant city editor.”
Since that day of being the guy pinpointed with a marked-up story in red ink, Goddard had decided to become a mentor to me, so much that I later became a trainer, writing coach, and occasional writer of those critiques myself. But nothing in comparison to what she had accomplished in her career, as the defined founder and leader of what was called the “Goddard School of Journalism.”
It’s noted in her Hall of Fame biography: “Mary Goddard was a leading force for the improvement of journalism from the time she was a teenager until her death at age 66.” She always told me to attend any workshop I could. “Even though I may know everything about a topic, I can always find a nugget of new information. Never go a day without learning something new.”
Even though her induction came one year after she died in 1991, it was fitting because it was in the same year as other journalism giants such as Nelson, Kay Dyer, Joseph H. Carter, Sr., and Deacon New. Nelson wrote The Oklahoman obituary about Goddard’s nearly 50-year career of “inspiration.”
But on that morning, when I was groggy, Goddard was direct in her advice: “Trust your judgment and stand your ground, because they wouldn’t have put you in that position if they didn’t think you could.”
She then hung up the phone.
Since then, I have contemplated the true meaning behind Goddard’s treasured words to me. But I think she would be proud that they have stayed with me for more than 30 years.
In the same vein as my agreement with Triplett, Goddard’s career accomplishments could be seen in every journalist she mentored: she had made all of us better. She had made us all look good.