Trained by a Life of Change

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DURING my earliest years, my father was in the Army and I often spent time with my grandparents, who farmed cotton and raised tobacco in rural Georgia. Later, my father and mother settled in Swainsboro, Ga., where my brother, seven years younger than me, was born.

My father worked in an appliance store. My mother ran a day care center and later worked at the local pharmacy. My brother and I attended local public schools, which were segregated then.

I knew that education was the key to my future, so with encouragement from my eighth-grade English teacher, I applied to the University of Georgia and won a scholarship. I was the first in my family to go to college. It was a time of great change in the South. The civil rights marches, integration and the women's movement all impacted me greatly.

I earned my degree in English literature in 1963, and my master's two years later. I married after graduation and had a son. When the marriage ended, I accepted a teaching job at Virginia Commonwealth University in 1969. While there, I wrote an article about students demonstrating over unequal educational facilities, and Look magazine published it.

On the basis of that article, Look hired me as a researcher. We moved to Manhattan in 1970, and I began reporting an article about Chinatown gang wars. The magazine soon folded, but I convinced WNBC to use the story on the local news. That was my introduction to the power of television.

I was hired to help produce political commercials for John Lindsay's campaign for the 1972 Democratic presidential nomination. That helped me land a job as a producer with WBZ in Boston, then an NBC affiliate, where I worked as a reporter and news anchor, and later as the host of a program for women.

My next television job, in Washington, was as host of "Panorama," a daily live news and political program, on the independent station WTTG. After that, I formed a company to produce my talk program, "Woman to Woman," which was nationally syndicated in 1983-84 and won an Emmy. Later it became a segment on the "Today" show on NBC .

My next stint was for NBC News as a reporter. I wanted to make a special on women in the Middle East, but the network did not agree. So I left to start a company to make documentaries; the first was about Israeli and Palestinian women.

I met Ted Turner in 1992 while looking for financial backing for a documentary on the history of women. He funded the project and later hired me to head Turner Broadcasting's unit for documentaries and specials. During that period I remarried, to Scott Seydel, and between us we have 6 children and 11 grandchildren.

In March 2000, I became president and chief executive of the Public Broadcasting Service -- the first woman and first news and documentary producer to hold the job. There were many financial and political challenges, but I was able to move PBS into the digital era.

In early 2007, I became chief executive of the Museum of Television and Radio, started by William S. Paley, founder of CBS. In 2008, we changed the name to the Paley Center for Media, to better indicate our mission, which includes panels for the public to learn about the creative process and for professionals to exchange ideas. The center has a collection of nearly 150,000 radio, television and advertising programs.

I have been immersed in change my whole life, so an industry undergoing major change is the perfect place for me.

As told to Elizabeth Olson.

employment

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


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