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Remembering Cokie Roberts

Cokie Roberts appears at the National Press Foundation's 26th annual awards dinner on February 10, 2009 in Washington, DC.
Brendan Hoffman/Stringer
Getty Images
Cokie Roberts appears at the National Press Foundation's 26th annual awards dinner on February 10, 2009 in Washington, DC.

Listeners have reacted with sadness to the news that Cokie Roberts, an NPR "founding mother," died this morning of complications from breast cancer.

As one listener wrote to our office, "she had a plumb, level and straight presence that promised that we would get through this hail and lightning storm."

I mostly knew Roberts through my work covering the radio and television world as a newspaper reporter, before I joined NPR (where my role occasionally called upon me to address listener questions about her commentary). Before I met her in real life, however, I knew her as a pioneering woman, one of several in visible roles at NPR. In retrospect, it's because of women like her that I never really doubted when I was an aspiring journalist that there would be a place for me in what was then a male-dominated profession.

As Mara Liaisson told Here & Now today, there was a not-so-pretty reason so many women ended up at NPR in the early days: NPR "paid so poorly back then, and a lot of times when male reporters got to a certain age or got married, had kids, they would leave for a higher-paying job at a television network." (NPR pays competitive salaries today.)

But Roberts, and others — including Susan Stamberg, Linda Wertheimer, Nina Totenberg and others — did the work and succeeded, and brought along other women in their wake. Among the many tributes to Roberts pouring forth today, I've noted a thread of just how many women feel they owe their careers in some way to Roberts. Here are just a few reactions from women in the NPR newsroom:

Official tributes from NPR include remembrances from Nina Totenberg and Steve Inskeep on Morning Edition.

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Elizabeth Jensen was appointed as NPR's Public Editor in January 2015. In this role, she serves as the public's representative to NPR, responsible for bringing transparency to matters of journalism and journalism ethics. The Public Editor receives tens of thousands of listener inquiries annually and responds to significant queries, comments and criticisms.

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