JANE BRYANT AND MARTHA QUINN. Two women who have made it in a business where mother-and-daughter families are as rare as white peacocks
New York — BLOND Jane Bryant Quinn stares deep into the CBS News camera to tell her audience what it needs to know about rampaging bull markets, IRAs, and tax-free municipal bonds. Brunet Martha Quinn beams into the MTV camera to tell her audiences what they need to know about Sting, Bruce Springsteen, Madonna, and the Rock Hall of Fame.
The Quinn women make up one of the most eclectic multimedia families in the business:
Jane Bryant Quinn covers the business waterfront for CBS News. She writes an award-winning column on personal finance for Newsweek, two columns a week appearing in 200 newspapers for the Washington Post syndicate, and an additional ``Money Facts'' column for Family Circle magazine. She is also the author of a Book-of-the-Month-Club selection, ``Everyone's Money Book.''
Her stepdaughter, Martha Quinn, is the resident elf and popular VJ (video jockey) on MTV, the cable channel devoted to rock music which reaches 26 million homes nationwide.
Mother-and-daughter media families are as rare as white peacocks, for reasons Jane Bryant Quinn makes clear over a true working press lunch. We are sitting in her corner office on the 11th floor at Newsweek, where she has just wrapped up one deadline and is about to skate off to another at CBS. Magna cum laude mail girl
Over roast beef and turkey sandwiches at her desk, she explains how hard the women of her generation had to struggle for a place in the media that generations of fathers and sons had taken for granted.
When she graduated magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from Middlebury College in 1960, she found that as a woman, ``being good wasn't good enough.'' Men with those credentials were hired as writers; she applied for a writing job, but was given a $50-a-week job as a magna cum laude mail girl. She soon learned that at Newsweek women were not allowed to write; the most they could hope for was to be researchers or, if promoted, ``one could only be an older researcher.''
She points out that Newsweek isn't like that anymore, and hasn't been since the '70s, when a group of Newsweek women brought a civil rights suit for discrimination on the basis of sex.
Mrs. Quinn herself had long since left Newsweek by then to learn reporting and writing as J. B. Quinn on The Insider Newsletter, where men were paid 30 percent more than women. Later she became co-founder and editor of The McGraw-Hill Personal Finance Letter. Newsletters were ``the only way I could do what I wanted to do, because of the discrimination against women'' in publishing, she says.
Quinn is sitting in her cream-colored office behind a blond teak desk piled with papers, charts, and graphs. In person she has a softer prettiness, more warmth and vivacity than on the CBS news stand-ups or print photos. Nor does she ``dress for success''; Quinn clearly gets a kick out of looking feminine, wearing a svelte black-and-white dress with a white ruffle at the neck, pearl and jet earrings, black pumps as high as the Dow Jones average. She is slender, with streaked dark blond hair, blue eyes that sometimes look hazel, and a gaze as direct as a child's. Business reporting for the little guy
Even today, after she's successfully made it as a nationally recognized personal-finance columnist, she says, ``I have had people tell me, `Well, we would love to buy your column, Jane, but the business editor hates women columnists.' These people are almost always over 60. I look forward to their early retirement, every one of them,'' she says with a sunny laugh.
Quinn met her husband in the most delicious possible way for a woman reporter.
``I interviewed him,'' she purrs. ``Isn't that nice?''
David Quinn was president of the Airways Club (now the Airline Passengers Association), and she was doing a story on airline fuel.
Their marriage was a merger that now includes their 17-year-old son, Justin, and her son, Matthew Ostrowski, by her first, brief marriage, as well as David Quinn's children by his first marriage: his grown sons David, Christopher, and their families, and his daughter, Martha. ``We have a very long table at Thanksgiving,'' in Chappaqua, N.Y., Quinn says.
Her own struggles have shaped her attitude as a columnist and reporter who seems to care about her readers and viewers: whether they can find a safe tax shelter, whether they can stay out of hand-to-hand combat with the IRS. Does she consciously focus on that caring?
``Oh yes, all the time. This is really the only reason for someone like me to exist. Because you can get a straight financial report that tells you what happens here or there, you can get that all over the business pages.''
But, she explains, ``I'm looking at it from a different point of view than a normal business reporter looks at it. My point of view is: If you're an honest person trying to save a dime, is this going to help you save or is this going to help the person who's selling it more than it's going to help you? That's the absolute fundamental basis of all my work.''
She points out that her work for CBS is more simply ``straight news,'' although done in depth. ``I'm always thinking of the viewer, of the reader.'' Quinn packs her CBS stories as densely as a duffel bag, stuffed with facts but presented with the special clarity that characterizes all her work. Her theory is that, given the nature of her subject ``and the number of big words that are thrown around in business and finance,'' simplicity, clarity, structure, and one-syllable words whenever possible are best. Quinn gives enthusiastic credit to the help of her longtime associate Virginia Wilson on Newsweek, and confesses the actual writing is a struggle for her. ``I really beat out every sentence and rewrite a lot.''
Quinn had an early glimpse of big business, growing up in a happy family as the oldest of five children, whose father was president of the Hooker Chemical Company in Niagara Falls, N.Y.
She views the future with a Mona Lisa smile, particularly the question of the future of women of her generation on television.
``Look, I am the oldest regular female correspondent appearing on `The CBS Evening News.' There are lots of men older than I am, but no women. That does not happen accidentally. In broadcasting, it's my generation of women who will be the test. Will we be allowed to grow old on television the way the men who are in their 50s and 60s can go on, as broadcast journalists? It has simply not happened, on a regular basis.''
The question may be, she says, ``Will a woman be allowed to go on television with bags under her eyes? We do not yet know. Once again, I think it is not unimportant that most people who run television stations are men, and when they turn on their TV and look at women they like to look at a good-looking woman. One can understand that. One cannot understand its affecting professional judgment.
``You can have tremendous support from your bosses, as I have always had,'' she adds. ``And certainly CBS has assured me I will never be too long in the tooth for them. Because I asked that, you know. I said, `Do you throw women off when they reach a certain age?' And I'm assured from the top at CBS that is no longer the case, and I certainly hope that will prove to be so.'' Music video patter
Mrs. Quinn speaks of Martha, her stepdaughter (``who's been dear to me since she was 6''), as having an entirely different experience in broadcasting at MTV. Was Mrs. Quinn a professional role model in a field slow to accept women? She shakes her head in amusement.
``From Martha's point of view, of course, that's nothing that affects her. She grew up in an era when there weren't any reasons to think that women couldn't do just fine. That sort of thing isn't in her background, nor is it in the background of any women Martha's age. . . . Which is wonderful. That's what we worked for.'' She smiles as she says, ``I think my chief role in Martha's life has been cheerleader, rather than adviser. Martha is somebody who has always had a very clear sense of what she wanted to do.''
Across town on West 57th Street, Martha Quinn is doing her thing, a mellowed-out line of music video patter, against one of the MTV studio sets. This one consists of the severed back half of a pink, tail-finned '60s car, a wooden fence, and some hubcap d'ecor. To viewers, the conversation of the VJs looks casual, easy, impromptu -- but Martha is working from a script as tight as any Broadway play, with blocking to match.
She loves the camera and talks to it as candidly as though she were confiding to her best friend. There is a sweet enthusiasm about her delivery that endears her to viewers. ``Prince will indeed tour the US this summer,'' she assures her viewers from the next set, a window seat with green shutters.
Lunch for Martha Quinn is a quick bagel and this interview before the rock group Loverboy appears on camera. We talk in a small room offstage. Miss Quinn has an explanation of why parents don't understand that rock is the native language of their kids:
``When people get older, people's minds just glue up. I don't know what happens. That, right there, is the basis for the generation gap. At some point, a kid turns into an adult, say, somebody who grew up in the '50s. And they no longer remember what it was like to, say, boogie real wild to Little Richard and Elvis Presley. I mean, come on, we are not talking about tame guys here. Chuck Berry! But all of a sudden when they see their kids rocking out to a guy who looks different, then they don't remember, you know, what it's like. . . .''
Martha looks forward to the first rocking president of the United States.
``Eventually we will have a president in the White House who will be of this rock-and-roll generation. We will have a president who grew up with the Beatles and Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix and Jefferson Airplane and Cream, and that will be interesting.'' Squealing for McNuggets
Martha is small, slight, and unconventionally pretty. She has a gamin quality -- tousled dark brown hair with bangs frames a piquant face lit by lively brown eyes. She could have danced out of a music video herself in her working duds, the oversize black sweater printed with pink, turquoise, and yellow squiggles, the blue miniskirt, blue tights, and pixie-ish black boots.
Quinn has a degree in radio broadcasting from New York University -- the result of a quick transfer from her freshman year at Colgate, where subbing for a college radio station DJ changed the course of her life. Her stepmother gave Martha ``guidance and good advice,'' she says, ``on the way to go about being in the media as a woman, how to do things, to go to auditions for TV commercials. I did a lot of them before I came here. I was the Chicken McNuggets girl.''
Suddenly she squeals, ``You'll go NUGGETS for McNuggets!'' ``That kind of thing, the wild, zany teen-agers kind of thing.''
She says Mrs. Quinn gave her one especially good piece of advice: ``Get in the life, be involved with the people who are in the field you want to be in, try to go to functions, lectures, parties.''
Martha was a child of the suburbs who grew up in Ossining, N.Y., with her mother, Nina Pattison. ``She plays the piano and sings. She has perfect pitch. My mother really instilled a creative sense in me, and much music appreciation.''
Martha says that the combination of her mother, ``who is very much like a Bohemian,'' and careerist Jane Bryant Quinn provided ``a mixture of the two that really worked well for me.''
Is there life after MTV?
``For something to take me away from MTV, it would have to offer me more -- and MTV offers me so much right now, I don't know what that would be.'' (MTV flew her to London to interview Bob Dylan.)
Sometimes she thinks she might like to be an agent, eventually. Or an actress. ``I'd think about that if I had a firm offer. Movies. If Spielberg [she carols the name in MTV style] calls, you know, I'd think about it.'' And then she exits on a laugh to meet Loverboy on camera.
The first two articles in the series ran March 14 and May 28.