A pioneer in American journalism

Katherine W. Fanning, editor of The Christian Science Monitor from 1983 to 1988, was a pioneering force in American journalism. She passed on Oct. 19.

When she moved into the Monitor's corner office, Kay became the first woman to run a national newspaper. While she was editor, she was elected president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors, the first woman to hold that position.

She loved this newspaper and the church that publishes it. The Monitor, she said, "is a chance to combine my two great loves, newspapers and Christian Science."

As editor, Kay took a keen interest in the quality of the staff, developed several major news series, and strengthened the Monitor's international bureaus, traveling to many of them.

The staff loved Kay, and those who worked with her most closely loved her most. That is not the case with all newspaper editors.

"There was a twinkle to Kay that made her a joy to be around and made her convictions, determination, and courage qualities that leavened the workplace rather than weighing it down," said Paul Van Slambrouck, who served as international news editor under her.

Kay believed in teamwork and introduced a more collaborative approach to editorial operations. "Kay was the first mother ever to be editor of the paper," notes Clayton Jones, whom Kay assigned to cover Southeast Asia. "That came through. She knew when to chide and when to praise. And she had a youthful spirit that appealed to young people on the staff."

Kay displayed an acute interest in the news. She sharpened the Monitor's journalistic outlook, says Brad Knickerbocker, who served as national news editor. "I always felt that she wanted to stretch her own bounds as well as those of Monitor folks around her, and of the institution."

She was perhaps the most visible Monitor editor since Erwin D. Canham, who served from 1939 to 1964. Kay appeared on many national television programs and was awarded honorary degrees by Harvard University and Colby College, among others.

She was much in demand to serve on various boards, including those for the Pulitzer Prize, the Associated Press, and the Boston Globe.

She and her witty, supportive husband, Mo Mathews, were a visible presence at local cultural events in the paper's home city. Kay was an overseer of the Boston Symphony and served on the board of the Boston Public Library Foundation.

"Kay broke new ground for women at the very top [of journalism], where doors had been pretty much closed," says David Anable, who worked closely with her as managing editor. "She did it not just because she was a woman but because she earned every ounce of it by hard work. She was absolutely not a token."

Kay was already well known in journalism before she came to the Monitor.

After graduating from Smith College, she married Marshall Field IV, heir to the department-store fortune and editor and publisher of the Chicago Sun-Times. Their dinner-table discussions about improving the Sun-Times, Kay once said, were "a once-removed education in all aspects of a metropolitan newspaper."

Following her divorce from Field, Kay piled her three young children into a station wagon and moved to Alaska in 1965. She signed on as the $2-an-hour librarian at the Anchorage Daily News, the underdog in a two-newspaper town, and wrote articles in her spare time. Her first effort at writing landed on the front page. "Suddenly I was a reporter," Kay said.

She married veteran newspaper editor Larry Fanning, and together they bought the struggling Anchorage Daily News in 1967. After he passed on in 1971, Kay led it to a Pulitzer Prize for public service and the paper surpassed its rival in circulation.

"She stood for and demanded quality journalism," says John Hughes, who served as Monitor editor and was president of the American Society of Newspaper Editors. "To journalism she brought, with graceful tenacity, the principles and integrity which were the bedrock of her life and religion. For this she won the admiration of journalists far and wide."

That admiration added to the impact of Kay's resignation as editor in 1988 over budget and organizational changes she felt would be detrimental to the Monitor. The public departure was difficult - both for those leaving the Monitor and for those who remained.

What the public may not have seen was that Kay never stopped loving the Monitor and those in the Monitor family.

She went out of her way after leaving the editor's job to help both individual writers and editors, and to help the paper as a whole. "Kay provided me with sources for countless stories," says assistant international editor Faye Bowers.

Kay was not the least bit shy about using her contacts in journalism and elsewhere on the paper's behalf. Those who saw this enduring commitment first hand will never forget it.

Kay lived her life always looking forward and was convinced good was on the horizon. In speaking to a reporter in 1987 about the Monitor's goals, she gave a glimpse of why Katherine W. Fanning was such a force for good in American journalism and in the lives of those who loved her:

"We don't accept that problems are insoluble.... We are not Pollyannas, but we do believe that there is good everywhere and we're dedicated to improving the world by uncovering that good."

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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