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'On Their Own,' Is New Book by Joyce Hoffmann About Women Journalists Who Covered the Vietnam War

More than a decade ago, Joyce Hoffmann, Old Dominion University professor of journalism, read a book about American reporters who covered the Vietnam War and she wondered, "Where are the women?" She has answered that question now with her book, "On Their Own: Women Journalists and the American Experience in Vietnam," which arrives in bookstores in July.

The 400-page hardback book from Da Capo Press includes rich detail not only about the women writers and photographers who worked as reporters in Vietnam, but also about the 1960s-era political and cultural climates in the United States, in Vietnam and in American newsrooms.

Hoffmann says she took on the project, for which she conducted more than 100 interviews, after preliminary discussions with two of the best known Vietnam War reporters, David Halberstam, author of "The Best and the Brightest," and Frances FitzGerald, author of "Fire in the Lake." The author said both discussions were significant "not only for the information I learned from them, but also-and perhaps even more importantly at that stage-for the way they validated my sense that there was an important story in the achievements of women who reported on the war."

In addition to FitzGerald, women who reported in Vietnam and who Hoffmann includes in her overview include Gloria Emerson, who was the only female journalist to be assigned to the Saigon bureau of the New York Times; Kate Webb, who was captured by the North Vietnamese and held for 23 days, during which time she was thought to be dead and her obituary was published in the New York Times; Dickey Chapelle, a photojournalist and the only American female reporter to be killed in action in Vietnam; and Beverly Deepe, who reported for the New York Herald Tribune.

In an endorsement on the book's jacket, Walt Harrington, professor of journalism at the University of Illinois, writes: "Joyce Hoffmann has captured the spirit of a time and a place, a war and a changing moment in American womanhood, all through the lives of the fearless women journalists who demanded that the war in Vietnam was their beat, too. Deeply reported, beautifully written, delicious with personal detail, and replete with substantial insight, her book is history, journalism and commentary all at once."

A journalism professor and journalist for 25 years, Hoffmann has personally experienced many of the advances women have made in American newsrooms since the Vietnam War. She describes just how stifling these newsrooms were for women just four decades ago. "I've wondered often about the many women who have been assigned to cover the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and whether they, too, were left to beg and cajole their editors for the assignment," she said. "I doubt it, largely because American newsrooms are no longer the exclusive realm of middle-aged white men…. I suspect, however, that the hurdles for women who want the assignment might be a bit higher" still.

Hoffmann, who has been published in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer, and is currently the public editor of The Virginian-Pilot, said there are dangers in trying to draw parallels between our current military engagement in Iraq and the one in Vietnam, but that she believes that "after the Vietnam experience, we should have known better."

The author will be at Prince Books at 109 E. Main St. in Norfolk for a book-signing event at 6 p.m. Aug. 13.

This article was posted on: July 25, 2008

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