In the 1970’s, the Seattle the media landscape was changing, but even KING-TV, the highest-minded of the three major TV stations observed the cardinal rule of local news – if it bled, it led. And for that decade and much of the next, the blood was most often delivered by reporter Julie Blacklow.
In a rollicking new memoir titled Fearless: Confessions of a Badass Reporter, Blacklow chronicles her adventures at a time when few females did the job she did. There were general reporters – the utility infielders – as well as bright-eyed ingénues who smiled even through torrential downpours, and in enlightened cities like Seattle, competent and attractive if uninspired news anchors like Jean Enersen. But none of them was mentored, as Blacklow was, by the late, great Don McGaffin who urged her “not to be a girl” and to do whatever had to be done to get a story.
Reading Fearless reminds us of many of the heinous crimes that led even the national news in those days, and NBC ran several of Blacklow’s reports. From serial killers to child mutilators, kidnappers to wife-slayers, Blacklow was one step behind – and sometimes right alongside of – the coroner’s wagon, the forensics team the detectives. But even Seattle had slow news days, and during many of them, Julie covered the cultural events of the day, and her reporting highlighted the performances and appearances of icons from Chuck Berry to Paul McCartney.
Blacklow’s career was forged by her insatiable curiosity about what was happening around her, and in a D.C. suburb in the 60’s there were plenty of opportunities to witness history. She pushed her way to the front of the line to meet her idols and made sure to be where she could ask a question.
While the book is somewhat scant on personal details, one particular anecdote stands out: When her two orphaned cousins came to live with her family, 16-year-old Julie, admittedly spoiled by her parents and used to being the center of their attention, smiled outwardly but seethed within. On a school trip to Hershey, Pennsylvania, she toured not only the chocolate factory, but also the Milton Hershey School for Boys, at that time as famous as Father Flanagan’s. Finding her way to the front of the line to meet Samuel Hinkle, president of the Hershey corporation, she told him of her poor orphaned cousin, whose mother’s untimely death had been followed a few months later by his father’s suicide. And to make the child’s life even more miserable, she added, the suicide note had blamed his sons for his death… A week later, Blacklow had the pine-paneled rec room the boys had taken over back to herself. Incidentally, she writes, it was the best thing that ever happened to the fine young man he became.
In an interview with the author (whom I’ve known for many years), I asked her about the things she mostly left out of the book – her marriages, which are barely mentioned, although her portrait of the late Ted d’Arms, one of the few men who could take up all the oxygen in the room even when Julie was there too – captures his bigger than life personality. Of her first marriage, to the young lawyer she followed to Seattle and with whom she had a son, she said only, “You couldn’t be married, have a family, and take care of a home and do the job, not the way I did it, not then. If my parents hadn’t moved west when I was divorced to care for Jeremy and be there when I needed them, I couldn’t have done it. I was married to my career, and to my friends.”
Julie was fired by KING when the station was slammed for interfering with the apprehension of a kidnapper . She wasn’t on the story, just in the vicinity when the police ordered the media to get away from the action. She claimed she was unjustly fired, had the union behind her, sued and was reinstated in good standing, but it was a depressing time for her, which she describes in the book.
She stayed at KING for a few more years, then left and was a freelance news producer working for the networks producing local and regional TV stories. As far as I know, the diminished posture of local TV news, especially at the once mighty KING, began when the Bullitts sold the station, and has been pretty unremarkable and unimportant ever since. Is dismantling a synonym for this? The B’s were the heart of the station; Julie and Mrs. B continued to be close after the firing, which she (Mrs. B) was furious about. But the old KING stars, Julie, Jean and Mike James, still get recognized wherever they go. And people all love talking to Julie
She left television and didn’t look back, perhaps because she found an entirely different career, managing a horse ranch owned by a friend in North Bend. She lives with Laddy Kite, a former KING news photographer, in a sun-filled home in Issaquah, surrounded by mementos of her career, many of which are featured in the book, and pictures of her son, who lives in L.A. and has a successful media career of his own. At least once a month she and her closest pals from KING get together for dinner. This week, they’ll likely be toasting her.
Fearless: Confessions of a Badass Reporter will be available August 30
in bookstores and at www.julieblacklow.com.