COLUMBIA — Carol Loomis is celebrating a lot of anniversaries this year and next: that of her time at Fortune magazine (55th); her birth (80th); her marriage (50th); and that of her alma mater, the Missouri School of Journalism (100th).
Loomis, a 1951 MU graduate and senior editor-at-large for Fortune magazine, returned for the Journalism School's centennial to sit on the President's Roundtable with seven others to talk about communication for a digital globe.
During Friday's discussion, Loomis expressed both concern and excitement about the future of the profession, echoing her sentiments from an interview that morning when she referred to "the big uncertainty" of how the print medium will find breathing space in the face of the Internet.
"We're going to continue to have print," Loomis said in the interview. "I think there's going to continue to be a market for it, but as a business, it's never going to be as good as it has been."
At the roundtable, she kept coming back to the financial question: Who is going to pay for the in-depth reporting that magazines and newspapers provide when people can get so much information for free online?
Loomis also offered her advice to burgeoning journalists: "Keep a very open mind and do a lot of reading about what's going on. ... The world is in such flux."
Loomis is one of many women on Fortune's staff of roughly 140 people. She said her title, senior editor-at-large, is essentially a fancy term for a well-established reporter.
"In the world of journalism, and certainly at Fortune, there are a number of people who are called ‘editors' for some reason or another but who really write," Loomis said. "Publications have wanted to give more stature to people who've been with them a long time or who have done good jobs, so they look around for titles they can give them instead of pay," she added, laughing.
In her career at Fortune spanning more than half a century, Loomis has covered stories that changed the financial world, exposed the flaws of media moguls and introduced readers to up-and-coming investment stars. She also helped put together the very first Fortune 500 list in 1955.
The annual ranking of America's largest 500 companies initially was created for internal use to guide Fortune's writers in who and what they should cover. Loomis remembers the meeting in which an editor suggested that the public might be interested in seeing the list, too.
"We immediately realized we had this bonanza hit," Loomis said. "From that day on, we were improving and enlarging the 500."
When Loomis arrived at Fortune, a Time Inc. publication, on Jan. 25, 1954, women weren't allowed to write for the magazine; they researched and fact-checked and got paid less than men, who got the bylines.
"Certainly I was in no mood to revolt," Loomis wrote in a memoir published in Fortune's 75th anniversary edition. "From the minute I got to Fortune, I loved my job."
Loomis said she did not support a group of women who sued Time Inc. magazines for sexual discrimination in 1970, thinking they hadn't done all they could to work out the issues with management.
Loomis did, however, wage her own lawsuit against the Economic Club of New York after being refused admittance that same year. Though her suit was unsuccessful, her campaign eventually helped bring about the club's decision to let women through the door.
"I think we're almost entirely past that," she said of being a woman in journalism in a recent interview. "I don't think that gender makes much difference at all."
For Loomis, the journey started in Cole Camp — population 1,143 — where she was referred to as Carol Lou. For two years, she attended what is now Drury University in Springfield, where her mother and five uncles went — it was "sort of ordained" that she also go — but she always knew she wanted to study journalism at MU.
"The whole track of my career would be far different," Loomis said, explaining that she almost waited an extra semester to enter MU because of problems with credits transferring. A kind teacher had helped her get admitted, and Loomis majored in "Features" when she started at MU in the late 1940s.
"Television was barely on the map," she said. In those days, she added, female reporters for the Missourian were required to wear stockings. Loomis was surprised and amused to learn that the current Missourian dress code does not prohibit bare legs but "flip-flops" and "cheek rings," among other things.
The greatest lesson she took from her time at MU was that accuracy matters.
"You could get an ‘F' if you misspelled a name," Loomis said. "I think I wasn't a very good journalist when I was here, but Missouri really did influence me as far as accuracy."
Loomis' other accomplishments include receiving four lifetime achievement awards and being appointed to a federal finance advisory board by the secretary of the treasury in 1976. She was also on a six-person panel selected by the League of Women Voters that questioned presidential hopefuls Ronald Reagan and John Anderson in 1980.
After Friday's roundtable discussion drew to a close, Loomis fielded a few questions from straggling audience members, one of which called herself a fan.
"I'm so happy to meet such a trailblazer," a middle-aged woman told her. She continued emotionally: "You're a woman. You made a difference. Thank you."