Ruth Ashton Taylor, a pioneering TV and radio journalist who worked with Edward R. Murrow at CBS News and was a fixture on the air in Los Angeles for decades, has died. She was 101.
Taylor’s family confirmed her death to KCAL-TV Los Angeles. Taylor, who grew up in Long Beach, was the first woman to have an on-air news role in Los Angeles when she joined what was then CBS’ KSTL-TV in late 1951. At the time, she was hired to deliver a “women’s segment” for the station’s daily half-hour newscast.
Taylor bristled at the notion of covering only “women’s stories” and delivered stories produced with solid journalistic principles. Soon, she was hired to produce a similar segment for CBS’ Los Angeles news radio powerhouse KNX.
“Taylor says she always approached her stories any way she liked. She justified her attitude by saying she must be giving the woman’s view because it was her view and she was, of course, a woman. Thus she would do stories on things such as cars and airplanes, but she would also do pieces on what would classically be described as women’s stories, such as on fashion,” according to Suzanne Haibach Marteney, who wrote a doctoral thesis on Taylor’s career for Cal State Northridge in 1986. “However, Taylor’s reasoning for doing these stories would not always fit the classical stereotype. For instance, she says she always enjoyed doing fashion stories because fashion was a reflection of our changing society.”
Taylor left TV in 1952 in favor of working for KNX and hosting “The Women’s News Desk” program that was syndicated to other CBS-affiliated stations in Western states. Within a few years she was hosting “The Ruth Ashton Show,” a half-hour KNX program mixing news headlines and feature stories. By 1959, however, she quit KNX out of frustration over sponsor pressures and the station’s decision to push her to cover department store openings and other events, according to Marteney’s “An Oral History of Ruth Ashton Taylor: Broadcast News Pioneer.”
Taylor joined Claremont Colleges in a public relations role, tasked with promoting the schools under the Claremont umbrella as the “Oxford of the West,” according to Marteney. But by 1963 she was back on KNX radio hosting various programs. Three years later, she rejoined the TV station which by then was known as KNXT-TV (today the station’s call letters are KCBS-TV).
Taylor hosted a number of different programs for KNXT-TV, including weekend newscasts, a weekly program on religon and a weekend newsmaker interview program that she co-hosted with another Los Angeles broadcast legend, Bill Stout. Taylor remained a fixture on KNXT until the mid-1980s.
After high school, Taylor attended Scripps College, a liberal arts women’s school that is part of the Claremont system, where her interest in journalism was first piqued. After graduating, she headed to New York to attend Columbia University’s graduate school of journalism. She joined CBS News as a radio newswriter after graduating in 1944. That was just in time for Taylor to be in place help cover historic events ranging from D-Day to the atomic bombs dropped on Japan at the end of World War II. Later she worked with Murrow on CBS News documentaries and other projects before she returned to the West Coast.
In an interview with Marteney, Taylor described the environment in broadcasting when she first started out in New York.
“There weren’t any women on the air so it was just a thing you accepted. Every so often I’d hear women say in British broadcasting or other countries that they had women on the air, but we never did and you’d sort of think about it,” Taylor said. “But I didn’t have any great aspiration because it wasn’t something that you really put as your goal if there aren’t any jobs. And I didn’t feel like a pioneer in forging my way in that direction. I was doing well and having fun.”
Broadcast journalists were quick to pay tribute to Taylor on social media following the news of her death.
Taylor was married from 1950 to 1960 to broadcast journalist Ed Conklin, with whom she had two daughters. In 1968, she married cameraman Jack Taylor.