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Le Anne Schreiber: Behind the Desk at The Times

Rocket Bob

By Robert O. Boorstin

Le Anne Schreiber has an office in the corner of the fourth floor of the refurbished headquarters of The New York Times. But she doesn't use it very much--or rather. She doesn't reailly like to use it. She sits at a refurbished desk at the active end of the orange-carpeted suite, with the phones ringing around her, and smokes cigarettes and bullshits with other sportswriters and editors and concentrates on the piece she's editing.

There are eight men around her. The Times's sports features man. Tony Kornheiser, is glancing nervously at her and pacing around the room. She's talking with him every so often about what's good and what's not so good with his piece. She's just sitting there reading and talking and chain-smoking and editing. You'd never know she was in charge.

Unless of course you'd read about the lightning-quick rise of the "little girl who used to play football, basketball and baseball with her brothers" on Chicago's North Shore. Or unless you knew about the 150 people who'd interviewed her in the three weeks after she was named the first woman sports editor of what many people consider it the major metropolitan daily. (As a matter of fact, she is the first woman sports editor of any major metropolitan daily.) Or about the six marriage proposals she got in those same three weeks.

But Schreiber's not going to talk about all that. She's had enough of all the speculation about her appointment, and of all the writers who've made their prejudices about women sportswriters obvious in their profiles of her. Of course, one can't overlook the Times's out-of-court settlement of a 1978 class action suit charging it with discriminatory hinning and promotion practices. Or its subsequent agreement to fill 25 per cent of its senior editorial staff positions with women and other minorities. But as A.M. Rosenthal executive editor of the Times, insists. "We didn't choose a woman sports editor. We choose a sports editor. The fact that she's a woman is not a handicap. In fact, it's kind of pleasant." People who write sports agree.

If you ran into Schreiber in Cambridge in 1969, she'd have newer guessed she'd be writing sports for The Times ten years later. She picked up her undergraduate degree in 1967 from Rice and an M.A. from Stanford the next year. Then Schreiber came east in search of a Harvard Ph.D. From 1969 to 1974, she was a doctoral candidate in the English Department, leading sections in English 76 and teaching seminars about William Faulkner. She'd finished up all her required course work, passed her oral exams, and was two-thirds of the way through her dissertation. Dissertation." It was called "The Ideology of Murder."

Schreiber says she liked living and working in Cambridge but "realize I that an academic career would necessarily mean specialization," and that "specialization was against my temperament." So she packed up her first-embossed pillowcases from the Strike of '69 and moved to New York to write for Time magazine.

Schreiber says her time at Harvard "murtured the writer in me and my understanding of the use of words and good writing and good thinking." People are still very enamored of Harvard, she says, noting that the friends she made in Cambridge remain her best friends and "the people that I'll know for the rest of my life." The Harvard on her resume didn't hurt her chances all The Times either. Rosenthal says he was taken by her ear for language." Schreiber readily admits that she's gotten copy at the Times much worse them some of the undergraduate papers she graded at Harvard.

At Time Schreiber wrote international politics and joked with Managing Editor Henry Grunwald about writing sports some day. The opportunity came in the summer of 1976 when the magazine's chief sportswriter got sick and Time needed someone to cover the Olympics in Montreal. Schreiber wrote three cover-length pieces in as many weeks and her name was passed around in New York's journalism circles. Later that year, she accepted Billie Jean King's offer to edit the now-defunct Women Sports magazine. When the magazine folded. Schreiber went to some of The New York Times's senior editors to convince them to hire her old staff writers.

They wanted Schreiber. In February 1977, she went to work as one of three assistant sports editors.

Today, the 33-year old directs a staff of about 60 sports writers and editors at the Times and handles her department's $2.5 million annual budget. Schreiber says the Times's sports department is lucky because "it doesn't have to sell the paper" like the other New York dailies's sports departments. The competing papers may have "to hype the news, distant the news or inflate the news" about New York's nine professional teams but the Times can afford to be a more dispassionate observer, she says.

Schreiber doesn't write much for the Times and edits what she wants. "Editing is easier than writing for me," she explains. "I've never had an anxiety attack about it--there's no such thing, as editor's block.

Schreiber insists her wide-ranging interests will pull her away from the Times fairly soon. "It's not a matter of being bored," she says, "but it's very important for me to feed my mind. It would be great irony it I end up staying here 10 or 15 years."

She's sure about her work and does it well, but the bags under her eyes will never completely disappear. Being the first woman sports editor hasn't slowed her pace. Schreiber brushes back her hair, takes a puff on her cigarette and sighs. "I haven't had a moment's free time in five years."

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