Growing up the daughter of small-business owners in a small New Jersey shore town, Marcy McGinnis had a simple career ambition: to do something exciting. Finishing college in 1970, though, she felt that her choices were limited to nurse, teacher or secretary.
So, says McGinnis, now senior vice president of news operations for CBS News, "I figured, if I'm going to be a secretary, I am going to do it somewhere interesting, exciting and fun."
She landed in CBS News' Special Events department. It was not a typical secretarial job, though: CBS News sent her out in the field to report special events.
Her first assignment was covering the Apollo 14 launch. When the 20-year-old showed up at the space center for a press tour, an official tried to turn her away, mistaking her for someone's daughter. "In my platform heels, my mini skirt and long hair, I said, 'I am the press!'
"I was bitten by the news bug within months," she recalls.
Today, McGinnis manages the news organization's hard-news coverage. She has been behind much of CBS News' post-9/11 reporting and describes the past year as "the hardest story I've ever covered."
McGinnis's youthful longing to "do something exciting" propelled her to the upper echelon of CBS News. But the climb was hardly smooth, particularly in her early days. "I was always in people's faces saying, 'I can do more.' It was a surprise when a female did something."
McGinnis's persistence (she even volunteered to work the night shift) led to a string of promotions and trips to Asia and Europe to cover stories.
As a producer, McGinnis led coverage of major news events like the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana and the 1984 Republican Convention. But, by 1985, she was itching for a new challenge.
CBS News was hatching plans for an affiliate news service and hiring senior producers. Despite warnings from colleagues, McGinnis left the womb of Special Events. "Special Events had more status than this department that barely had a name. Everyone told me I was crazy."
She saw an opportunity: At NewsPath, as the service is now called, she'd have a chance to manage and get off the road.
And, of course, it was new and exciting. Before its launch, CBS affiliates received only outtakes of the Evening News. Today, NewsPath is the backbone of CBS's newsgathering.
After six years building NewsPath, McGinnis was offered another risky but enticing assignment: deputy bureau chief in London. Before taking it, though, she pitched news execs on building a European news service akin to NewsPath.
The news cooperative would extend CBS News' international reach, she told them: "If a bomb goes off in Amsterdam, the first video is from the Amsterdam station, not the CBS crew that has to fly in from London."
Starting up CBS NewsPath Europe provided a fresh set of challenges. "I was learning how to start a business, how to make deals and negotiate." She hopscotched Europe, pitching the plan to potential partners. Today, the service counts 27 members.
After her tour of duty as London bureau chief, during which coverage of Diana's death earned three Emmy Awards, CBS News President Andrew Heyward lured her back to New York to head news operations.
"The learning process never stops," she says. "I'm helping to formulate policy and manage an operation covering the 9/11 story."
Another ongoing mission is the hunt for bright, young stars in her organization. In the '70s, she says, people saw her as a "cute little thing, as opposed to somebody with potential."
Now, she says proudly, "I can look at people and say, 'There's someone with potential.'"
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