*Update 12/18/14: Yahoo News reported that Linda is retiring on Dec. 22
A love affair with Elvis Presley got Linda Deutsch her start in journalism.
Deutsch fell madly in love with Presley when she was a 12-year-old in New Jersey. Officials at Elvis headquarters gave her a list of potential fan club members members, and Deutsch began one of the first Elvis fan clubs in the United States. She used her Smith Corona typewriter to write a club newspaper, charging $1 in membership dues in the U.S. and $2 overseas.
“This was so much a prediction of what my career would become in a way,” Deutsch said Saturday at the Journalism and Women Symposium annual Conference and Mentoring Project (CAMP).
Deutsch and her longtime friend and fellow Associated Press alumna Edie Lederer discussed Deutsch’s four-decade career as a top courts reporter during CAMP’s annual Fran Lewine Interview. The interview series was named for Fran Lewine, a leading female journalist and early JAWS member.
Deutsch said she comes from a family of journalists and began churning out stories for the Asbury Park Press in New Jersey while in high school. She worked the night shift at the paper one summer during college, and saw a small clipping in print about an upcoming civil rights march in Washington, D.C. An editor let her cover the march as long as it cost the paper nothing, and Deutsch’s story eventually ran on the front page.
“It was my first front-page byline, and there was no turning back,” she said.
After graduating from Monmouth University, Deutsch worked weekends at the Asbury Park Press, where, she said, she was the only woman covering news. A while later, she decided to move to California. She spent a year saving $1,000 before buying a new suitcase and moving to a job at the San Bernardino Sun-Telegram. In 1967, she took a job at the Associated Press.
“At the beginning, I was ‘the girl,'” Deutsch said. “I was the oddity.”
Deutsch said she covered the Academy Awards and the Emmys, interviewed celebrities and wrote general news stories.
“And then everything changed,” Deutsch said.
It was June 5, 1968. Robert F. Kennedy, the leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, was fatally shot in Los Angeles. Deutsch was in the newsroom when it happened, and ended up as a backup reporter for the trial of the accused, Sirhan Sirhan.
“I had covered small trials in New Jersey, but it wasn’t anything like this,” Deutsch said.
A year later, actress Sharon Tate, who was pregnant, and four other people were murdered, followed the next day with the murder of a married couple. The crimes were gruesome, with words written in the victims’ blood.
“At that point we believed there was a serial killer and nobody was safe,” Deutsch said.
Deutsch stayed on the story for three months, and in November 1969, Charles Manson and several followers were arrested and charged with the sensational murders.
The trial was chaos, Deutsch said. Manson’s followers threatened self immolation, she said. People were arrested at the court metal detectors and accused of possessing marijuana.
“I, being a novice, thought, ‘Oh, this is how trials are,'” Deutsch said.
But the more senior AP reporter leading the trial coverage did not like chaos. When he started covering it, but earned it would last a year, he said he had vacation scheduled during that time and left. Deutsch said. So she became the primary reporter instead.
Deutsch still attends hearings for some of those convicted in the murders. They remember her, she said.
The Manson trial officially kicked off her decades-long career covering high-profile court cases for AP. There were the trials of Patty Hearst and Angela Davis, John Z. DeLorean and Exxon Valdez.
“I basically created a niche for myself,” Deutsch said. “And so I did trial after trial after trial.”
One of the biggest U.S. trials in the century arrived in 1994, when O. J. Simpson was charged in the murder of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and her friend Ronald Goldman.
“It was a huge event,” Deutsch said. “It was a cultural event where people erased their lives so they could watch this trial.”
After Simpson’s acquittal, he called Deutsch to thank her for being fair, she said.
“We became friends – sorta,” she said. “But not social friends.”
Deutsch said people regularly ask her, “Did O.J. do it?”
“Whether he did it,” she said. “I just don’t know.”
Deutsch said she shines light on the U.S. justice system as a high-profile court reporter.
“In the process of doing that, I became a social history because all the trials I covered were reflective of the country and that time,” Deutsch said. “I was holding up a mirror and saying, ‘This is what’s going on.'”
Watch the video by Macrina Newhouse below to learn more about Deutsch’s storied career.
Editor’s note 11/27/14: Corrected to reflect the fact that Fran Lewine was not a JAWS founder, but instead an early member of the organization.