Bisnow on Business – Gannett’s Barbara Wall blends law, journalism and life


Entering the gleaming gourmet emporium that is Gannetts Breaking News Cafe with Associate General Counsel Barbara Wall is like entering a hot restaurant with a celebrity. “Ive been here 20 years,” she says, shrugging off the many greetings she receives. Indeed, longevity is an important theme to Barbara, who believes that her long tenure at Gannett is one of the reasons shes maintained her sanity while combining motherhood with a demanding career.

Over soup and salad at a sun drenched table, the petite blonde with a powerful job talked about her experiences as a working parent and offered this advice to professional women contemplating motherhood: “If you have a job you like, stick with it. I hear from friends who have moved from job to job that the challenges of learning a new corporate culture make balancing professional and family life even more difficult. Also, find a position where theres plenty of room for growth and surround yourself with the most talented people you can find. Theyve made me look good!” 

How does Barbara do it all? “One day at a time,” she laughs. A mother of two teenagers, shes also responsible for helping to manage a legal department of twenty at Gannett. Working with General Counsel Kurt Wimmer and nine other lawyers, she handles liability issues, pre-publication reviews of articles, HR matters and acquisitions, among many areas.  

Her days are long:  She gets up at 5:30 am, does email for an hour or so, and then leaves for the office after seeing her daughter off to school. But the days are varied and interesting.

Would she recommend the law to her own daughter? After a thoughtful pause, Barbara says, “Id warn her about the hours, and recommend she pursue a career outside of a law firm. In a corporation, the quality of your work is most important. In a law firm, the number of hours billed is also important.” She laughs:  “Its a moot point, though, since my daughter wants to go into medicine anyway.” 

Growing up in New Orleans, Barbara was inspired by her mother, who raised five children, taught music, and engaged in many volunteer activities. “She has more energy than anyone I have ever known. The year my sisterher fifth childwas born not only was she teaching, she was also serving as president of both the New Orleans Philharmonic Society and the New Orleans Music Teachers Association. Her motto was, “If you need something done, ask a busy person!” 

Barbara went north to study English at the University of Virginia. As Projects Editor at the Cavalier Daily, she had her first taste of the legal challenges publishers face when a photograph of a couple holding hands on the Lawn appeared above an article on co-habitation. The couple threatened to sue, claiming the juxtaposition of the photo and the article implied they were living together. This was obviously long ago when there was a tad more sensitivity on the subject. A clarification in the next issue solved the problem.

Inspired by challenges like this one and a life long love of advocacy (even as a child, she would talk her friends parents into lessening their punishments for misdeeds), Barbara took her next step right after graduation:  UVA law school.

While there, she took a tax class in which she made another decision that was to change her life:  She consented to lend her notes to fellow student Chris Wall. They were married after law school and moved to New York, where Chris joined his present firm (hes a partner in Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman).

After graduation, Barbara worked for a law firm in New York City that represented a number of book publishers. When they put the first manuscripts on her desk, she was thrilled:  “I thought, wow, Im going to be paid for reading books.” But she soon learned that manuscript reading was expected to be done on weekends.  Luckily some of the manuscripts were good recreational reading, like Nora Ephrons Heartburn.

But her heart was in the south, and though Northern Virginia is a far cry from New Orleans, she and Chris got a little closer to her home town by moving here in 1985, when she brought her background in media law to Gannett.

After 20 years, occasionally her thoughts turn to retirement. What then? “Maybe teach media law, or who knows? Opening a wine store sounds appealing too,” she says, a faraway look in her eye. 

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