Joan Konner

On this date in 1931, journalist Joan Barbara Konner was born in Paterson, N.J., the daughter of Martin Weiner, who was in the textile business, and the former Tillie Frankel, an artist. She received her B.A. from Sarah Lawrence College in 1951. She earned a master’s in jounalism from Columbia in 1961 when she was 30 after raising two daughters, Rosemary and Catherine. Her marriage ended in divorce, and Catherine died in 2003.

She was hired as a journalist for the Bergen Record, where she worked on the women’s page. She left in less than two years to work at WNBC-TV, where she was a writer and producer of many documentaries. She became executive producer of “Bill Moyers Journal” during the 1980s and later was president and executive producer of Moyers’ production company, Public Affairs Television. She helped produce the acclaimed six-part docuseries “Joseph Campbell and the Power of Myth” for Moyers. She worked with Alvin Perlmutter on the series and married him in 1994.

Konner ended her career in public television as executive producer for national news and public affairs for WNET/Thirteen in New York. She returned to Columbia in 1988 to become the first female dean of the Columbia School of Journalism. She was also publisher of the Columbia Journalism Review until 2000.

She wrote books on religion from the freethought point of view, such as The Atheist Bible: An Illustrious Collection of Irreverent Thoughts (2007), and You Don’t Have to Be a Buddhist to Know Nothing: An Illustrious Collection of Thoughts on Naught (2009) and is known for producing over 50 documentaries and television series that focus on ideas and beliefs. “I myself was born Jewish and I have great respect for that, but if you ask me to name what I’ve learned the most from — and what seems to guide my own behavior now — I say I’m a ‘Trans-Zen-Jewish-Quak-alist.’ ” (Read the Spirit interview, March 16, 2010.)

Konner won numerous awards and honors throughout her lengthy career, including 16 Emmys, a Peabody Award, the New Jersey Presswomen’s Lifetime Achievement Award and the New York Newswomen’s Award for Best Documentary. She died of leukemia at age 87 in Manhattan in 2018.

Freedom From Religion Foundation