Covering Roe: journalists tackle a hot topic

On June 24, 2022, the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, revoking the constitutional right to abortion. In the days, weeks and months that followed, abortion was front and center in newsrooms across the country. But long before this decision, journalists delved into the history and importance of Roe and reproductive rights.

Pulitzer Prize finalist Josh Prager and New Yorker writer Margaret Talbot are two of the journalists at the forefront of this work, dedicated to researching history beyond the surface as it relates to debate. on abortion. In an interview with Prager and Talbot on Friday, November 4 via Zoom, they shared information about their career path, particularly in reproductive rights coverage, and what to expect at their upcoming in-person event at the University, “Abortion: Past, Present and Future” on November 16.

Prager and Talbot fell in love with journalism in college where they began writing for their school newspapers – Prager at Columbia’s Spectatorand Talbot at the University of California, Berkeley, The California daily.

Prager’s journalistic journey began with a bus accident in Israel just before college that resulted in a spinal injury, leading to paralysis that put him in a wheelchair, altering the trajectory of his college life and of her career. “During my freshman year, the elevators on campus were constantly, constantly breaking down. I was writing letters, I was having meetings, but basically Columbia was patting my head and saying, “Okay, little man, we’ll deal with it.” And I kept missing classes,” Prager said. It wasn’t until he wrote his first article for the Spectator that it ended with the phrase, “Clearly they don’t care about their students, but maybe they will care about a trial.” , in reference to the recent death of Americans with Disabilities Act, that the attention of the administration has shifted. Instead of going to the University of Rochester, where he originally planned to attend, Prager went to Columbia to be closer to home; and rather than playing baseball, studying music and embarking on the pre-medical path, Prager turned to journalism, successfully advocating and representing people with disabilities and influencing accessibility rights on the Columbia campuses.

Prager’s accident and subsequent paralysis also impacted his writing style – he is often drawn to writing stories about people whose lives have changed in an instant.

Talbot also ran into significant trouble with critical legal implications early in his career as a journalist. While she was editor of the Daily Californian in her senior year, she was part of a larger project that used the Freedom of Information Act to request files on FBI espionage and infiltration of the movement. freedom of speech, which was an early student movement at Berkeley in 1964 who protested the ban on political activities on campus. “We were committed to digging up truths that had been covered up, and I felt a kind of civility and excitement of pursuing and investigating. I was addicted to journalism,” Talbot said.

Since then, Prager and Talbot have not interrupted their hard-hitting journalistic work. The two have had different paths along the way, but their work has come together at the crossroads of abortion and Roe v. Wade.

Prager began by writing numerous small articles for the Wall Street Journal, but eventually moved on to long magazine-style articles. He didn’t end up writing about reproductive rights or abortion until 2021, when he published his book “The Family Roe,” which highlights the life of Jane Roe, whose real name is Norma McCorvey. , and the history of abortion in America. The book was actually inspired by an aside in one of Talbot’s earlier articles, but the interview with Judge was the first time the two had met.

Likewise, Talbot never really had a rhythm. She has written on a variety of different topics for The New Republic, The New York Times Magazine and The New Yorker, where she has worked since 2004. allowed to pursue a wide range of interests,” she explained. While Talbot covers everything from music to abortion, a common theme in her writing is that she primarily writes narrative and long-form pieces.

In discussing what reporting would look like after the overthrow of Roe v. Wade and what to expect in future coverage, Prager and Talbot noted that they plan to discuss it in depth at next week’s event and don’t want to give away too many spoilers. However, they saw that part of the storytelling around the subject involves emphasizing the humanization of people’s abortion stories. “We hear a lot more stories about people’s abortions, why they made the decision and what went into the decision from their personal experiences,” Talbot said. “And we’re hearing a bit more about men…men are also part of the story, and part of the decision-making.” Prager agreed with Talbot, adding that empathy for women’s positions and individual situations was an important element that will continue to be incorporated into both sides of the conversation. “In Roe’s own opinion, Justice [Harry] Blackmun determined that what often determines a person’s perspective on abortion is exposure — exposure “to the raw edges of human existence,” Prager said. He added that certain “untruths” and truths should be taken into account, one untruth being that post-abortion syndrome exists — that if a woman has an abortion, she will suffer emotionally. While some women may have regrets or struggles about their decision to have an abortion, “the overwhelming majority of women’s studies show that women who have abortions express relief, not regret,” Prager said.

Reporting on subjects as personal and taboo as abortion is difficult, especially since journalists do not necessarily speak to public or political figures accustomed to being interviewed. “When you’re talking to ordinary people who are going to share their stories, one thing is you have to find someone who feels like they’re going to be okay with it,” Talbot said. The difficulty is that there’s no way of knowing “what kind of backfire experience they’re going to have to go through sometimes for going public with something so intimate and personal,” she continued. Talbot does his best to make his subjects aware that they might face negative experiences sharing their stories with the public, but also explains how the outcome and reactions to the article cannot be predicted.

Additionally, Talbot believes that people are generally happy to have the opportunity to tell their story, “so if they think you said it in good faith and made an effort to get it right and that you did it well so I think most people, even if they feel some discomfort from being in the spotlight or some setback or negative impacts, they are very happy to have the opportunity to tell their story to someone they feel they can trust,” she said.

Similarly, Prager pointed out that “it’s very exciting when you’re on a story, but you always have to remember that you’re writing about human beings”. It is essential, he explained, to be compassionate and transparent with the subject about what is going to happen with their story. “If I didn’t feel like I was doing well with the people I wrote about, I wouldn’t be able to do my job,” he said. Prager also spoke about how the characters in his work can be impacted by sharing their stories, explaining that not only is it important for audiences to hear the truth about difficult topics, “it’s also good for sentient beings. humans involved to be able to unburden themselves of those things that they have taken in. Overall, Prager stressed the importance for writers to “take your time, [and] be fair” when writing about sensitive and personal topics.

Prager and Talbot were just beginning to delve into the history and future of abortion during this interview. They will reveal much more on November 16 during the panel “Abortion: Past, Present and Future,” sponsored by the Brandeis Journalism Program and co-sponsored by the Co-Curricular Fund of Arts and Sciences and the Women’s Studies Research Center.

Jessica C. Bell