Of all the groundbreaking, boundary-pushing stories that former Editor Pamela White wrote during her 10 years at the Weekly, she seems to speak with special fondness for the series she did on the history of AIDS in Boulder County.
“It was one of the most important projects of my career,” she says.
As the 25th anniversary of the first documented case of HIV in the county approached, White says her inner history buff kicked into gear. She realized that as more and more AIDS victims got older and passed away due to their disease or other causes, valuable history would die with them. White says she wanted to preserve that history while those individuals were still around to share it.
So she took on a daunting project that involved poring over the records of the Boulder County AIDS Project (BCAP), which gave her unfettered access to its archives. White also relied on the personal archives of several individuals for her research, in addition to conducting dozens of interviews.
She describes it as some of the best writing she has ever done, but also among the most difficult topics she has had to cover. It involved documenting the stories of a group of people who were loathed, feared and suspected, and yet alongside the accounts of misperceptions there were also tales of compassion, hope, caring, cooperation and love.
The initial installment was nearly 10,000 words, White recalls, and it took up most of the paper. She laughs remembering that usual staples, like the letters to the editor section, had to be sacrificed to make room for the massive article.
The first piece was followed by four additional stories, each one a personal story about people affected by AIDS. There was the woman who contracted HIV from heterosexual sex, White says, and “a young man whose parents found out he was dying on the same day they found out he was gay.”
There was an account of local clergy “who did the right thing by demanding compassion for these people, and creating a safe space for them,” she recalls. Finally, there was a piece about a brother and sister who were born with HIV because their mother had it. She died when they were young. The sister ended up getting married and having a child of her own, taking drugs during her pregnancy to keep the disease from getting passed on to her baby.
The AIDS retrospective garnered a national award, an honorable mention from the Association of Alternative Newsmedia.
More important than the award, White says, was the response she received from readers.
“The community response was deep gratitude, especially in the AIDS community,” she says. “I’m glad I did it, because some of the people I interviewed aren’t with us anymore.”