The headline read, “Jobs that died in 2011.” There at the bottom of the list, beneath stock brokers, toll collectors, video store clerks, real estate agents and U.S. postal carriers, was “newspaper reporters."
Journalist/filmmaker Michael de Yoanna, a close friend, shared the link on his Facebook page, sparking a conversation among a handful of mutual friends from our Colorado Daily days about the changing world of journalism.
OK, that’s giving the conversation too much credit. After a single post about the number of layoffs in the Denver Post’s newsroom, the thread quickly devolved into reminiscing about good times, hard times and glory days. The posts ranged from the news we’d reported to the news we’d made to the news we wished had never happened, like the Columbine massacre. Then the thread moved on to include things like our worst-ever front-page glitch, practical jokes in the newsroom, and people of the opposite sex who were conspicuously hot.
(The irony of this conversation among journalists taking place on the Internet via social media, both of which have contributed to the struggles newspapers are facing, was not lost on us.)
As the thread began to wind down, Michael posted, “Reading all the comments here — every one of them — makes me think this: Here’s a group of freakin’ awesome people who made a difference in the world as reporters. And, no surprise, whatever they are doing now, they’re still freakin’ awesome.”
I could say the same thing about the reporters I’ve had the pleasure of working with at Boulder Weekly over the past 10 years as well.
Together and individually, we’ve made a difference in our community and the world. We’ve amassed an amazing number of national and state journalism awards, two prestigious national awards for radio, an almost-finished film and a change in state law. All of those achievements represent hours of hard work in the newsroom, teamwork and years of dedication to the profession we all still hold dear, one in which we still strongly believe.
The conversation, and especially Michael’s comment, left a satisfied feeling in my chest. What I didn’t share in that thread is that I was planning to leave journalism.
After 20 years, this will be my last Uncensored column.
• • •
I started writing Uncensored in 1992 for the Colorado Daily, which was then an award-winning, independent, employee-owned paper. I was prompted to write by an opinion piece about rape written by a dolt who stated that women soldiers should “expect” to get raped because the military is a man’s world. As a rape survivor — I was sexually assaulted when I was 10 by the father of a classmate — I felt compelled to speak out on these issues and not leave the public discourse to a bunch of men who were so crippled by their own sexism that they didn’t know shit from apple butter.
My intent when I launched the column was to write about women’s issues from an unapologetically feminist perspective. There were no women on the paper’s opinion page, and I had gotten tired of reading what men had to say about abortion, sexual assault and intimate partner violence. I was also concerned about things that weren’t being covered, including the struggles of incarcerated women, single mothers and Native women.
I wish I could say that the public discussion about women’s issues has moved forward since then and that women are better off today, but we’re not. In fact, the opposite is often true.
Society still blames rape victims for being assaulted, asking the same hateful questions we asked then — “What was she wearing?” “Where was she?” “Was she alone?” “Was she drunk?” — as if the victim’s behavior explains why a man decided to rape. We can’t seem to move beyond the primitive, misogynist notion that sexual assault victims somehow “asked for it.”
Abortion was certainly an issue in 1992, with right-wing religionists trying their best to shut off funding to Planned Parenthood. But even President Reagan asserted that women whose lives were in danger should have access to abortion because, as he said, everyone has a “right to self-defense.” His stance would be viewed as liberal by today’s more extreme and virulent anti-choice activists, who, based on the GOP’s current platform, allow no exceptions.
How very Sharia of us. Of course, no law will prevent women from choosing abortion, but illegal abortion means that women will die. The religious right is evidently OK with that.
Reproductive stupidity was in vogue back in the early ’90s, too. Todd Akin’s unforgivably ignorant comments about rape and pregnancy are only the most recent in a long string of moronic comments made by old Republican men on that issue.
In 1995, I wrote about North Carolina Rep. Henry Aldridge, who said: “The facts show that people who are raped — who are truly raped — the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work, and they don’t get pregnant.”
I titled that column “The flowin’ juices theory of rape” and asserted that what Aldridge knew about sex and women’s bodies wouldn’t fill a condom.
Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose. The more things change, the more they stay the same.
The same anti-choice activists who swore they only wanted to save the “pre-born” and had no objections to contraception are now out and open about their desire to eliminate women’s access to the most effective forms of contraception as well, waging a war on women’s reproductive freedom that seems to have as its primary goal a return to a female reproductive and sexual submission.
I don’t regret focusing so much of my work on women’s issues. Despite the hate mail and the accusation that I was a “one-note Nellie,” I felt that my columns constituted a drop in the bucket toward achieving “equal time” in the global media, which treat “male” as the standard-issue human and “female” as a less significant subset.
That’s no accident. Although women make up the majority of journalism students, women are underrepresented in most newsrooms. The disparity grows greater when you reach the level of newsroom management, and greater still when it comes to opinion columns. It’s been my experience that having a woman in the newsroom means the difference between women’s issues being covered and being simply overlooked.
The accomplishment of which I am most proud? Haunted by the stories I’d heard from inmates who’d given birth while incarcerated — the first story I sold to Boulder Weekly, “Woman in chains,” dealt with this very topic — I wrote the original language of the 2010 shackling bill that became Senate Bill 193. Watching as it was passed into law, making Colorado the ninth state to ban the shackling of inmates during labor and delivery, was the highlight of my career.
I came into this profession to be a voice for women, to change the way women are treated. Through SB 193, I succeeded in a very small way.
• • •
Those closest to me know I’ve been frustrated with the opinion column format for many years. In an opinion column, a writer has about 600 words to make an argument about some issue. There’s very little room for nuance. You’re either pro or anti, or you come off as dull.
My experiments with longer essay-style formats and efforts to bridge the gap between polarized points of view through Boulder Weekly’s short-lived Common Ground feature fell flat with a reading public that has come to expect strong emotions, not balanced thinking, on the opinion pages. We are addicted to conflict here in the United States, and as much as I’ve contributed to that, I’m also weary of it. Even on issues like abortion, my true, deeper views rarely found expression in these pages. As a result, writing Uncensored gradually became less rewarding for me personally. That figures prominently in my desire to halt the column.
As odd as it seems, I’ve spent 20 years spouting off, and yet few people know what I really think about anything.
So what will I be doing? Writing women’s fiction.
I’ve wanted to write novels since I discovered the magic of reading at age 9. I spent a day lost in the world created by Marguerite Henry in Misty of Chincoteague, and I knew that’s what I wanted to do — write worlds in which people could lose themselves. I didn’t muster the courage to try fiction until 1994, and I found it degrees of magnitude more difficult than journalism. But I persisted, and my first novel was published in 2003.
I’ve been asked more than once why I would leave journalism for a career of writing romantic fiction, and I’ve explained repeatedly that romantic fiction is inherently feminist in that it takes the world we know and transforms it into a world where the heroine is able to win the life she wants for herself, both in and out of the bedroom. But the deeper answer is more complicated.
Fiction is much more difficult, more frustrating, but ultimately I find it more rewarding. The 10-year-old girl who was held down and raped on the living room floor of a Martin Acres home has found more healing in writing fiction than she did writing news stories and columns. Where journalism required me to put on armor and face the world with shields up, writing fiction has slowly stripped that armor away.
Still, I cherish the time I’ve spent as a journalist, from my first day as a columnist through becoming the first woman editor of first the Daily and then the Weekly. I learned so much. I experienced so many unusual things, from the sublime to the terrifying to the bizarre. I met so many outstanding people — and more than a few wingnuts.
More than that, I’ve formed lifelong friendships with people I love and admire, people who did so much to support me day in and day out as a journalist, an author and a friend. There’s the national award-winning crew from the Daily: Terje Langeland, Oakland Childers, Chip Livingston, Mark Collins, Amanda Hill, Mark Slupe, Mark Saunders, Fred Baerkircher and Brian Hansen. And there are my dear newsroom colleagues, past and present, from my decade with Boulder Weekly: Jefferson Dodge, David Accomazzo, Elizabeth Miller, Katherine Creel, Quibian Salazar-Moreno, Marissa Hermanson, Vince Darcangelo, Grace Hood, Erica Grossman, Dale Bridges, Dana Logan, Joel Warner, Pete Miller, Paul Danish, Joel Dyer and Wayne Laugesen. I owe each of them a debt of gratitude — and some of them a beer.
I also have to give thanks to my mentors Timothy Lange, Marti Durlin and Debra Melani, who shaped my view of journalism, honing the skills of a cub reporter and fledgling editor; and to Clint Talbott and Stewart Sallo, who made a place for me in their newsrooms.
And this brings me to my point.
The job of newspaper reporter hasn’t died; it’s alive and thrives at independent newspapers across the country. While big corporate papers are in trouble and continue to cut newsroom staff and resources, small newsweeklies and dailies are finding they can thrive alongside the Internet by producing original, compelling content and staying true to the newspaper’s mission: serving as a watchdog and being a voice for the voiceless.
It’s a mission I was honored to pursue for 20 years, and it’s a mission that journalism students in universities and colleges across the country are eager to embrace. Every semester, I pay a visit to CU to lecture young women and men who still believe in the constitutionally protected responsibility of the free press. They will face new challenges, but I believe they will overcome. Our society depends on it.
It’s with a full heart that I pass the torch to them.
Pamela White is a nationally bestselling author and a recipient of the National Journalism Award for Public Service (Roy W. Howard Award); SPJ-Colorado’s Keeper of the Flame Lifetime Achievement Award; and the Colorado Coalition for Sexual Assault’s Excellence in Media award.
Respond: firstname.lastname@example.org This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.