Though these dates are very important, there is another date that should be written on our calendar in big neon letters: Jan. 22. That’s the date back in 1973 when the U.S. Supreme Court issued one of its most controversial opinions ever in Roe v. Wade. It is important in my house because The Wife is rabidly pro-choice, which means I am also rabidly pro-choice. Actually, I am pro-choice by choice (mine, not hers; though if I chose differently she’d choose to throw me out on my ear).
A few weeks ago I received an e-mail press release from the group Nevada Right to Life about a pro-life (or anti-choice, depending on which side you’re on) rally marking the 35th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. The rally, held Saturday (see page 1A of today’s Tribune), was to feature Norma McCorvey, the Jane Roe from the original case who has since become an activist to make abortion illegal.
Being an impartial journalist, I did not let my personal feelings stop me from assigning a reporter to the story. My instructions, however, included telling the reporter to make calls to local clinics and groups to get the other side of the story.
Two reporters ended up making calls to this end, and their investigations led them to West End Women’s Medical Group in Reno. According to their research, this clinic is the one place in the area (except maybe a private doctor’s office) where a woman can choose to terminate her pregnancy.
To gather all the information they needed, my reporters made several calls (by their count, four or five total) to the clinic, none of which were very long (five minutes each at the most, according to my reporters). Being a touchy subject, I can understand how some information might be missed and require follow-up calls. Apparently, this upset the manager at the clinic, who proceeded to leave me a curt, rude message demanding an apology for bothering them when they were very busy.
A little more about my perspective on this: The Wife worked for three years at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Southern California, so I know how incredibly hectic these places can be. But I also know how easy it is for misinformation about the abortion issue to circulate since everybody has their own take on it.
I will always tell my reporters when they did something wrong and I will apologize on behalf of the paper, if necessary. However, it is our job to relay accurate information on all issues — big or small. If doing so requires multiple phone calls and multiple questions, so be it. I always tell my staff that it is better to make a source mad by being a pest than to make them mad by being wrong.
The editorial staff of the Tribune is comprised of reasonable people and I will never pressure a reporter to publish a story if he or she is uncertain about the information. If a source tells us that “now is not a good time,” we will always ask “When is a better time?” Sometimes we are on deadline and need to get the information quickly, and if that is the case we will politely try to get it. But we expect professional courtesy in return.
Fortunately, the president of the local Planned Parenthood affiliate was very polite and accepted our phone call after business hours. Regardless of your stance on this issue or any other, all I ask is respect for what we at the Tribune are trying to do: report accurate, balanced and timely information (the sequence of those adjectives is not an accident). If we call you asking for information at a bad time, just tell us but try to accommodate us, too. If we felt it was important enough for us to call you, then I’ll bet the issue is important enough to you to take a few minutes to help us get the facts straight. Who knows? The story might just persuade someone to your point of view.
Maybe I’ll call the folks at West End to tell them this — if I can make time. Things are very busy here.
Nathan Orme is the editor of the Sparks Tribune. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.