Journalism is weird.
I say this as someone who works in it and plans to work in it as long as it will have me.
We say “bury the lede” — we even spell lede in our own way — we spend our day discussing Tuesday city council agendas and our version of a celebrity is a Pulitzer Prize winner.
So it makes sense to me when our audience is ignorant of our process, especially when it comes to covering our state’s most controversial issues.
I attended an Atlanta Press Club event Monday evening that discussed the abortion bill, one of the most dividing issues that has landed on Georgia legislators’ plate in a while.
Also known as House Bill 481, or the Living Infants Fairness and Equality Act, was signed into law May 7 by Gov. Brian Kemp. It would ban abortion at six weeks, when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, effectively making it a ban on abortions.
Specifically, I was there to listen about how other reporters, such as Maya Prabhu of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Nicquel Terry Ellis of USA Today, were covering this hot-button topic that is drawing sides not only in Georgia, but in Alabama, Tennessee, Missouri, Ohio and other states.
For me, a young reporter who has done minimal statehouse coverage, I took their talking points as suggestions to consider when writing future articles and delivering our audience fair news coverage.
First and foremost, language is incredibly important.
During Prabhu’s coverage of the bill, she said she would often see commentary from readers about her word choices.
When she doesn’t use “pro-life” or “pro-choice,” it’s because AP Style — our journalism bible — says not to. Rather, journalists should use much more neutral words like “pro-abortion” or “anti-abortion.”
It’s much more neutral language to use the latter, Prabhu said, so only use the former words if it’s in a quote.
It is also just as important, she said, to use the correct language in conversation with sources and in the newsroom.
“I spent a lot of time correcting my colleagues in my office and making sure I’m using as much neutral language as I possibly can based on the AP Style Guide,” Prabhu said.
The more we talk the right way, the more we write like it too.
We also have to choose what parts of the law to report on.
These bills can get lengthy and wordy.
Because it’s our job to break down the most important tidbits of complex governmental procedures and language, Ellis said getting the basics out there first is a great way to start.
In the context of reporting on the abortion bill that would mean letting our audience know what the bill does, what the legal ramifications are and when or if it goes into effect.
It also includes subsequent coverage of where the bill goes and where it is headed next.
After all of that has been done, reporters should take the chance to clear up the myths, Prabhu said.
Prabhu said she ran into this when discussions loomed around women being prosecuted for receiving an illegal abortion.
The law, being as vague as it is, doesn’t necessarily state that. It doesn’t necessarily say women won’t be prosecuted either.
Regardless, Prabhu took charge and reported on the law’s nonspecific elements anyway and angled it at a particular myth that needed to be explained further.
Last, and probably the most important takeaway, are the gathering of sources.
Especially for an issue like an abortion — which we know doesn’t just have two differing beliefs on the spectrum of ideas — it’s important to capture that, the best way you can for your community.
Prabhu said her search for sources started with the experts.
Most reporters don’t have a second law or medical degree, or we would probably be doing that instead.
We need these complicated and overwrought bills to be explained to us just like we do for our readers.
Once Prabhu tracked down those legal and medical experts, it was easier to have discussions with politicians, politically charged organizations or just everyday people outside of abortion bill decisions.
As long as it is reasonable and on topic, we want to feature your point of view as well on this matter and the next important bill decided at the federal, state or local level.
We are always looking for those experts — medical, legal, technological or political — who can weigh in on the issues that affect our audience, neighbors and even us in this newsroom.
Specifically about the abortion bill, which could take effect Jan. 1, 2020, we’re looking for people to share their expertise on the issue or even share their personal accounts, no matter what side you’re on.
We’re here to listen, and we’re here to report the news.
Katelyn Umholtz is the education reporter for The Valdosta Daily Times.
Katelyn Umholtz is a reporter with the Valdosta Daily Times. She can be contacted at (229)244-3400 ext. 1256.