How to write a bland story about the March For Life

As expected, the journalists at The Washington Post were pretty careful with their coverage of this year’s March For Life. As I wrote the other day, in a challenge to GetReligion readers:

I would imagine that the Post team will be rather careful in its coverage this year, after receiving rather stark criticism from its own reader’s representative. I predict some photos and even videos that capture the size of the crowd. I expect quotes from the young women who are the backbone of the event, year after year. …

As you read the coverage … pay special attention to the variety of voices who are interviewed on both sides. Were you impressed with the quality of those allowed to explain what this event, what this day, meant to them and to America? Was the language loaded and packed with “scare quotes” and labels? Did you hear from liberals who oppose abortion, as well as the political (as opposed to cultural) conservatives who support abortion rights?

In other words, I wanted to see more coverage, but I also wanted to see coverage that was more complex, that featured voices that journalists rarely include in this ongoing national debate.

I was seeking a more complex journalistic picture, not a picture that ignored one side or the other.

However, one long-time GetReligion reader saw things differently, even though Thomas Szyszkiewicz was moderately pleased with what the Post served up, this time around:

Actually, the Washington Post coverage was pretty decent this year: No “counterbalancing” opinions, no unattributed commentary — just straight reporting of the people who were there and even noting that most of the people were young. Even the photo gallery was good — only two out of 23 photos were of counter-demonstrators. … [A] good and fair job. … Overall, though, a vast improvement on past years.

Actually, that isn’t the kind of journalistic coverage that your GetReligionistas seek to promote, week after week, year after year. No “counterbalancing” opinions? Why not? There are plenty of crucial voices out there on the pro-abortion-rights side — voices on the left and the libertarian right, for starters. Those voices are part of the story.

Meanwhile, I do appreciate the salute to copy that is free of “unattributed commentary,” but there is no need for one-sided copy on an issue as complex as this one.

That doesn’t mean that journalists can’t cite the best version of the facts that they can assemble. There are ways to describe the size of a crowd of marchers and ways to count and describe the much, much smaller number of counter-demonstrators.

The main Post story attempted to do that — a bit. Here are a few samples, with my commentary:

Buses from around the country, mostly chartered by Catholic schools and organizations, brought groups of people to the Mall for a pre-march rally in which politicians, religious leaders and activists decried the 55 million abortions they said had been performed since the Roe v. Wade decision.

Wait a minute: There are no estimates from the cultural left and right over the number of abortions performed in the past 40 years?

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