Seventeen years ago, Nina Martin’s sister almost died in childbirth. “I remember the trauma of that experience really, really, really well,” recalled Martin. “The disorientation of it and then also, the silencing of it afterwards.”
Over the next several months, Martin and Montagne will release more stories about maternal care in America which will focus on a host of issues surrounding maternal mortality, including racial disparity in care and women with near misses. Every mother has her own story of birth, and all too often these stories go unnoticed, or are buried under platitudes that focus on the health of the baby. Together, Martin and Montagne want to move the conversation back to the mother, and ask why America is the only developed nation where maternal death rates are rising.
Longreads spoke to both journalists about the process of reporting the story, their passion behind the project, and the impact they hope it will have.
I first discovered the Oklahoma-based magazine This Land on Twitter through an extraordinary story by Kiera Feldman about a sexual abuse scandal and cover-up at a Tulsa Christian school. Longreads later named “Grace in Broken Arrow” one of the best stories of 2012.
When’s the last time you saved thousands of lives with a Facebook post? It happened last year to Greg Owen, recently profiled by Buzzfeed UK, a part-time bartender and club promoter from Northern Ireland who contributed to last year’s steep drop in new HIV diagnoses in London while homeless, underemployed, and himself HIV positive.
On 11 August 2015, Owen posted on Facebook to let his friends know that he planned to begin taking PrEP. A friend, who was HIV-positive and had been prescribed the drug as part of his treatment before switching medication, offered him some spare pills. Owen’s plan was to start taking them and blog about his experiences—a “blow by blow” account, he says, laughing…
The day after the Facebook post, he went to a sexual health clinic to double-check he was HIV-negative before taking the pills. Moments later, the nurse gave him the result of the rapid pin-prick blood test: It was positive. He had missed his chance to prevent it.
“I felt sick,” says Owen. “I said, ‘I need to have a cigarette.’ I was in shock.”
The following evening, aware that his friends on Facebook would soon be asking how he was getting on with PrEP, and while working a shift in a gay bar, Owen posted an update on the site telling everyone he was HIV-positive.
That single act triggered a chain of events that would change everything.
This single post caused Owen to become the unintentional poster boy for PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, also known by the brand name Truvada, a pill taken daily that can help prevent the risk of HIV infection. PrEP is available in the US under most insurance programs, including Medicaid, but in 2015, it was still unavailable on the UK’s National Health Service.
With the help of social media and a homegrown website about the PrEP regimen, Owen got word to thousands of people, garnering the attention of public health officials along the way. It’s a trajectory made all the more surprising by Owen’s total lack of resources and official support. Owen managed to turn his social contacts and personal commitment to HIV prevention into a movement—and by doing so, unwittingly became the latest in a long line of underfunded, grassroots activists who have battled HIV/AIDS through social networks.
The gay community confronted the illness in the early 1980s, when public health officials heard reports of a “gay cancer” spreading through San Francisco and New York. Before HIV or AIDS even had a name, gay men gathered in the Greenwich Village living room of playwright and activist Larry Kramer, where they met with Dr. Alvin Friedman-Kien, a dermatologist and virologist who told them what he knew about the disease. They could hardly believe what they heard.
Kramer’s living room became the headquarters for Gay Men’s Health Crisis, now America’s oldest AIDS organization, as HIV/AIDS began to decimate gay communities and disbelief turned to action. The group, and others like it, relied on social networking to get the word out about AIDS. They disseminated the latest research, raised funds, and provided critical support for patients at all stages. “Nobody paid any attention to it, recalls Kramer in an interview with Frontline. “We didn’t exist.” (Kramer later parted ways with GMHC and went on to help found ACT UP, an advocacy group whose in-your-face tactics drew national attention to the crisis.)
For early HIV/AIDS activists, grassroots organizing wasn’t a choice—it was a necessity. Scientific understanding of the virus was in its infancy, and a social stigma surrounded its victims. Researchers struggled to get enough money to finance their work and activists struggled for media attention. Meanwhile, the Reagan Administration ignored both groups’ pleas for public acknowledgment, and the president famously failed to even use the word “AIDS” in public until 1985, and didn’t give a major speech on the subject until 1987. There was no choice but to pick up the phone, make a flyer, or get out into the street.
Part of the problem was what sociologists call “social death”—the exclusion of people who are thought to be beyond saving because of their social status. But grassroots activism gave hope to patients, challenged stigma, and ultimately pushed forward research. Celebrities whose own social networks were torn apart by HIV/AIDS eventually came forward, and slowly, an international movement was born. Today, those living-room gatherings, phone calls, get-togethers, and grassroots marches have resulted in prevention like PrEP and better treatments for HIV/AIDS patients. And they still fuel efforts like Owen’s to make sure those interventions get in the hands of those who are at risk.
As Owen’s story illustrates, there are still big gaps in awareness despite the existence of better treatment and prevention options. In March 2016, the NHS ceased—before it had even started—the process of funding the drug.
The resulting publicity surrounding the decision, however, had an interesting effect: More and more people were becoming aware of the drug and, says Owen, seeking it out on IWantPrEPNow. Traffic began to double and triple. His social media presence swelled, fueling further traffic and media traction: appearances on the BBC, more radio discussions, more press coverage. Greg Owen was becoming Mr PrEP.
In response to NHS England’s decision, all the major HIV charities joined forces to fight it. A series of meetings ensued. Owen was the only activist invited to attend, as every HIV specialist knew that he was the main link to thousands of people wanting the drug…
A legal battle commenced, brought by the National AIDS Trust, to counter NHS England’s claim that it was not their responsibility to provide PrEP as HIV prevention was the job of local councils. At each step of this process, as news reports described what was happening, traffic to IWantPrEPNow continued to climb.
By the time NHS England lost in the High Court in August last year, 12,000 people were visiting the site every month. NHS England swiftly appealed the ruling. Orders of generic PrEP kept rising… As the NHS stalled, an underground movement, facilitated by Owen, was in full swing.
The NHS eventually lost the appeal in November, and announced that it would provide the drugs for at least 10,000 people, but earlier that summer a panel discussion at the International AIDS Conference warned that global funding for the disease is still in danger of a “collapse” that could set back public health goals. If history is any indicator, activists won’t lay down their arms anytime soon. Like Owen, they’ll pick up their cell phones and carry on—even if their invisible labor goes unpaid and unrecognized.
“Food has become entertainment,” Meehan said. As David Kamp showed in The United States of Arugula, a chef like Alice Waters can be a product of 1970s counterculture just like any musician. And Waters is much more likely to be available to talk about her motivations.
“Those of us who have pursued this course are on the pleasure beat,” Gordinier told me. “It doesn’t mean we partake of the pleasure the entire time. It means we’re interested in the way culture engages with pleasure, and what the pursuit of pleasure says about us. The defining pleasure of the ’60s was music. To some extent, the defining pleasure of the ’70s was film. The defining pursuit of our time now is food.”
At The Ringer, editor Bryan Curtis examines the rise of modern food writing and the confounding popularity of writing about food. Everyone’s doing it. Why is everyone doing it? Food writing is the new Applebees but at Lonchero prices, and something smells fishy. See? It’s harder than you think.
A day after President Trump’s now notorious solo press conference, The New Yorker’s Ryan Lizza floated an idea gleaned from a senior White House official, that without an enemy in his sightlines, Donald Trump is virtually at sea. It was Steve Bannon who suggested “the media” as a target—simple for Bannon, the official grumbled, “because he never talks to the media”—and minutes after the hour-long presser ended, the administration seemed to solidify this tactic by rolling out the “Mainstream Media Accountability Survey.” The survey is a masterclass in leading questions (“On which issues does the mainstream media do the worst job of representing Republicans?”), and some of its sentence constructions are gnarled beyond comprehension by double negatives (“Do you believe that contrary to what the media says, raising taxes does not create jobs?”). If anything, the survey resembles the kind of impossible questioning one might find on a literacy test for voters in the Jim Crow south.Read more…
Nothing is normal right now, so it makes perfect sense that journalists should reconsider what objectivity means in 2017. Facts are now up for debate, the president is treating the media as “the opposition,” and readers are looking for both trusted news and better information on how they can get involved in the political process.
My Facebook feed is now a running stream of “action items” and congressional phone numbers posted by friends, imploring everyone to make their voices heard on cabinet nominees and executive orders. I wonder if news organizations are missing a big opportunity to serve their readers in this same way, as opposed to the traditional hands-off “we give you the news and you figure out what to do about it” stance. Read more…
It wasn’t poor whites who criminalized blackness by way of marijuana laws and the “war on drugs.”
Nor was it poor whites who conjured the specter of the black “welfare queen.”
These points should not minimize the horrors of racism at the lowest economic rungs of society, but remind us that those horrors reside at the top in different forms and with more terrible power.
Among reporters and commentators this election cycle, then, a steady finger ought be pointed at whites with economic leverage: social conservatives who donate to Trump’s campaign while being too civilized to attend a political rally and yell what they really believe.
— Who are the most fervent Trump supporters? Not necessarily the poor- and lower-class white communities you might think from reading the news. Writing in The Guardian, Sarah Smarsh — political liberal and native Kansan — picks apart the class bias fueling the one-dimensional media coverage of poor white communities who are “blamed” for the rise of Donald Trump. Spoiler alert: even in red states, there’s diversity and nuance.
In July of 1991, Tim Keck moved to Seattle from Madison, Wisconsin, to launch a newspaper. He’d recruited a handful of friends and colleagues from the Onion, the satirical weekly he’d cofounded and recently sold (yes, that Onion), to help him conceive a new, irreverent publication—one which sent-up the weekly newspaper format and had equal doses of reporting and criticism as it did satire.
Among those who joined him were James Sturm, Peri Pakroo, Nancy Hartunian, Wm. Steven Humphrey, Christine Wenc, Johanna “Jonnie” Wilder, Matt Cook, Andy Spletzer, and, later, Dan Savage.
Armed mostly with hubris, a few thousand dollars, and three slow-as-fuck computers, they initially set their sights on appealing to University of Washington students, but quickly found their real audience among the queers and weirdos who (used to) populate Capitol Hill. Their coverage of Seattle was necessarily informed by their perspective as outsiders, transplants… (are you really going to make me say it?) strangers. Read more…
Americans have been playing softball with their co-workers since the game grew out of several variants of baseball in the late 19th century. In 1895, Louis Rober, a lieutenant in the Minneapolis fire department, organized games of “kittenball” to entertain firefighters between runs. Blue-collar company teams proliferated over the next half-century. Office workers joined in later, in the 1970s and ’80s.
“Working in the media in 2015 is like being part of an epic game of Musical chairs. Every day the music starts and you race madly to hold onto your fragile place in the world.”
I published that in a Facebook post after being let go from my latest employer, comparing working in pop culture media in 2015 to participating in an insane daily game of musical chairs. You try your best to keep up, to maintain the heat, the buzz, and the pageviews to stay in a game that has a disconcerting obsession with putting aging writers out to pasture to make way for younger, cheaper, more malleable replacements.
Every time you see that one of your film critic colleagues has been let go or taking a buyout (see: Lisa Schwarzbaum, who was at Entertainment Weekly for 22 years before taking a buyout, or Claudia Puig who took a USA Today buyout after reviewing films there for 15 years), you breathe a nervous sigh of relief. For that day, at least, you are safe. Read more…