Going Underground in the Abortion Wars

By Jose Olivares

When we first received our theme and mentors for the 2016 Next Generation NPR Boot Camp at the University of Nevada, Reno, I couldn’t have been more delighted. I had known my mentor for a while, and the theme opened the door to so many creative and wonderful opportunities. The “Odd Jobs” theme made me think of dancing, acrobatic children in my hometown Mexico City performing for tips during stoplights on the greasy gravel.

I then realized we were in Reno, Nevada; a small city of about 250,000 people in which “odd jobs” are not as easy to find as in a big metropolis. My mentor, Nico Colombant and I wracked our brains, tossing around ideas that could best fit this theme. From fetish models to farm animal saviors—our ideas were applicable, but lacked a larger socio-political theme.

One night I remembered an extraordinary woman I had met a year ago. “Jane” was what she called herself. Her “normal” work was just that: normal. But what she did — and does— under this pseudonym continues to astound me. She provides low-cost and free abortions at people’s homes in and around Reno. This work is illegal. It’s a felony. The risks she takes to provide this service to people who need it are astronomical. I was sure that neglecting this story would warrant a slap in the face by my future self.

Photographing Jane. ( Photo by Nico Colombant.)

Photographing Jane. ( Photo by Nico Colombant.)


I was worried about compromising her anonymity and putting her in any danger. However, having Nico Colombant, an adjunct professor, at the University of Reno, Nevada, as my mentor allowed me to relax. I trust Nico, so I knew his meeting of Jane would not compromise her security.

Asking Jane to take part in the story was easier than I expected. When we met, I was expecting her to be hesitant. She wasn’t. She was willing to share her story and include her voice in the larger narrative about abortion rights in our country. Our prior encounters — and the fact I knew Nico well — put her at ease. We agreed that we would both look out for any information that would even slightly point toward her “above ground” life.

The Process

Beginning to work on this was exciting. The topic of abortion obviously causes fiery debates and even violence, so jumping into the discussion was thrilling.

Nico and I discussed some of the ethical implications of my reporting with another professor at the journalism school. Her sobering words made me slightly nervous. Having information on Jane could potentially put me in danger as well. I set the nerves aside and decided to pursue the story anyway.

We began by visiting the only abortion clinic in Reno. The dedicated protesters outside the clinic with their attention-grabbing signs were happy to speak with us and get their two cents in. We didn’t explain that our larger focal point of the story was Jane, but it was still an interesting contrast with what was to come.

The first time I had ever interviewed a pro-life protester. (Photo by Nico Colombant)

The first time I had ever interviewed a pro-life protester. (Photo
by Nico Colombant)

Interviewing Jane

We met with Jane and collected all of our material. Our time with Jane was well-spent: we shared laughs, thoughts, and stories. Every sentence she spoke grasped me. I continued to be in awe of her bravery. She is risking so much to provide others a much-needed service.

As I complete the 2016 Next Generation Radio NPR Boot Camp, I can’t help to think of the people I’ve worked with throughout the process: the pro-life protesters, Jane, Nico, my colleagues, the other mentors and the wonderful Next Generation editors and producers. They have all been such a big part of this week, in their own individual way. I cannot thank Nico enough for his hard work, genius insight and support. I am also incredibly appreciative of Traci, Doug and Tom, and their incredible support base.


I was surprised by the manual extraction kit, made with a mason jar and common supplies. (Photo by Nico Colombant)

I also have to thank Jane for her time and of course, the risk she has taken to let me share her story.

The Story Behind the Story

Gabby photo1 by ArdMy Next Generation Radio experience has been a roller coaster to say the least. I started off Monday morning with a story about a drug dealer who uses his drug money to pay for his education. By the end of the day I was scrambling for a story desperate for any lead, because as you may guess, drug dealers tend to be elusive.

Tuesday morning my colleague Natalie Van Hoozer was nice enough to give me her back up story idea for a woman who teaches toddlers to rock climb. As everyone was finishing transcribing their interviews I was running out to get my own interview done. Somehow, by Wednesday night I was almost caught up and by Thursday evening I was on par with everyone else. Now it’s Friday and I’m on top of the world!

Aiden, 3, surpasses his fears and climbs further up the wall in search for the toy cars hidden at the top.

Aiden, 3, surpasses his fears and climbs further up the wall in search for the toy cars hidden at the top.

I am so grateful for this experience. In these five short days I have learned more than I have in the past two years. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved my experience in the Reynold’s School of Journalism, but this was the first time I got one-on-one time with a professional along every step of the story process.

Michelle Billman was an amazing mentor. She was there for me when all my stories fell through and when I desperately needed some support. She showed me all of her wisdom throughout the interview process, which has been my biggest hurdle over the past six years as a student journalist. She also taught me some neat tips and tricks for sound editing. I feel like my last year here at UNR will be so much easier because of her. Honestly, if, or rather when, I give an acceptance speech she’ll be on my thank you list.

Doug Mitchell and Traci Tong were always helpful and there for us when we needed them. I I could go on and on and name everyone because in reality everyone, the mentors, the helping hands, the editors, and the students, was incredibly helpful and nice. However, I’ll keep it short.

To any future students: Apply for Next Generation Radio. Just do it.

The Stars Aligned for This Project

By Kenny DeSoto

What a coincidence.

Kenny DeSoto photo1 by ArdIt’s really funny how this entire week worked out. I started the week without having a story pitch, but a friend request on Facebook changed that.

When I talked to sound healer Cheryl Bowers for the first time, I could feel how in tune she is with the work that she does. She truly believes that the universe works to benefit her work and the people around her. After our first conversation, I remember her telling me that the universe brought us together, and that everything is about to work out.

While recording her story, it slowly proved to be true.

First, we thought that we lost the entire interview, which luckily, we didn’t. Melissa, my mentor, had a broken memory card, but Alexa Ard, Next Generation Radio alum, had a bunch that we could use that saved us a trip to the store.

We scheduled to meet Cheryl at her pre-ceremony hike at 7 p.m., but because she had to grab the yoga studio keys earlier than anticipated, we met at 6:30.

At the top of the trail head “The Hoge” located on Peavine Mountain. (Photo by Kenny DeSoto)

At the top of the trail head “The Hoge” located on Peavine Mountain. (Photo by Kenny DeSoto)

Honestly, if that wasn’t the case, the lighting for the photos and video that we took would not have been nearly as beautiful. When Cheryl started her meditation, a bird flew up to her and sat next to her as she chanted.

I witnessed a lizard crawl up on the rock she sat on. I even noticed a bunch of jackrabbits nearby.

Weird. It’s like the animals in the area understood how in-tune Cheryl is with nature.

After we finished the sound ceremony at the yoga studio, her client left and we started packing up our bags. Melissa and I were telling Cheryl how all these things were happening and it’s so coincidental that everything worked out for the best that day.

Cheryl just giggled, and then she mentioned how her client was coming from Truckee and had always wanted to go through a ceremony, and was coincidentally seeking Cheryl.

I just thought it was so strange how everything worked out so perfectly even when problems started arising. Cheryl truly believes that it’s the universe’s way of ensuring that her story and my project were meant to happen.

After this experience, I think I’m a believer too.

My Brain On Bootcamp

I was so excited when I found out I was chosen for NPR’s Next Generation Radio.

In the beginning, I was nervous because I didn’t have a finalized story idea. Thankfully, my mentor Vanessa Vancour and I had five backup story ideas (because one wasn’t enough). I am fortunate to work with an amazing mentor who I have been collaborating with for more than a year. Vanessa has taught me so much and has helped shaped me into the journalist I am today.

One of my favorite parts about journalism is that you can tell someone’s story that wouldn’t otherwise be told. I started Monday evening by interviewing a local Mexican store owner who sells items for love spells,potions and other magic.

You never know what you can find in your own neighborhood until you explore and ask questions. Being curious can lead you to meet amazing people who have beenright in front of you the whole time.

Then, we had a bit of a plot twist.

The next morning I interviewed an anatomical embalmer at the University of Nevada, Reno’s School of Medicine.

I saw things that can’t be unseen. Sharing Patricia Elder’s has been an incredible experience. I don’t know that I would’ve had the opportunity to see the inside of a human brain otherwise.

It’s interesting to spend a couple hours with someone who lives a completely different life than yours. It gives you a different perspective.

You don’t get to have these kinds of adventures with any other job, which is why journalism doesn’t always feel like a job.

I enjoyed the pressure of the daily deadlines, too. I thrive on deadlines. It truly felt like I was working in a real newsroom this week.

I also met amazing new people, students and mentors, who inspired me to become a better journalist. I’m grateful for this experience for showing me what I’m capable of in only a week’s time. I know I’ve grown both as an individual and as a journalist. I feel a lot more prepared for my next journalism adventure.

Of Microphones And Men

Monday May 16th:

I learned so much the first day at the NPR boot camp. There was no way to write it all down and I am terrified I’m going to forget. I held a Marantz recording device for the first time. I felt the weight of a solid microphone. I was told you could hammer nails with it, but I think I’ll wait until the last day to test that. Walking around campus with sound isolating headphones, I heard the world the way a microphone does. The electric whir of a golf cart speeding by had a distinctly pleasant sound.

I think the format of our stories is the most interesting but challenging aspect of the project. I have never done a piece without voice over. Getting the subject to tell the entire story really puts the focus on asking the right questions, something I know I need a lot of practice on.

One of the most important things I got out of today was the encouragement to go after the story. I’m pretty good at meeting with someone face-to-face and asking them questions about a story I’m working on. However, putting myself out there and inviting people to contact me is not something I am comfortable with. I’m glad Catherine suggested I try it and I’m excited to see where it leads.

Tuesday May 17th:

Today was the most intense day of reporting I have done. Looking at my arms at the end of the day, my skin is definitely burnt. I’m staring at 58 separate audio files that need to be listened to and logged. I’m desperately hoping that somewhere in those files is everything I need to tell a story from start to finish. As the kernel of a story starts to form in my head, I can’t help wondering what I could have possibly missed with almost three hours of tape.

Remember that microphone? The one that could hammer nails? I may have left it in the parking lot of a Johnny Rockets in Carson City. I’m still holding out hope that it will magically appear in someone’s car or the Lady from Johnny Rockets will call back saying she found it. I feel like an idiot for losing it, but given the choice between that and coming back with no audio, I would definitely chose the former.

Despite feeling completely exhausted, I’m excited to wake up at the crack of dawn and do it all again tomorrow. I know I’m making a lot of mistakes but I couldn’t be happier. I enjoy feeling stressed. It means I’m doing something that I care about.

Wednesday May 18th:

Today was good news bad news day. The bad news is I had to wake up at 5 am in order to meet Farmer Craig so I can recording him picking up the university’s yard waste. The other bad news is that when I got back from the interview, I had 50 fresh audio files to go through.

The good news is that I finally have the perfect quote. The one that ties the whole piece together and makes it all worthwhile. I couldn’t sleep last night. I woke up constantly worrying that I didn’t have enough to make something good. The amount of relief I felt after interviewing Farmer Craig is indescribable. It really is an amazing feeling when a story goes from a disorganized mess to something awesome.

Oh, and the microphone. Still lost.

Thursday May 19th:

I have a final mix! I felt good about the story yesterday and I feel great about it today. I actually enjoy the editing process. It’s really great when you stare at something for an hour, knowing the whole time that it’s wrong, and someone just gives you the answer. It’s like trying to finish a puzzle for hours and then someone walks up and picks up the piece you need off the ground.  

The only thing left is to finalize the web story and I get to put the much anticipated X in the done column. As much as I’m looking forward to being done, I will miss the experience. It has been an exciting glimpse into what life might be like if my best laid plans work out.


Yep, I Definitely Don’t Know

Going into NPR Boot Camp, I didn’t anticipate that I would learn how much I DIDN’T know and how much I already DID know.

Born and raised in Reno, I thought I knew this area pretty well. Well, it turns out I don’t. In the process of looking for my Boot Camp story, I learned about dozens of occupations that I had never even heard of, let alone knew were actual jobs in Reno.  For my Boot Camp story, I found a falconer (someone who trains and hunts with birds of prey) who lives in Reno. Before finding my interview subject, I knew what falconry was, but I had no idea that there were actual Nevadans who bred and trained these amazing creatures. This experience, of learning something completely new in a familiar environment, provided great perspective for me. It also served as a reminder that the saying, “We don’t know what we don’t know,” is 100 percent valid.

I also discovered that there is a TON I need to learn about reporting techniques and audio editing. When listening back to my interview tape, I realized there were multiple times when I missed an opportunity to ask a follow-up question or clarify an answer. I know getting this process down takes practice, but Boot Camp served as a huge reminder of this for me.

With audio editing, I had no idea how nuanced the entire process is. In many aspects, knowing what to listen for in an audio track is like music; if you’re untrained, many sounds and errors pass you by. Now that I know what to look for, I will be able to make my audio mixes much cleaner when I intern for Reno Public Radio this summer.

Everyone knows that it is important to be confident, but NPR Boot Camp has also taught me that confidence is sometimes the only missing ingredient beginning journalists need.

The first day of boot camp, I went out to gather my materials with my mentor, Kate McGee. I’m always “on edge” when I go out reporting, but on this day I was especially nervous because I was working with a professional journalist. After three hours of interviewing, collecting sound and taking photos, I came to a realization: confidence was the main thing I was missing at the start of the day.

Once we got to the interview site, I quickly understood that I needed to be decisive about what I wanted from my interview subject. When I did this, everything went smoothly. When I made a conscious effort to be confident, there was no difference in my comfort level when working with a professional journalist and when working with a fellow student.

I also realized that I have the skills needed to deliver a full, in-depth audio story, I just need to trust myself and relax into the complexities of the reporting process. Sometimes it’s hard to remember that, a lot of the time, I DO know what I’m doing.