Deciding to put a first-person account on the front-page of paper is not an easy decision for editors. The Los Angeles Times made that risky choice today to stunning effect with a personal account by Megan K. Stack, who recently finished her tour as the paper’s Cairo bureau chief. In a wonderfully written piece, brimming with anger, she describes her experience as a woman reporting in Saudi Arabia. She does what no news article could ever do: capture the stultifying experience of wearing the abaya, of being forcibly segregated in coffee shops and banks, of learning to think of herself and her body as a liability that might compromise the virtue of the men around her.
Stack writes extremely personally, managing to channel a frustration that must have been building steam since she began visiting Saudi Arabia in 2003. Here she is, describing what it’s like under the black fabric of the abaya: “In the depths of the robe, my posture suffered. I’d draw myself in and bumble along like those adolescent girls who seem to think they can roll their breasts back into their bodies if they curve their spines far enough. That was why, it hit me one day, I always seemed to come back from Saudi Arabia with a backache. The kingdom made me slouch.”
The piece deserves to be read by many. She makes no quick judgments, but rather explores her own extreme discomfort with Saudi culture and the compromises with herself she has had to make to move in and out of it.
Gal Beckerman is a former staff writer at CJR.
The piece is also a good case for the occasional first-person piece. It’s a reminder that reporters are human, and sometimes the best way for them to report is through that prism of their individual, human experience.