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Freelancer Accuses USA Today of Over-Editing Abortion Story Before Backtracking

A story on the battle to liberalize Ireland’s abortion laws published in USA Today Thursday contained edits that grossly altered the original story, according to freelance journalist Caelainn Hogan, who wrote the piece.

Or rather, that was according to Hogan before she changed her mind about complaining about those edits.

Hogan, 24, told FishbowlDC that USA Today‘s version of her story, which was purchased through the freelance writer service Associated Reporters Abroad, added “material I had never seen before” and included “paraphrasing of my own words and manipulation of quotes which I feel distort the original.” Hogan is an Ireland native but is currently in Turkey.

The original version of Hogan’s story, which she forwarded to FBDC, is different from the USA Today version, but mostly by way of inconsequential edits. For example, the original story contained the following quote:

“The issue of abortion in Ireland s [sic] so contentious many are reluctant to discuss it,” said Clare Quigley, 23, a medical student in Dublin.

It was amended to read:

“The issue of abortion in Ireland is so contentious,” said Clare Quigley, 23, a medical student in Dublin.

Not exactly a nefarious edit.

Edits to the story include added quotes… taken from the Irish Times, including one by a woman who had undergone an abortion but regretted it. Others simply provide historical context, such as one noting that “for decades” Ireland has generally viewed abortion as “morally wrong.”

USA Today did not respond to request for comment but Jabeen Bhatti, managing editor and founder of Associated Reporters Abroad, told FishbowlDC that edits to writers’ stories come from both ARA and the outlets the stories are published in. In this case, ARA did most of the changes. “We did the substantial rewrite of the story,” she said. We did that for clarity, for context and for balance.” Bhatti added that USA Today was “very happy” with the final edits.

After we spoke with Bhatti, Hogan emailed to essentially backtrack on her previous charges. She said it had been “a very stressful and emotional day.”

“I wasn’t clear about who made the editorial decisions regarding the article because I was not in direct contact with the [USA Today] editor,” Hogan said. “I have since clarified this with ARA and they have confirmed that the majority of edits were not the responsibility of the editor at USA Today, so I have that clarified now and would like to retract whatever statement I may have made in relation to the editor at USA Today.”

More from Hogan’s email:

As a freelancer not normally working for U.S. papers I am definitely not used to the extend [sic] of rewriting in this article, but reading back over it and getting a few friends who have a neutral outsider’s point of view on it, apart from the headline, I don’t think it’s been altered deliberately to give a pro-life view. I am going to ask for rewrites to amend the parts I feel do not portray the debate in Ireland accurately.

The headlined USA Today placed on Hogan’s story: “Ireland’s ban on abortion in jeopardy.”

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