In 1991, The Des Moines Register’s series about a rape victim won a Pulitzer for Public Service. The subject of the series, Nancy Ziegenmeyer, decided to go public after reading a column in which Overholser questioned the practice of withholding the names of rape victims
My Nieman year gave me the chance to think really hard about exactly what kind of journalist I personally was equipped to be. I realized I had experienced real tugs between my love of the craft and what it stood for and my yearning for fuller recognition of human rights, women’s rights in particular. My two passions, for journalism and for feminism, seemed to have been in conflict. Thanks to a year of reflection, to classes in everything from constitutional law to poetry, and to conversations deep into the night with countless thoughtful and questing people, by the time I left Cambridge I was determined to be true to both those passions.
When Alex Jones [NF ’82] from The New York Times called to interview me for a story on a court case in Florida raising the issue of naming rape victims, I found myself saying that not naming victims seemed to go against all journalistic conventions. We believe in attaching names to the news. Deciding not to do so in this one case of adult victims raised issues: Were we contributing to the stigma by subscribing to the belief that this topic should remain in a dark corner? Were we infantilizing women?
Alex used a quote reflecting my ambivalence, and the Times op-ed page called to ask me to write a piece. I agreed, and we ran the piece in the Register. Thus did Nancy Ziegenmeyer end up calling me. What I think the piece did was exactly what our highest journalistic hopes point us toward doing: It shone a light in a dark corner. It told an important story that was seldom, if ever, fully told. We were able to do it because of the rape victim’s courage, the reporter’s skill, and my openness to something different from the journalistic convention. That openness, and the commitment to making a difference with it, was born my Nieman year.