Nieman News

Deb Price, 62, died in Hong Kong on November 20, 2020 after a long battle with an autoimmune lung disease. The many news outlets she had worked for include The Detroit News, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, South China Morning Post, and the Beijing-based Caixin Global.

It was at the Post that she met Joyce Murdoch, her partner of 35 years whom she married in Toronto in 2003. They wrote two books together: “And Say Hi to Joyce: America’s First Gay Column Comes Out” and “Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians v. the Supreme Court.”

As classmates grappled with the news, they shared memories. Joshua Prager writes, “For all Deb had accomplished, she had no airs about her, no pretensions. She recommended that we invite as seminar speakers Kitty Kelley and Stephen King.” Michael Fitzgerald remembers her “enormous energy and nearly equal capacity for empathy.”

Those characteristics were hallmarks of her time as deputy chief of The Detroit News Washington, D.C. bureau. In 1992, she lobbied to take on more work when she pitched the idea of writing a weekly column about gay issues. Bob Giles, then the paper’s editor, approved the idea. “The prototypes I read struck a good tone,” he writes. “They were educational and occasionally conveyed a touch of humor.” She was the first nationally syndicated columnist on gay life, bringing her perspective as a lesbian to mainstream America. Hate mail rolled in immediately. Fitzgerald notes, “She had to have thick skin, but she wasn’t cynical about people; in my experience, she wanted to lift up everyone around her.”

About 900 columns and 18 years later, Giles, then the curator at the Nieman Foundation, selected her to be a Nieman Fellow. At Harvard, she immersed herself in learning Chinese and studying China’s history and politics. Helen Branswell recalls, “We can at times become a bit cynical, a bit ‘I’ve seen this before.’ But Deb had almost a child-like capacity to … revel in her good fortune at having the opportunity to observe a piece of history unfolding. She also had the courage to make those opportunities happen. At a point where she was well-established in her career as a political reporter in Washington, Deb — along with Joyce Murdoch, her wife and willing partner in adventure — moved to Asia to reinvent herself and explore and conquer a new field, business reporting, about which she was passionate and at which she excelled.”