5Q+1 interview, part 2: RNS writer David Gibson on what GetReligion doesn't 'get' about religion news coverage

5Q+1 interview, part 2: RNS writer David Gibson on what GetReligion doesn't 'get' about religion news coverage

In case you missed it, we ran the first — and my favorite — part of our interview with award-winning Religion News Service national reporter David Gibson on Wednesday.

As part of my e-mail discussion with Gibson, I asked:

Is there anything GetReligion doesn't "get" about religion coverage in the mainstream media? Any tips or suggestions to help us improve what we do?

Gibson's reply:

In his answers in this space, Bob Smietana made good points about diversifying your stable of bloggers and also adopting a more charitable — let’s just say fair — attitude toward other journalists.
 
I would second those suggestions. I also think that GetReligion writers need to practice the journalistic customs that they preach — accuracy, fairness, balance and such. Too often those are cast aside. Perhaps hiring more writers with journalistic experience would help.
 
The site could also be open about its biases and its agenda. Not being transparent undermines your credibility and winds up limiting your audience, and you wind up preaching to a small choir of like-minded conservatives. That in turn undermines the wider goal (and greater good, I’d say) of highlighting religion coverage in the media and encouraging more and better coverage.
 
But would such changes mean that GetReligion wouldn’t be GetReligion any more? I don’t know the answer to that one.

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Concerning 'holiday movies,' 'Christmas movies' and the civil religion found in shopping malls

Concerning 'holiday movies,' 'Christmas movies' and the civil religion found in shopping malls

It was one of quieter moments in the Christmas classic "Home Alone," tucked in between the church-pew chat with the scary next door neighbor and the open warfare between young Kevin McCallister and the "wet bandits." Do you remember the line?

Bless this highly nutritious microwavable macaroni and cheese dinner and the people who sold it on sale. Amen.

As prayers go, it wasn't much. However, this iconic moment also featured an heroic America child making the sign of the cross as he blessed his food. That's not your typical Hollywood gesture, either.

It caught my attention and it also intrigued the conservative Jewish film critic Michael Medved, especially when the film became a (surprise!) runaway hit with a US box-office gross the came close to $300,000,000.

I talked to Medved about the film back in 1991 -- pre-WWW, so no URL to that full column -- and he told me that "Home Alone" was a perfect example of a typical "holiday movie" that, with just a few nods of respect for faith and family, turned into a box-office smash that is also known as a true "Christmas movie."

I've been interested in this phenomenon ever since and, this week, that served as the hook for the latest GetReligion "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

Now, there is much that can be said about that "holiday movie" tag.

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To the AP, there are no 'liberal' Catholics — just 'rank-and-file' faithful

To the AP, there are no 'liberal' Catholics — just 'rank-and-file' faithful

Readers of the Associated Press's coverage of the release of the Vatican's report on its probe of American religious sisters will note a curious juxtaposition, one that has, alas, become all too familiar in AP reporting on Catholic issues. Here are the relevant paragraphs; the italics and boldface are mine:

The probes also prompted an outpouring of support from rank-and-file American Catholics who viewed the investigations as a crackdown by a misogynistic, all-male Vatican hierarchy against the underpaid, underappreciated women who do the lion's share of work running Catholic hospitals, schools and services for the poor.
Theological conservatives have long complained that after the reforms of the 1960s Second Vatican Council, women's congregations in the U.S. became secular and political while abandoning traditional prayer life and faith. The nuns insisted that prayer and Christ were central to their work.

Got that? The faithful who saw the probe of the sisters "as a crackdown by a misogynistic, all-male Vatican hierarchy" aren't liberals--they're just "rank-and-file American Catholics." On the other hand, those complainers who knock women's congregations for "abandoning traditional prayer life and faith" are "theological conservatives" who apparently don't even deserve the title "American."

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5Q+1 interview: RNS writer David Gibson on the Godbeat, falling into journalism and his conversion to Catholicism

5Q+1 interview: RNS writer David Gibson on the Godbeat, falling into journalism and his conversion to Catholicism

First of two parts

On his Twitter profile, Religion News Service national reporter David Gibson describes himself as a Catholic convert, a Vatican veteran, a faith fan and an alliteration addict.

His RNS bio notes that he has written two books on Catholic topics, including a biography of Pope Benedict XVI.

Gibson was honored recently as the Religion Newswriters Association's Religion Reporter of the Year for large newspapers and wire services. His winning entry included "The story behind Pope Francis' election," "Is 'Just War' doctrine another victim of the Syrian conflict?" and "The 'Breaking Bad' finale was great. But was it good?"

GetReligion has both praised Gibson's work and — sometimes — questioned why RNS publishes his "analysis" pieces without labels identifying them as such.

What I like about Gibson is that he seems to enjoy the give and take and not take it too personally.

Case in point: his willingness to do this interview.

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Trying to figure out the 'Why?' in hellish reality of the school massacre in Pakistan

Trying to figure out the 'Why?' in hellish reality of the school massacre in Pakistan

All school shootings force journalists to wrestle with images from hell and the information that poured out of Peshawar, Pakistan, was tragically familiar. Here is part of the barrage from the top of a long report in The Los Angeles Times:

When it was over, 132 children and nine staff members were dead ... at an army-run school in this northeastern city in one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in Pakistan’s troubled history. Many were shot in the temple at close range. One 9-year-old told his father that a classmate’s head was nearly blown off.

Seven assailants wearing explosives-laden suicide vests fought a daylong gun battle with Pakistani soldiers and police commandos, trapping hundreds of students and teachers in the Army Public School compound where the attackers planted bombs to deter the security forces.

The story is packed with the kinds of details news consumers expect in live, dateline reports from major news scenes. If you want the "who," "what," "when," "where" and "how" of this story, you are going to find it in this Los Angeles Times report and in many similar reports in the mainstream media.

But the "why" is another matter. Many journalists seem to assume that readers already know the "why" part of the equation and leave this crucial information unstated.

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Washington Post offers nuanced look at celibacy among gay Christians

Washington Post offers nuanced look at celibacy among gay Christians

Celibate gay Christians -- those who feel the pull of same-sex attraction, yet abstain in order to stay faithful to their faith -- get a sensitive, nuanced look in the Washington Post. Though with a couple of flaws.

This gentle 1,600-word feature examines quiet emergence of gays like Eve Tushnet in Catholic and evangelical circles. Ace religion writer Michelle Boorstein explores their feelings toward churches, right or wrong. And the feelings of church folk toward them.

Here's an excellent "nut graph," actually two paragraphs:

Today, Tushnet is a leader in a small but growing movement of celibate gay Christians who find it easier than before to be out of the closet in their traditional churches because they’re celibate. She is busy speaking at conservative Christian conferences with other celibate Catholics and Protestants and is the most well-known of 20 bloggers who post on spiritualfriendship.org, a site for celibate gay and lesbian Christians that draws thousands of visitors each month.
Celibacy “allows you to give yourself more freely to God,” said Tushnet (rhymes with RUSH-net), a 36-year-old writer and resident of Petworth in the District. The focus of celibacy, she says, should be not on the absence of sex but on deepening friendships and other relationships, a lesson valuable even for people in heterosexual marriages.

The Post article is timely enough. World magazine, a Christian news journal, on Dec. 11 posted an in-depth story on issues surrounding Julie Rodgers, a gay celibate counselor for students at Wheaton College.

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Fa la la la la, la la la la -- 'Tis the season (as always) for 'news' reports that debunk the Gospels

Fa la la la la, la la la la -- 'Tis the season (as always) for 'news' reports that debunk the Gospels

“Hail the new, ye lads and lasses. Fa la la la la, la la la la,” says that old carol. The journalism angle in that?

During the Christmas and Easter seasons, journalists have come to expect -- and perhaps to hail --  new, sensationalized and commercialized bids to debunk the New Testament Gospels, the earliest and best source we have about Jesus’ life. The Religion Guy himself has played that game, hopefully with some balance and accuracy.

The most lucrative example by far was “The Da Vinci Code,” an odd novel issued for Holy Week of 2003. In 2014 that  fictional tale about Jesus marrying his disciple Mary Magdalene has been supplanted by alleged non-fiction. Before Easter, a Harvard University press release announced: “Testing Indicates ‘Gospel of Jesus’s Wife’ Papyrus Fragment to be Ancient.”  To the contrary, the testing showed this fragment wasn’t “ancient” but dates from the 7th or 8th Century A.D., and as for the “wife” business, see below.

Then, timed for Christmas the media have publicized a book entitled “The Lost Gospel: Decoding the Ancient Text that Reveals Jesus’ Marriage to Mary the Magdalene.”

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After the horrors in Sydney: How do journalists report the motives of a truly radical, fringe Muslim believer?

After the horrors in Sydney: How do journalists report the motives of a truly radical, fringe Muslim believer?

The horrors that surround hostage dramas are confusing enough on their own. Throw in complex questions about religious faith and terrorism and journalists and this kind of story pushes journalists -- in real time, under unbelievable amounts of pressure -- to their intellectual and personal limits.

Looking back on the Sydney crisis (following the early post by Bobby Ross., Jr.) I am struck by one interesting question that journalists faced and, for the most part, ducked: What was the motive? Why did gunman Man Haron Monis -- the most frequently used of his many names -- do what he did? Lacking the ability to read his mind, what concrete clues were offered during this act of symbolic violence?

A news report from The Daily Beast offered this interesting information, which I did not see repeated in most other mainstream reports:

Monis walked into the café on Monday and took everyone inside hostage. He used some of the captives as human shields and forced others to hold a black flag with white Arabic writing against the window. ...
Monis had been convicted on charges related to offensive letters he sent to the families of Australian soldiers who died serving in Afghanistan. He was out on bail as an alleged accessory to the murder of his ex-wife, as well as a string of 50 indecent and sexual-assault charges in connection to his time as a self-proclaimed spiritual leader.
Monis used a YouTube account to post a series of videos showing hostages reciting his demands, which included the delivery of the black flag of ISIS. He asked “to please broadcast on all media that this is an attack on Australia by the Islamic State,” and to speak to Prime Minister Tony Abbott. (YouTube has since removed the videos from the account.)

Yet at the end of this same report, readers were told:

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Listen now: How a fake story about Pope Francis landed the New York Times in the doghouse

Listen now: How a fake story about Pope Francis landed the New York Times in the doghouse

At first glance, the New York Times story sounded like a pet lovers' dream. Upon closer examination, however, it wasn't even fit for lining a birdcage. 

In the latest GetReligion podcast, I talk about why, in my post here last Friday, I had a bone to pick with the Times story that claimed Pope Francis suggested pets go to heaven. Among other errors, the article included a made-up quote that the reporter attributed to John Paul II.

Shortly after I gave the interview and published the post, David Gibson did some more digging and found that the error I had noted was just the tip of the iceberg.

The headline of Gibson's story says it all: "Sorry, Fido. Pope Francis did NOT say our pets are going to heaven." I'm surprised, though, that RNS didn't go with the headline he used when he tweeted the story:

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