George Conger

Timing is everything: Especially with 'Anglican' (and 'Episcopal') war stats

Timing is everything: Especially with 'Anglican' (and 'Episcopal') war stats

Timing is everything.

The maxim is as true in acting as it is in writing.

What set Jack Benny (pictured) or Groucho Marx apart from their peers was not the quality of their material, but their delivery. Great comedians, as well as actors, singers, writers and other performers are masters of rhythm and tempo – delivering their lines at the right moment, with the right emphasis that conveys the external and internal meaning of their lines.
 
Timing is also important in journalism. One of the marks of superior journalism is its auricular qualities: It sounds as good as it reads. And there is also the timing of sources and material in constructing a story.  This gratification of eye and ear is what sets the great above the commonplace reporters.

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God, man, Israel, fluoride, Kosher laws and Dr. Strangelove

God, man, Israel, fluoride, Kosher laws and Dr. Strangelove

Some might argue that the war in Gaza, Operation Protective Edge ( צוּק אֵיתָן), was the major news story out of Israel this summer.  The seven week military operation launched by the IDF against Hamas certainly was the focus of the majority of news stories. The quantity of stories on a topic, however, is not a reliable gauge as to the importance of an issue. 

In 2008 I was part of the Jerusalem Post’s team covering the Second Lebanon War (albeit in my case as their London correspondent reporting on the European and British responses). That war between Israel and Hezbollah generated a great deal of ink, but that conflict has quickly disappeared from current memories. It was another in an unending series of conflicts between Israel and the Palestinian Authority and their surrogates. The sharp rise in public displays of anti-Semitism in Europe in the wake of Operation Protective Edge may give this latest war “legs”, but the issues, actors and outcomes have not changed all that much.
 
Were I to add, only partially tongue in cheek, another candidate for the “big” story out of Israel this summer, I would nominate this item in Newsweek

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That Down syndrome baby: Christmas comes early for the Australian press

That Down syndrome baby: Christmas comes early for the Australian press

Christmas has come early for the Australian press. The case of Gammy, the child born with Down syndrome to a surrogate Thai mother on behalf of an Australian couple, is everything an editor would desire during the dull news days of August.

This gift keeps on giving.

A very bad thing has happened. The press knows it. We readers know it. 

Yet no one appears to have explained why this is wrong. Is this another example of viewing the world from an Anglo-American mindset?  Or are there universal values and ethical considerations that do not need to be explained?

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Agitprop from NPR? Concerning Evangelical culture wars in Brazil

Agitprop from NPR? Concerning Evangelical culture wars in Brazil

Is National Public Radio (NPR) biased? 

Ask its supporters -- many of whom are on the political left in the United States -- and they will tell you the publicly funded network is a model of balance and journalistic integrity. Ask its critics -- many of whom are on the political right – and they will tell you it is hopelessly biased in support of progressive causes.

An August 1, 2014, story on the network’s All Things Considered show on the influence of America and evangelicalism on Brazilian politics gives credence to conservative claims of bias. It is hard not to see this NPR story as being anything other than mendacious agitprop. Unbalanced, lacking in historical and legal context and factually challenged -- this story is a mess.

The charges of bias at NPR are not new.

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God, Ebola, postmodern journalism and Nigeria

God, Ebola, postmodern journalism and Nigeria

The Ebola epidemic has produced mixed bag of reporting from the Western press. With 961 dead and almost 2000 cases reported in West Africa as of August 8, the deadly hemorrhagic fever has been covered in “on the spot”, “man in the street”, “news analysis” and science/health reports.

Some of the stories have been over the top and some quite good -- but few have looked at the epidemic from the point of view of those living in West Africa. The theme and tone of stories printed by The New York Times, for example, is American, secular and condescending. It presents the story through the filter of Western sensibilities and attitudes.  The religion angle to this story, when mentioned, is cast in post-Modernist or secularist terms: Africans are rubes who need guidance from America.

Criticism of the reporting on the “international health emergency” -- so described by the World health Organization -- has begun to appear. 

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George Conger: For some reason, Pope Francis remains a mystery

George Conger: For some reason, Pope Francis remains a mystery

Who is Jorge Mario Bergoglio?The Argentine cardinal who 500 days ago became Pope Francis? Why, from a journalistic perspective, do we know so little about someone who talks so much?

Extracts of the interview with journalist Pablo Calvo published last week in Viva, the Sunday color supplement of the Buenos Aires daily newspaper El Clarín, to mark the pope’s first 500 days in office does not provide an answer.

The July 27, 2014, article (the eleventh the pope has given to the press since assuming office – ten of these to secular newspapers) has received widespread coverage in the Spanish-language media. But save for the Catholic press, the interview has not been given much play in the Anglosphere.  

That is a shame, for there are nuggets of journalistic gold buried in the El Clarín story.

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Are Catholics about to loosen Communion rules?

Are Catholics about to loosen Communion rules?

The professional skill of a reporter can be tested by his abilities to weigh the importance of his sources. "Who" said something is as important as "what" was said.  The Telegraph's Religious affairs editor John Bingham in an article entitled "Anglicans could receive Roman Catholic communion, Archbishop suggests" shows how this is done in religion reporting.

A senior Catholic leader in England stated Anglicans may one day be permitted to receive Communion in Catholic Churches, but The Telegraph further states the Archbishop of Birmingham has no authority to permit such an innovation. The British daily offers an exciting lede, offering a potential blockbuster of a story, but qualifies the news high up in the story. The author's skill is shown by having a great "come-on", a hook to get the reader past the lede. But his professionalism is scene in his fidelity to the facts.

The article opens with:

The ban on Anglicans receiving Roman Catholic Holy Communion could be relaxed as part of moves to bring the two churches together after centuries of division, one of Britain’s most senior Catholic clerics has suggested.

Followed by:

The Archbishop of Birmingham, the Most Rev Bernard Longley, signalled that restrictions, which can be traced back to the Reformation, might be “reconsidered” as a result of “deeper sharing” between the two churches.

Although he insisted that he was expressing a “personal view”, the Archbishop’s comments will be closely watched as he is the senior Catholic cleric responsible for dialogue with the Anglican churches.

In his lede paragraph the author pushes the story as hard as the facts allow, crafting an eye-catching opening. He then qualifies the first sentence, nudging the story so as to make clear that though Archbishop Longley is one of the senior Catholic bishops in England, his statements do not represent official policy but are his personal views.

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Islam, ISIS and the FGM fatwa

Islam, ISIS and the FGM fatwa

Reporting from the front lines of the Middle East conflicts be a parlous experience if you are on the wrong side of the battle line. However not all of the no-go areas are geographically bounded. The topic of  Islam and female genital mutilation is a country few reporters are willing to enter. Cultural prejudices and politically correct assumptions appear to be driving the reporting on Islam. Few reporters seem willing break free from the herd and ask “why”? Western Asia is a hard place for reporters. Relying upon U.S. or Israeli government agencies for information can be a frustrating experience — bureaucratic petty-mindedness knows no national boundaries. Yet it is possible to test the truths handed out in press statements by observation and old-fashioned reporting.

This is not always possible when reporting from the rebel side or from hostile regimes. Checking can get you killed as reporters covering the fighting in Gaza have noted in recent days. Even Hamas, however, attempts to play the Western media game (according to its lights) and holds press conferences.

Not so with ISIS, the Sunni extremists who have seized Mosul. While their supporters can be found on Twitter and the Web — it has not been possible for reporters to check the claims coming out of Northern Iraq. The atrocities and destruction committed by ISIS can be seen in the photos of decapitated government troops, crucifixions of enemies and videos of burning churches and fleeing refugees taken by smart-phones and posted to the internet.

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La Nación on soccer and Protestantism in Brazil

La Nación on soccer and Protestantism in Brazil

Sitting in my "guilt file" of stories I should be covering -- but have not yet gotten round to doing -- is this fascinating piece from the sports section of La Nación, the Argentine daily. (With its larger rival Clarín, the two dailies make up almost half of the Buenos Aires newspaper market -- as to their editorial stance, neither supports the government of President Cristina Kirchner).

The article “Historias mínimas sobre la selección de Brasil y la religión: de la peregrinación de Scolari al pastor visionario de Neymar” from the July 7 edition reports on the links between Christian faith and the members of Brazil’s world cup team.

The subtitle sets the theme of the story: “Es el país con mayor cantidad de cristianos del mundo y que atraviesa un fuerte crecimiento de los evangelistas; ¿cómo es la relación de los futbolistas con la Fe?”

[Brazil] has the largest number of Christians of any country in the world and that through a strong growth of evangelists. What is the relationship between soccer players and the faith?

The key sentence in this story: “Soccer and religion are twin pillars of Brazilian life.”

Yet in telling this story, La Nación makes an error found in American newspapers -- confusing evangelist with evangelical -- and further states Brazil has the largest Christian population in the world. (It does not.)

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