Bobby Ross Jr.

Concerning Mormons sticking with Boy Scouts, a little creativity goes a long way

Concerning Mormons sticking with Boy Scouts, a little creativity goes a long way

Inverted pyramid, you're still the one.

A staple of news writing for more than a century, the inverted pyramid "puts the most newsworthy information at the top, and then the remaining information follows in order of importance, with the least important at the bottom."

For example, most news organizations went the straightforward, "who, what, when, where, why and how" route with Wednesday's news concerning the Mormon church sticking with the Boy Scouts of America.

From The Washington Post:

The Mormon church announced Wednesday that it will remain in the Boy Scouts, a month after the church expressed major concern about the Scouts lifting a ban on openly gay adult leaders.

From The New York Times:

The Mormon Church announced Wednesday that it would continue its close association with the Boy Scouts for now, ending speculation that it would sever ties because of the Scouts’s decision last month to let openly gay men and women serve as leaders.

From The Deseret News:

SALT LAKE CITY — The LDS Church will continue to charter the nation's largest Boy Scout organization.

From CNN:

(CNN) The Mormon church will remain affiliated with the Boy Scouts of America despite the organization's decision to allow gay troop leaders, church officials announced Wednesday.

From The Associated Press:

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The Mormon church announced Wednesday it will maintain its longtime affiliation with the Boy Scouts despite the organization's decision to allow gay troop leaders — preventing what would have been a thundering blow to the national association.

None of those ledes will win a Pulitzer. But they get straight to the point. And in a click-happy world, that's usually helpful.

But what might happen if a journalist tried a different approach?

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Ten years after Katrina, looking for God in the anniversary news coverage

Ten years after Katrina, looking for God in the anniversary news coverage

With the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina this week, I wrote a column reflecting on covering the "storm of the century" for The Christian Chronicle:

NEW ORLEANS — I see the faces, and the memories come rushing back.

Since Hurricane Katrina a decade ago, I’ve made repeated trips to report on the faith and resiliency of God’s people — both victims and volunteers. 

I’ve lost track of the exact number of times I’ve traveled to New Orleans. However, the faces — and experiences — remain fresh in my mind.

From my personal experience in New Orleans and along the Gulf Coast, I know the "faith-based FEMA" were a key piece of the recovery — in some cases, the key piece.

In Katrina's wake, thousands of volunteers motivated by faith in God housed, fed and clothed evacuees, cleaned up muck and debris, rebuilt homes and businesses and helped in a million other ways.

Given that, I am curious to see if God will show up at all in the anniversary coverage of Katrina making landfall on Aug. 29, 2005.

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About that disputed removal of Jesus picture from Kansas school — what was the legal reason?

About that disputed removal of Jesus picture from Kansas school — what was the legal reason?

A picture of Jesus hangs at a public middle school for decades.

An advocacy group complains.

The superintendent orders the portrait taken down.

And suddenly, a furor in small Kansas town makes national headlines. That's no surprise, really.

But I have a journalistic question.

First, though, let's check out the lede from Reuters:

Public school officials in the small Kansas town of Chanute are trying to find a new home for a portrait of Jesus Christ after a civil liberties group demanded its removal from the town's middle school.
Local churches and other groups are offering to house the portrait, which had hung in the school since at least the 1950s, and community leaders have been working to defuse anger over its removal.
The district's new superintendent ordered it taken down Thursday from Royster Middle School after the Freedom From Religion Foundation notified him that the display in a public school amounted to an "egregious violation of the First Amendment."
"I conferred with legal counsel and both of them told me to be in compliance with state and federal law that we had to have it removed," said Chanute Public Schools Superintendent Richard Proffitt.
Proffitt said he has been fending off complaints from around the country since the portrait's removal from Royster, which has about 400 students.

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Battling cancer, Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday school — but do news reports reflect actual content of his lesson?

Battling cancer, Jimmy Carter teaches Sunday school — but do news reports reflect actual content of his lesson?

Days after former President Jimmy Carter shared details of his battle with cancer, reporters followed the nation's most famous Sunday school teacher to church Sunday.

As I clicked news story links, here's what I wanted to know: Would news reports reflect the actual biblical content of Carter's lesson?

CNN's Sunday story opens like this:

Plains, Georgia (CNN) They arrived at this sleepy Georgia town in droves, from places as far away as Africa. Some spent the night in line just to ensure a seat.
Ordinary fare, if it were a rock concert or major sporting event -- but not for a Sunday school Bible talk.
But this is no ordinary Sunday school: Its teacher has a Secret Service detail.
For decades, former President Jimmy Carter has been teaching Sunday school here at Maranatha Baptist Church in his hometown of Plains, Georgia.
But this Sunday's lesson -- Carter's 689th, according to his grandson Jason -- commanded attention far beyond the worshippers who packed the pews and overflow rooms in the wake of the revelation that the 90-year-old Carter is battling cancer.

OK, that lede sets the scene.

But what was the lesson about?

There are 31,101 verses in the Bible. Surely Carter referenced at least one or two of them. But CNN mentions not a single passage — either directly or indirectly.

As tmatt noted here at GetReligion the other day, religion is key to who Carter is.

 

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AP produces a nice feature on Episcopal monks' 'silent sanctuary,' but not without a few ghosts

AP produces a nice feature on Episcopal monks' 'silent sanctuary,' but not without a few ghosts

Fascinating subject. Nice writing. But there are a few religion ghosts to discuss.

That's my quick assessment of The Associated Press' feature this week on the "silent sanctuary" provided by a community of monks near Harvard Square. The lede:

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (AP) -- Just blocks away from the bustling heart of this city, a community of monks offers a silent escape from it.
The Society of Saint John the Evangelist, an order of Episcopal brothers, has kept a guesthouse at its monastery for decades to give outsiders a place to unplug and relax in a place of deep, serene quiet.
Behind the stone walls, idle chatter is taboo. Cellphone calls are to be taken outside, or not at all. Signs posted throughout the house ask guests to respect the quiet.
It all acts as a counterweight to the hurry-scurry of Harvard Square around the corner, where crowds of tourists jostle with Ivy League academics amid the clamor of street performers, vendors and the thrum of traffic.
On the edge of that worldly world, the black-cloaked brothers say their goal is to offer spaces of silence and simple comfort.
"It's a place of sanctuary where you can be safe, and you can actually unpack what may be the jumble of your life," said Brother Curtis Almquist, one of the resident monks.

Keep reading, and the AP offers a little more insight -- a little more -- into the motivations of the people who come:

The meditative hush of the monastery is popular with parish groups on retreat, but guests come for reasons both religious and otherwise.
Many skip the chapel's worship services to dive into a novel or a nap. A few visitors have confided to the brothers that they mostly needed a place to stay for a conference.
"We're delighted to welcome them," Almquist said. "I think life is full of very mixed motives all the time."

However, here's my obvious question: For those who come for religious reasons, what would examples of those reasons be?

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5Q+1 interview: Melissa Binder on the thriving Godbeat in America's least-religious city

5Q+1 interview: Melissa Binder on the thriving Godbeat in America's least-religious city

Melissa Binder is rocking the Godbeat in one of the unlikeliest of places -- Portland, Ore.

"Who else is going to tell you what religion in the rest of the United States might look like in 50 years?" The Oregonian writer responds when asked about covering faith and values in America's least-religious city.

Binder's journalism talents earned her prestigious national awards even before her graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013. Besides gaining photography, writing and digital news experience on campus, she interned for major news organizations such as the CNN Wire, the Charlotte Observer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

After graduation, she joined The Oregonian as a neighborhood news reporter covering parts of Portland before transitioning to the newspaper's newly revived religion beat less than a year ago. 

In introducing herself to Portland readers, she cited her own faith:

I'm interested in this beat for reasons beyond intellectual curiosity. Belief is central to individual identity for many of you. As a person of faith, I get that. I grew up in a North Carolina church (quite literally — I attended a Christian elementary and middle school in the same building where my family attended regular services). You can find me with my husband in the front row at Imago Dei Community in Southeast Portland almost every Sunday morning.

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Media org wants to cover Bible Belt 'culture' better, so it lays off religion writer — huh!?

Media org wants to cover Bible Belt 'culture' better, so it lays off religion writer — huh!?

Face it: When corporate bean counters lay off journalists under the guise of improving journalism, the justifications are always going to sound idiotically silly.

Enter the Alabama Media Group.

Poynter.org reports:

Several employees at Alabama Media Group have been laid off, the Advance-owned regional media company announced Tuesday.
In a memo to staffers announcing the cuts, Alabama Media Group executive Michelle Holmes said between five and nine positions will be eliminated in each of the company’s main sites across the state.
“We know many of you will say goodbye to trusted colleagues and friends,” Holmes wrote. “We wish the best for those who leave our organization today and thank them for their dedication and good work.”
In a release, Alabama Media Group said the cuts will be accompanied by an increased focus on core areas of coverage including breaking news, high school and college sports and Alabama culture. 

So the Alabama Media Group wants to put an increased focus on covering "Alabama culture?"

Alabama, where 46 percent of residents attend religious services every week (ranking that Deep South state third out of 50).

Alabama, where 57 percent of residents describe themselves as "very religious" (again, No. 3 among the 50 states).

Obviously, the best way to bolster coverage of "Alabama culture" is to, you know, lay off a talented, seasoned, hard-working religion writer. 

Right?

Wait — huh!!!???:

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Icing on the cake: This time, Associated Press more properly frames same-sex wedding dispute

Icing on the cake: This time, Associated Press more properly frames same-sex wedding dispute

Way back in January, I criticized an Associated Press report on Jack Phillips, a Colorado baker who declined to make a cake for a same-sex wedding.

I argued that the AP improperly framed that story by reporting that Phillips "refused to serve" a lesbian couple.

AP's latest story — on a court decision in Phillips' case last week — does a better job of framing the issue in the lede:

DENVER (AP) — A suburban Denver baker who would not make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple cannot cite his Christian beliefs in refusing them service because it would lead to discrimination, the Colorado Court of Appeals ruled Thursday.
The three-judge panel said in a 66-page ruling that Colorado's anti-discrimination law does not prevent baker Jack Phillips from believing what he wants but that if he wants his business open to the public, he is prohibited "from picking and choosing customers based on their sexual orientation."

Yes, this lede, like the last one, refers to the baker "refusing them service," but it provides more needed context.

Moreover, the story does a nice job of presenting Phillips' point of view — including his contention that it's making a same-sex wedding cake, not serving a gay couple, that concerns him:

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Close shave: Dallas Morning News clips crucial religion content from prison beards story

Close shave: Dallas Morning News clips crucial religion content from prison beards story

With its story this week on beards in Texas prisons, The Dallas Morning News does a nice bit of foreshadowing.

Both the "For God's sake" headline and the "come-to-Jesus" lede provide a strong hint of the level of seriousness with which the Texas newspaper will treat the religion content.

In other words, not seriously at all.

Let's start at the top:

AUSTIN — Last year, Mario Garcia had a come-to-Jesus moment. The 29-year-old father of six, wanted on a domestic violence charge, flipped his truck as he was trying to outrun police. He lost his freedom. Again.
Last week, sitting in a gymnasium at the Travis State Jail, a large silver cross dangling over his white prison uniform, Garcia said he considers his second prison stint a blessing.
“It’s made me slow down and opened my eyes,” he said. “Faith is a major factor in my life right now.”

Perhaps the Morning News intended that "come-to-Jesus" opening to be clever rather than flippant and cliché, but the newspaper never gets around to describing how Garcia came to faith.

Was he a Prodigal Son who returned to the religion of his youth? Or did he find Jesus behind bars? This shallow report seems oblivious to such obvious questions.

The news peg is, of course, tied to that U.S. Supreme Court ruling on prison beards earlier this year:

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