Journalism

Once again, #Ferguson defies easy analysis but demands solid journalism and contex

Once again, #Ferguson defies easy analysis but demands solid journalism and contex

Three months ago, the question was: "What the hell is happening in Ferguson, Mo.?"

Here we go again. 

I'm supposed to write a post this morning critiquing media coverage. But honestly, the situation at this point defies easy analysis and understanding.

Daniel Burke, editor of CNN's "Belief Blog," made an excellent point on Twitter: "Journalism, and context, are so crucial." Can our Godbeat friend get an "Amen!?"

I do know that some excellent religion writers are on the scene, including Lilly A. Fowler of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, who has been tracking the faith angle in Ferguson for months and — after a late night — was back bright and early this morning.

CNN's Eric Marrapodi is in Ferguson, too. 

While his duties extend beyond religion, he's certainly attuned to that crucial angle.

If you see solid religion reporting in Ferguson or come across any holy ghosts, please don't hesitate to let us know — either in the comments section or via @getreligion.

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Muslim terrorists in Kenya attack people who, uh, aren't Muslims

Muslim terrorists in Kenya attack people who, uh, aren't Muslims

Our GetReligion guru, tmatt, likes to complain how news media talk about "generic Christians" in the Middle East. Well, much of the coverage of Saturday's mass murder in Kenya goes one further -- making the victims into generic "non-Muslims."

Here's the lead of the widely used version by the Associated Press:

Somalia’s Islamic extremist rebels, Al-Shabab, attacked a bus in northern Kenya at dawn Saturday, singling out and killing 28 passengers who could not recite an Islamic creed and were assumed to be non-Muslims, Kenyan police said.
Those who could not say the Shahada, a tenet of the Muslim faith, were shot at close range, a survivor told The Associated Press.

AP later says the killers "separated those who appeared to be non-Muslims  — mostly non-Somalis — from the rest." Their source for much of this? A "non-Muslim head teacher of a private primary school in Mandera [who] survived the attack." (Emphasis mine.)

The Los Angeles Times account follows suit in 800 distressingly vague words.  It says the killers "separated Muslims from non-Muslims," then shot the latter. Even when giving background -- saying the attack "follows the pattern of previous terror attacks in Kenya in which Muslims have been spared" -- it's fuzzy on Muslims as opposed to whom.

If the victims' religion made a difference, what was it? Buddhism? Hinduism? The answer should be obvious  to anyone who checks a database like the World Factbook by the CIA: 82.5 percent of Kenyans are Christian. While the nation also includes people of "traditionalist" faiths, and 2.4 percent are "nones," it's safe to say the main targets last weekend were Christians.

Especially when the Times quotes an Al-Shabab spokesman using the term "crusaders":

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Memory eternal: Arne Fjeldstad and his efforts to help (global) media get religion

Memory eternal: Arne Fjeldstad and his efforts to help (global) media get religion

There is really no way to tell the story of GetReligion.org without talking about the veteran journalist and pastor who for years led The Media Project -- the Rev. Dr. Arne Fjeldstad of Norway. It is very unusual to find a Lutheran clergyman who also had a 30-year career as an editor in the mainstream press, including senior positions in the leading Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten. For his doctoral dissertation, quite early in the Internet age, he wrote about the potential growth of online churches.

Although his byline rarely appeared here at GetReligion, that was because he felt his management skills were best used behind the scenes. Trust me when I say that his gifts were many and they have been essential. Click here to read his global perspective on the 10th anniversary of this weblog.

Arne died very suddenly Sunday afternoon at his home in Norway, hours before he was scheduled to depart for a journalism conference in South Korea. Over the past decade, his travels took him around the world on almost a monthly basis, meeting with at least 600-plus journalists face to face at one time or another. In the photo above, he is seen -- earlier this month -- with journalists from nine different African countries gathered in Lusaka, Zambia.

My former Washington Journalism Center colleague Richard Potts, who worked with Arne on many conferences in Latin America, wrote this morning: 

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In advance of Ferguson grand jury decision, something's missing when Los Angeles Times goes to church

In advance of Ferguson grand jury decision, something's missing when Los Angeles Times goes to church

With a grand jury decision expected soon in Ferguson, Mo., the Los Angeles Times went to church Sunday:

First, the pastor asked congregants to pray for the parents of Michael Brown, who was fatally shot over the summer about three miles away. They murmured yes.

Then she asked the several dozen mostly black parishioners at Christ the King United Church of Christ on Sunday to pray for the families of the other black men in the region who had been shot by police officers. Some of them murmured yes.

Next, the Rev. Traci Blackmon asked her congregation a question not often heard on the turbulent streets of neighboring Ferguson, which remains tense with fear, anger and uncertainty as the conclusion of a grand jury investigation into Brown's Aug. 9 death looms ever closer -- perhaps as soon as Monday.

“Will you pray for Officer Darren Wilson?” Blackmon asked.

Hearing the name of Brown's shooter, the congregants remained silent.

The Times story focused on Christ the King United Church of Christ, describing it as "an oasis of warmth and calm, albeit one not far removed from the pressures that have gripped the region."

On the surface, it's a perfectly fine story. But after reading it the first time, something gnawed at me, even if I couldn't quite place my concern. So I read it again. And again.

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Scripture, social media and online comments: Post on President Obama quoting the Bible offers a case study

Scripture, social media and online comments: Post on President Obama quoting the Bible offers a case study

It's probably appropriate that I came across the following story via Twitter.

CNN reported:

(CNN) -- Online comments are on the way out.
Influential tech blog Re/code announced Thursday that it has shut off the comment forums on its story pages. Instead, the website is steering commenters to social media.
"We thought about this decision long and hard, since we do value reader opinion," co-executive editor Kara Swisher wrote. "But we concluded that, as social media has continued its robust growth, the bulk of discussion of our stories is increasingly taking place there, making onsite comments less and less used and less and less useful."
The announcement was just the latest in a recent wave of prominent websites removing or significantly scaling back their comment sections. Reuters, Popular Science and the Chicago Sun-Times have recently nixed comments.
Fairly or not, comment forums have gained a reputation as a haven for Internet trolls. Several of the sites that have banned comments noted the lack of civility in their decisions.

Back in July, Christianity Today announced that it was dropping comments on some articles.

At GetReligion, we still attempt — as best we can — to moderate comments. However, in my nearly five years of writing for this journalism-focused website, I have noticed a decline in both the number and quality of comments. Often, the best feedback and conversations about GetReligion come via social media.

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When they want your head: Veteran journalist tells risks of Middle East reporting

When they want your head: Veteran journalist tells risks of Middle East reporting

At some point, reporters in the Middle East stopped covering murders and started getting murdered.

Jeffrey Goldberg remembers the turning point in Before the Beheadings, aptly named article in The Atlantic. Goldberg once enjoyed his dangerous beat, covering terrorism and religious wars in Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Middle East.  

At least he did, until the danger spread to reporters like himself -- a danger that preceded the killings of James Foley and Steven Sotloff this year:

The attacks of 9/11 weren’t the decisive break in the relationship between jihadists and journalists. It was the decision made by a set of extremists in Pakistan to kidnap the Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl in January 2002 that represented a shift in jihadist thought. To his kidnappers, Pearl was not a messenger to the outside world, but a scapegoat to be sacrificed for the sins of his fellow infidels. Murder was becoming their message.

Goldberg describes the paradoxical sense of danger and safety in reporting on various jihad groups. He writes about interviewing terrorist leaders on willingness to use nuclear bombs if available, and on how one even thought the Jews were "from Satan." But the jihadis gave safe passage to reporters, even Jewish ones like Goldberg, in order to tell their stories via news media.

Goldberg describes one such meeting, with Pakistani terrorist Fazlur Rehman Khalil:

I had glimpsed a treacherous and secret subculture, and I was happy, because a reporter’s deepest need is to see what is on the other side of a closed door. In exchange, I would tell people in the West about Khalil and his beliefs. I was appalled by his message, and I wanted readers to understand the horror of it. But Khalil believed he was doing good works, and he wanted the world to celebrate his philosophy. Back then, the transaction worked for both parties. Today, when I think about the meeting, I shudder.

He relates a fellow journalist's attitude: “I used to tell people that as a reporter for an American news organization, it was like we were wearing armor. “People just didn’t go after American reporters.”

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Sports Illustrated shuns the 'Christian' label in story of suicide, reality TV and hoops

Sports Illustrated shuns the 'Christian' label in story of suicide, reality TV and hoops

I don't know about you, but there are times when I can start reading a news feature and, even though there are no hints in the headlines, photographs or pull quotes, I can just tell that a religion shoe is going to drop sooner or later. 

That's how I felt when I started reading the epic Sports Illustrated story called "Love, Loss and Survival" about the struggles of New Orleans Pelicans forward Ryan Anderson after his long-time girlfriend, reality-television star Gia Allemand, committed suicide. Read the opening lines of this story and see if you can spot the first clue:

The argument began, as so many do, over something small and seemingly insignificant. Ryan Anderson can’t even remember what it was. A text message? An offhand comment?
Then the quarrel grew, gaining strength. It carried over from lunch at a restaurant to the drive home, Gia Allemand’s voice growing louder. By the time Ryan dropped her at her apartment, in the Warehouse District of New Orleans, around six on the evening of Aug. 12, 2013, they’d said things they could never take back, and Gia’s anger had morphed into something else, dark yet strangely calm. Upon returning to his apartment, two long blocks away on Tchoupitoulas Street, Ryan flipped on a single light and slumped on the couch. All around were reminders of his relationship with Gia.

Spot it? 

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Don't oppress a stranger: President Obama quotes Scripture in his immigration speech, but which one?

Don't oppress a stranger: President Obama quotes Scripture in his immigration speech, but which one?

There it is — right there on the front page of today's New York Times — a Scripture:

WASHINGTON — President Obama chose confrontation over conciliation on Thursday as he asserted the powers of the Oval Office to reshape the nation’s immigration system and all but dared members of next year’s Republican-controlled Congress to reverse his actions on behalf of millions of immigrants.
In a 15-minute address from the East Room of the White House that sought to appeal to a nation’s compassion, Mr. Obama told Americans that deporting millions is “not who we are” and cited Scripture, saying, “We shall not oppress a stranger for we know the heart of a stranger — we were strangers once, too.”

The White House Blog highlighted that quote, as did many on social media.

But James A. Smith, chief spokesman for Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., asked an obvious question:

"Scripture." Which one, Mr. President?

Then again, maybe it wasn't such an obvious question to everyone.

The Times didn't bother to specify which of the 31,173 verses in the Bible that Obama referenced.

Neither did Reuters, NPR or the Las Vegas Review-Journal, which focused on Astrid Silva, a local immigration activist singled out by Obama.

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Crucial, symbolic details in the Jerusalem attack: Why the 'Twersky' name was so important

Crucial, symbolic details in the Jerusalem attack: Why the 'Twersky' name was so important

Anyone who wants to follow the daily flow of news and commentary -- light and serious -- about Jewish life knows that they need to be signed up for the daily newsletters from The Forward. I mean where else are you going to turn for key questions linked to the music of Pink Floyd?

Seriously, readers looking for the fine details on the lives of those lost in this week's bloody slaughter in the West Jerusalem synagogue (click here for the earlier Jim Davis post on the coverage) knew what they would find in the wave of coverage at The Forward. Whose blood was shed with those guns and knives and that ax? What made this attack so unique and disturbing? This is what specialty publications do -- offer depth.

In this case, that meant grasping the symbolic details at the heart of trends in modern Orthodox Judaism

It was all about the names "Twersky" and "Soloveitchik." This was, as is so often the case in Jewish news, about the past, the present and the future.

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