Race

For journalists, three crucial things to consider linked to #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches

For journalists, three crucial things to consider linked to #WhoIsBurningBlackChurches

#WhoIsBurningBlackChurches is trending on Twitter.

The bright orange flames and charred remains in images shared by major news organizations tell part of the story.

As social media fans the flames, however, journalists intent on reporting the full story must focus on the basics.

Here are three important considerations:

1. Facts are crucial.

Even as speculation — on Twitter and elsewhere — fixates on the possibility of arson or hate crimes, news organizations must be careful to report what they know. No more. No less:

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Why do Mississippians oppose same-sex marriage? Los Angeles Times editors know, for sure

Why do Mississippians oppose same-sex marriage? Los Angeles Times editors know, for sure

On one level, the new Lost Angeles Times news story about the status of same-sex marriage in Mississippi is quite interesting, in light of the current Kellerism state of affairs in American journalism in the wake of the 5-4 U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing same-sex marriage.

The story does offer quite a bit of space for leaders of the American Family Association, which is based in the state, to voice their viewpoints on the case. Then again, the Times team seems to assume that the AFA is the perfect, if not the only, example of an organization in that state to oppose the decision.

What are preachers in black churches in the state saying? What about the local Catholic hierarchy? How about the Assemblies of God? Does any other religious group -- black, white, Latino, etc. -- back the decision by Mississippi's attorney general, Jim Hood, to reject the high court's ruling?

However, it appears that the AFA was the perfect conservative voice to balance the following remarkable passage -- which was offered as unchallenged, unattributed, factual content in a hard-news report, as opposed to being in an editorial column or an analysis essay.

So, what is this?

To understand Mississippi's resistance to gay marriage, it helps to look at its legacy as a deeply religious and conservative state. This is where three civil rights workers were killed by the Ku Klux Klan in the 1960s; where James Meredith became the first black student to enroll in Ole Miss, but only after a violent confrontation; and where the Confederate symbol is still part of the official state flag.
It is where 59% of residents described themselves as “very religious” in a 2014 Gallup Poll, higher than any other state, and where 86% of voters in 2004 approved a ban on same-sex marriage.

That was really subtle.

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New York Times probes the Rev. Pinckney's 'higher calling,' with no sign of Jesus

New York Times probes the Rev. Pinckney's 'higher calling,' with no sign of Jesus

What was the Rev. Clementa Pinckney's ultimate goal in life? What drove him to do what he did?

One thing is clear, early on, in the recent New York Times news feature on the slain pastor of the Emanuel African American Episcopal Church in the heart of Charleston, S.C. From the beginning, Pinckney was ambitious -- but saw his future through the lens of the church.

This figures into the simple, but touching, anecdote that opens the story. However, the story quickly takes this image and hides it behind a bigger vision -- Pinckney's work in politics showed that he was headed to "higher things."

Really now? Did the man himself see his calling in that way? Did he automatically assume that politics was a higher calling than the ordained ministry? Hold that thought. Here is how the story opens:

RIDGELAND, S.C. -- The morning worship had ended at St. John A.M.E. Church, and as Clementa Pinckney walked through the simple country sanctuary with its 10 rows of pews, he was startled to hear a disembodied voice. It was soft, almost whispery, and yet clearly audible. “Preach,” it said. “I have called you to preach the Gospel.”
He was only 13. But, in a story he often repeated, he discerned it to be the voice of God, and within months he stood before an audience of hundreds of African Methodist Episcopal pastors to present himself as a candidate for ministerial training. The bishop, the most powerful official in the state, asked what he hoped to become. The boy did not hesitate. “A humble bishop of the A.M.E. church,” he answered, with no hint of a smile.

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Hey, let's put faces on #CharlestonShooting victims, not wrap them in Confederate flag controversy

Hey, let's put faces on #CharlestonShooting victims, not wrap them in Confederate flag controversy

Earlier this week, I touted the strong coverage of the Charleston, S.C., church massacre by The Post and Courier, that community's Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper.

If you want one more reason to skip the national headlines and rely on the local coverage, compare how The Associated Press and The Post and Courier handled Thursday's first funerals for victims of the massacre.

This was the lede on the AP's national story:

CHARLESTON, S.C. (AP) — Police officers stood guard and checked bags as hundreds of people filed into a church Thursday for the first funeral for victims of the massacre at a historic black church.
The increased security comes amid a heated debate over the Confederate flag and other symbols of the Confederacy around the South and elsewhere. A monument to former Confederate President Jefferson Davis had the phrase "Black Lives Matter" spray-painted on it Thursday in Richmond, Virginia, the latest of several monuments to be defaced around the country.
The first funeral was for 70-year-old Ethel Lance, a Charleston native who had been a member of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church for most of her life. Police say a gunman walked into the church during a Bible study June 17 and opened fire in a racially motived (sic) attack.

Yep, the national story is security. It's the Confederate flag controversy (which we discussed here at GetReligion yesterday). It really isn't the funeral or the victim, although if you keep reading, AP provides a few scarce details about each.

Meanwhile, this is the front page of today's Post and Courier:

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#DUH — You think there might be a religion angle on that debate over the Confederate flag?

#DUH — You think there might be a religion angle on that debate over the Confederate flag?

I grew up in the South.

My dad's work with the Air Force and as a preacher kept us on the move, and my elementary school years were split among Arkansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee.

As a boy, I don't know that I thought much about race. My best friend in the fourth grade was black. My parents were surprised (and proud) the first time I brought Tyra home from school because I'd talked incessantly about him but never mentioned his color.

Some of my earliest memories of my Papa and Grandma Ross — who lived in southeastern Missouri's Bootheel — involve a light blue church bus that drove all over the countryside, picking up children and taking them to worship. Only years later did I learn that not everyone had appreciated Papa and Grandma’s bus ministry. You start filling a white church’s pews with black children, especially in the 1970s, and people talk.

I trace my exposure to the Confederate flag to watching "The Dukes of Hazzard" on Friday nights and seeing General Lee — Bo and Luke Duke's red 1969 Dodge Charger with the flag emblem atop it — fly through the air.

But honestly, I've never really taken the time to confront or understand the emotions associated with the Confederate flag — on all sides. 

That is, until the issue burst into the news in the wake of last week's shooting massacre at the Emanuel  African American Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C.:

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In interviews, NBC's new permanent anchor Lester Holt talks news, race and Brian Williams — but what about his faith?

In interviews, NBC's new permanent anchor Lester Holt talks news, race and Brian Williams — but what about his faith?

What makes Lester Holt tick?

The new permanent anchor of NBC's "Nightly News" has been making the interview rounds, discussing his high-profile gig with media ranging from The Daily Beast to USA Today.

In the interviews, Holt has talked about the news business:

When Lester Holt was a young broadcast journalist, he dreamed of one day sitting in the chair of the renowned news anchor Walter Cronkite.
That grand ambition faded over the next three decades, even as Mr. Holt’s career took off. He worked a string of local jobs across the country — in Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York and Chicago — before landing at MSNBC, and then, in 2003, at NBC.
By that time, Mr. Holt said in an interview on Monday, the anchor’s chair was “something that I hadn’t thought about for many, many years. It was part of a young guy’s dream.”
On Monday evening Mr. Holt, 56, ascended to the position he had all but given up on, delivering the NBC “Nightly News” broadcast for the first time as its permanent anchor.
Mr. Holt had been serving as “Nightly News” anchor on a temporary basis since February, when Brian Williams was suspended for fabricating a story about his experience during a helicopter attack in Iraq.

He's talked about his race:

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Terrific advice on #CharlestonShooting coverage: 'Switch off cable and go local'

Terrific advice on #CharlestonShooting coverage: 'Switch off cable and go local'

The defining moment of my journalism career came 20 years ago when I stepped off The Oklahoman's eighth-floor newsroom elevator, heard a loud boom and saw smoke in the distance.

Suddenly, my Oklahoman colleagues and I found ourselves covering the biggest story of our lives, even as we joined our community in shedding tears over an unfathomable tragedy.

In all, 168 people lost their lives in the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City.

I am reminded of the personal and professional turmoil of that time as I follow the exceptional local coverage of the Charleston, S.C., church shooting by The Post and Courier, that community's Pulitzer Prize-winning newspaper.

Mother Jones suggests that Charleston's hometown newspaper is "putting awful cable news to shame." 

I can't vouch for that because I don't, as a rule, turn on Fox News, MSNBC or CNN. I know you're jealous of me. (I do enjoy the excellent reporting and writing of CNN Religion Editor Daniel Burke, as I've mentioned before.)

But this part of what Mother Jones says rings true to my experience:

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Sunday at 'Mother Emanuel': What happened to the 'J-word' in many news reports?

Sunday at 'Mother Emanuel': What happened to the 'J-word' in many news reports?

Talk to African-American pastors for any time at all -- as a journalist -- and you will almost certainly hear a common theme emerge.

Many of these preachers and civic leaders are tired of having their work and ministry reduced to political language. In particular, they are fascinated that reporters seem so afraid of specific words that are repeated over and over in worship in their churches, words such as "Jesus," "Lord," "Redeemer" and "Savior."

So if you want to understand where these preachers are coming from, watch the sermon at the top of this post -- start about 9 minutes in -- and then dig into some of the national news coverage. In particular, look for the phrase "in the name of Jesus." Cue up the key passages at 15 minutes and, again, near the end at the 25-minute mark.

So I was worried when I opened up the New York Times report this morning on the first service at Emanuel African American Episcopal Church and read this passage:

In the front pews of Emanuel, Nikki R. Haley, the Indian-American Republican governor of this state, sat among Democrats -- Representative Maxine Waters of California, who is black, and Mayor Joseph P. Riley Jr. of Charleston, who is white -- and Senator Tim Scott of South Carolina, who is black and a fellow Republican. In the back of the church, an unlikely pairing sat next to each other -- Rick Santorum, the conservative Catholic and Republican presidential hopeful, and DeRay McKesson, a liberal activist who is black and gay.
The service beneath Emanuel’s vaulted barrel roof opened with an emotional hymn as nearly the entire congregation stood and sang, “You are the source of my strength, you are the strength of my life,” rounded out with a big “Amen” that was followed by a standing ovation.

You see, the name of that Gospel song in the second paragraph -- after the inevitable (and necessary) litany of political names -- is "Total Praise" and the key lyrics, as commonly used in worship, go like this:

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After Charleston shooting, some mainstream media grasp spirituality of forgiveness

After Charleston shooting, some mainstream media grasp spirituality of forgiveness

Dylann Roof, the accused murderer of nine people at a black church in Charleston, S.C., reportedly wanted to start a race war. Instead, the members wept, grieved, worshiped and forgave.

And this time, some of the mainstream media actually got it: They appeared to grasp the spiritual grace that enabled people to forgive the killer.

The Los Angeles Times pooled four reporters for a moving, evocative account at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, site of the Wednesday shooting. They reported church bells ringing at 10 a.m. across Charleston and note that the town is nicknamed the "Holy City." They report as do other media, that the church is known as Mother Emanuel for its long heritage.

The reporters note the many people weeping and embracing, black and white alike. And they quote an amazing 11 people, including a woman who rose before 5 a.m. to be first in line for the service.

The 1,600 words are also salted with religious references.  The story notes hymns like Total Praise and Amazing Grace.  It quotes the Rev. Norvel Goff, a presiding AME elder for South Carolina, opening the service with "This is the day that the Lord has made! Let us rejoice, rejoice and be glad in it!" -- and the story locates the passage in the Psalms.

And the article quotes a fervent prayer at length:

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