'World' of difference when it comes to investigative reporting

'World' of difference when it comes to investigative reporting

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: If you were working on the religion beat these days, especially if you were still new on the beat, wouldn't you welcome advice from someone who had excelled at this work at the highest levels for decades? 

I recently had a long talk in New York City with Richard Ostling -- by all means review his bio here -- to ask if, along with his Religion Guy Q&A pieces, he would to experiment with memos in which he offered his observations on what was happening, or what might happen, with stories and trends on the beat. He said he might broaden that, from time to time, with observations on writing about religion -- period. 

To which I said, "Amen." -- tmatt

*****

In all too many weeks, the Saturday “Beliefs” column provides the only coverage of religion in The New York Times. The influential daily’s Nov. 8 item dealt with World, an unusual Christian magazine because it covers mostly general news rather than just parochial topics.  This biweekly for those wanting “Christian worldview reporting that reinforces their core beliefs” has a conservative slant on politics as well as faith.  A recent GetReligion post by our own tmatt, for example, noted his differences with the journalistic philosophy of World Editor in Chief Marvin Olasky. 

Sadly, investigative reporting has suffered greatly with media downsizing and the Times rightly commends that aspect of World’s work. Religious periodicals generally don’t rake muck, especially about folks sharing their ideology.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

What role did clergy play during #Ferguson chaos? If journalists looked, they were there

What role did clergy play during #Ferguson chaos? If journalists looked, they were there

Anyone who has studied the role of religion in American history knows why the voice of clergy have always played such a crucial role in the story of African-Americans in this land.

During the darkest days in the generations after death of slavery, fierce racism continued to prevent all but a few brave blacks from pursuing degrees in law, medicine and other elite fields. The vast majority of those who earned elite degrees served others in black communities and that was pretty much that.

But in the historic African-American churches, men went to seminaries (and among Pentecostals, in particular, women as well) and returned to become the public voices of the people in the pews and on the streets. They were the faces that were turned outward, into society as a whole.

This brings us to #Ferguson, of course, and the coverage of the events after the grand jury report was made public.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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":

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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: 

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

So when is it OK for a bishop to call President Barack Obama a 'sodomite'?

So when is it OK for a bishop to call President Barack Obama a 'sodomite'?

This was certainly the strangest URL anyone sent me this week.

When I saw that an Episcopal bishop had called the president a sodomite I assumed that the problem in this story was that we were dealing with an "Episcopal" bishop -- a leader in some kind of fringe, buy-yourself-a-mitre church -- rather than a real, live leader in the liberal Episcopal Church establishment. As it turned out, the WLRN website was actually writing about a mainstream, and thus culturally liberal, Episcopalian.

So what the heck?

Eventually, this story or essay gets to the point, underneath the headline: "What Bishop Frade May Have Meant When He Called President Obama A Sodomite." But first, the story had to explain that this bishop was actually a good guy.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

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.

Please respect our Commenting Policy

Do 'evangelicals' in the Church of England support or oppose female bishops? Yes

Do 'evangelicals' in the Church of England support or oppose female bishops? Yes

For the past 20-plus years, the overwhelming majority of my students have come from schools that could, to one degree or another, accurately be described as part of "evangelical" Protestant life here in America.

Yes, there are quotes around the word "evangelical," not because the word is scary, but because many people, including journalists, are not sure what it means.

Early on, most of my students -- when asked what kind of church they attend -- would have described themselves as part of flocks that were "independent," "nondenominational" and "evangelical." A few would have added the word "charismatic." The common denominator, however, was the word "evangelical."

Then, about six or seven years ago, that totally changed. Oh, most of my students still come from schools that can be called "evangelical." Most grew up in "evangelical" churches and most still attend churches that can be called "evangelical" to one degree or another. However, many if not most students are now backing away from that word -- "evangelical."

The reason why is pretty obvious: "Evangelical" has become a political term in public discourse.

Please respect our Commenting Policy