Smells, bells, baseball and mainstream news

In the midst of a very busy week (I mean, I haven't even had a chance to blog on that New York Times sonogram story yet), I received a comment from a reader that I thought deserved a slot on the front page, so everyone has a chance to read it. The letter came from reporter Jeffrey Weiss, who wrote to offer background information and commentary on my recent blog item about his short story focusing on a visit by Cardinal Francis Arinze to a liturgical conference in Dallas. The Dallas Morning News' mini-report focused on the Nigerian cardinal's reluctance to discuss a number of issues, from his status as a candidate for the chair of St. Peter to the Communion status of Sen. John Kerry and those who share his views of Catholic moral theology.

I was not the only one who thought that this article was somewhat strange. Catholic uberblogger Amy Welborn read the report and commented:

. . . "Huh?" It told me nothing -- about why the Cardinal was in Dallas, what he said, and the interview was pure boilerplate. . . . It was either one of the worst written or most severely edited articles I've run across. Edited into nothingness.

Soon after that, Weiss sent GetReligion a note offering his point of view. Here it is.

(1) The DMN is a secular publication that generally focuses on the specifics of denominational activity only when it is of sufficient importance or interest that it would be of interest to folks who aren't a member of the denomination in question. That can be pretty broad but not infinitely so.

(2) We can't be everywhere. At the moment, the normally 3-member DMN religion reporting staff is me. We are hiring, but at the moment, I'm dancing as fast as I can. The liturgical conference is something that I (or another DMN religion reporter) might have considered attending under other circumstances. But maybe not. Inside baseball is inside baseball.

(3) We were told the Cardinal was getting the award the night before. And that I might get a conversation with him. I'd met Cardinal Arinze in Dallas several years earlier and got about 4 words out of him. On the off-chance that I'd get more, I attended the award. He was extremely reluctant to talk to me. Just about every word he was willing to share -- and certainly every question he was willing to answer -- made it into the story. I would have been thrilled to have asked him some of your questions, Terry. But I was grateful to get the crumbs I got.

Frankly, given how articulate he is, I don't understand Arinze's reluctance to talk to reporters. As if Nolan Ryan didn't want to throw the fastball . . . I didn't get the chance to ask him about that, either. And now you know . . . the REST of the story . . . 1:-{)>

Point (2) is certainly valid. Everyone who has worked in daily journalism knows that that kind of crunch feels like.

Nevertheless, I do want to restate my main point. Weiss says that "inside baseball is inside baseball." True, but there are many baseball fans in the greater Dallas area and it does help to cover their larger teams, whether Southern Baptist or Roman Catholic. As I said before, I have found that issues related to worship -- from inclusive language to radical changes in musical styles -- are extremely important to many readers of mainstream religion news.

I do not know if controversial issues such as this came up during the Dallas conference that featured Cardinal Arinze. That's the point. If there was controversy, you sure would not read about it in the local Catholic newspaper. That's why religion reporting by quality mainstream reporters -- such as Weiss -- is so important. News is news, even when shrouded in incense.

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