B16: Heartland watches from afar

the pope from afarI get the sense that the news reporters in the heartland are viewing the pope's visit as less significant than reporters on the East Coast. An obvious reason for this is that the pope's schedule doesn't take him far from New York City or Washington, D.C. For example, The Indianapolis Star buried its only story on the pope a couple of days ago -- from the Associated Press -- on its back page. To my knowledge, nothing has cracked the front page. If you live outside the East Coast, feel free to leave us a note with the coverage the pope's visit has received in your local media outlets.

Some newspapers like The Detroit News are taking what I like to call National Spelling Bee-style coverage. That entails finding the locals who have traveled to the nation's capitol and report on what they are doing. For the News that meant following Catholic educators from Detroit and prominent Muslims leaders from the region.

The article's most substantive and original section is its coverage of the pope's meeting with Muslims leaders. It continues the media's theme of emphasizing the desire that the Catholic Church be more open to other faiths:

Following the meeting, Qazwini said he told the pope they had met two years ago at the Vatican, where the Muslim asked him to lead efforts to establish permanent dialogue between Muslims and Catholics.

"'Today, Your Holiness, I ask you for the same,'" he said of his conversation with the pope. "'Muslims and Catholics form over 50 percent of the world's population. And they are in desperate need to having a dialogue among themselves.' And he agreed with me on that," he said....

At the interfaith meeting, the pope, speaking in a thick German accent, said, "May the followers of all religions stand together in defending and promoting life and religious freedom everywhere. ... (W)e can be instruments of peace for the whole human family."

What in the world does that mean? I'm sure that statement is susceptible to multiple interpretations, but a little bit of context would surely give that statement greater meaning. Was Qazwini pleased with the pope's response to his request for greater communication? Or was this just more of the same for Qazwini?

It appears that The Chicago Tribune, probably the most significant Midwestern newspaper, covered the story through it's Tribune Newspapers news service and seems to be a re-print from The Los Angeles Times.

Are there no Catholics in the Chicago region that care about the pope's rather historic visit to the United States? There are more than a few Chicago-related individuals and organizations mentioned in various media accounts, including the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests mentioned in the Detroit News story.

The lack of local news coverage could be saying something about the demand for news about the pope's visit in Midwestern local newspapers. A better answer is likely that the newspapers are unable to cover the pope's visit due to budget restraints. I think the challenge for the local newspapers is that once they get beyond that story that talks about the people traveling to see and hear the pope, there's not much of a local story line.

But there should be more, particularly due to the meetings the pope has had with groups of abuse victims. The Detroit News story is a good example of reaching beyond the community's Catholic groups and finding a worthwhile store.

Perhaps an angle worth exploring for papers in the heartland is to ask why the Pope's schedule is exclusively on the East Coast and whether or not heartland Catholics seem to mind the fact they are watching the event from afar.

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