Dudes with red hats deadlocked on pope winner

The religion news world remains on pope watch, awaiting the selection of Benedict XVI's successor.

Or, as a Twitter post by Religion News Service put it Tuesday afternoon:

Winner winner chicken dinner?

Even though I am no expert on the Roman Catholic Church or the papal selection process, the use of the term "winner" made me chuckle.

It's as if the cardinals were picking lottery numbers rather than choosing a spiritual leader for a worldwide church. Alas, click the link to the RNS story now, and that wording no longer appears. Apparently, someone thought better of the original terminology.

Meanwhile, a GetReligion reader shared this headline from the BBC:

Cardinals deadlocked over next Pope

That reader noted:

Leave it to the Brits to give this dire headline. Everyone else is just reporting “black smoke.” How do they know it’s “deadlocked?" Do they have something that’s getting past the jamming devices?

At some point, the BBC changed "deadlocked" to "undecided." Long live the Brits!

As a non-Catholic, my first recollection of the papal selection process dates back to 1978. That's when smoke started billowing from the Vatican on all three major networks. Suddenly, the cartoons I enjoyed watching as a kid were replaced with somber-looking dudes with red hats (although I'm not entirely certain that my family owned a color television at that point).

Then Pope John Paul I died after just 33 days in office, and the process started all over again! What a traumatic experience for a 1o-year-old boy. Remember, we didn't have 150 channels back then.

Surely I jest. A little.

Two decades later, I got my first major experience covering the Roman Catholic Church, as I shared in my introductory post for GetReligion three years ago:

My baptism into the exciting and complicated world of religion writing — baptism by fire, you might say — came in 1999 when top editors at The Oklahoman assigned me to cover Pope John Paul II’s visit to St. Louis.

After nearly 10 years in the newspaper business, I knew how to chase fire trucks and police cars and burn the midnight oil with city councils and school boards. But my knowledge of the Roman Catholic Church was scant. Honestly, I had no idea what a diocese was. I didn’t know the difference between a bishop and a cardinal. I had heard of the pope.

Despite a mild case of fear and trembling, I researched the basics of Catholic faith and prepared to handle the assignment. I wrote three or four Page 1 stories the week of the pope’s visit. My favorite focused on a youth event where Catholic teens jammed to the ear-piercing beat of DC Talk’s “Jesus Freak” before welcoming to the stage a gray-haired pontiff who walked with a cane.

Alas, non-insiders reporting on the papal selection process have my sympathy. On any story, taking the time to verify even seemingly simple facts and word choices makes sense.

On this particular story — with all its history and intricacies — it makes even more sense, right?

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