It's a bird. It's a plane. It's a front-page editorial in The Indianapolis Star. No, really ...

• • •

"Journalism!" said the email I received last night with the above image of today's Indianapolis Star front page.

The sender — an advocate of the religious freedom law passed in Indiana last week — was not making a compliment.

Obviously, the Star's editors have had enough of the national debate over the measure enacted in their state.

Heaven knows my Twitter feed has been filled with debate and links on the subject — on all sides:

Back to the Star's Page 1 editorial: what to make of it?

Reaction to that, too, floods my Twitter feed:

Here at GetReligion, our mission is clear: We critique mainstream media coverage of religion. We praise strong journalism. We point out holes, bias and, yes, holy ghosts in less-than-perfect stories.

We don't, as a general rule, review editorials. And I'm not going to take sides on the content of the Star's editorial.

But the front-page placement certainly raises questions that reflect on the Star's overall journalism: Foremost among them, can a newspaper take such a "bold" stand — as the Twitter user above described it — and still produce fair, impartial news stories?

Of course, the Star's repeated use of scare quotes ("religious freedom") in headlines concerning the new law haven't done much to scream "We're not taking sides on our news pages!":

Interestingly, in this battle pitting religious freedom vs. gay rights, the other side does not receive scare quotes in the Star:

Meanwhile, a reader sent us a link to this recent story from the Star:

The reader commented:

The title of the piece uses the unfortunate scare quotes for the phrase religious freedom, but it is on the whole ... very good. It talks to several supporters of the Indiana religious freedom bill, and gives them space to discuss their concerns. My only caveat (aside from the headline) was that they didn't include any comment from the people who are making the bill's supporters "lower their voice" so to speak. I guess that angle has been covered to death, given most newsrooms' opinion on the subject. But it would have been interesting to see them both combined in one article.

Actually I'd characterize the article itself as "OK," not "very good." This seemed strange to me: A piece supposedly about supporters quotes an opponent first — an official with the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) — and then a United Methodist who expresses reservations about the law. But yeah, the piece eventually gets around to some actual religious folks who favor the law.

When I worked for The Oklahoman, the newspaper's ownership occasionally insisted on front-page editorials endorsing certain political candidates or issues.

The news reporters and editors always hated those editorials. They compromised the perception of our journalism. Regardless of how fair or balanced we were on a particular subject, many readers could not separate one day's Page 1 editorial from the next day's Page 1 news story. And rightly so.

Welcome to the club, Indianapolis Star. I don't envy the challenge now facing your newsroom, assuming the goal is to produce real journalism, not advocacy.

Please respect our Commenting Policy