Baltimore Sun editors: All news is local and when covering Middle East think 'Orthodox'


There is this old-school saying in journalism that I have, on occasion, been known to quote to the editors of The Baltimore Sun, the newspaper that currently lands in my front yard: "All news is local."

In other words, when major news is happening somewhere in the world, it is perfectly normal for journalists to seek out ways in which this news is affecting people in the community and region covered by their newsroom. If a tsunami hits Southeast Asia, journalists in Baltimore need to find out if anyone from their city was killed or if anyone local is gearing up to take part in relief efforts for the survivors.

All news is local. Thus, I was not surprised when the Sun team produced a story focusing on local relief agencies that are active in the regions being affected by the brutal rise of the Islamic State.

Alas, I was also not surprised when the Sun newsroom -- as it has done in the past -- missed a major local angle in the story, and a very intense, emotional angle at that. Hold that thought.

The story starts off with the giant relief agency that simply must be covered:

The small concrete buildings that huddle in half-built villages across Kurdistan aren't much. Single-story, with no doors or windows to cover the holes in the walls. But for religious minorities fleeing Islamic State fighters, the buildings were better than a refugee camp, so they crammed in, an entire family to a room.
And with the help of workers from Baltimore-based Catholic Relief Services, some 50,000 people now have relatively safe shelter, according to Hani El-Mahdi, the organization's representative in Iraq.
"They were lucky to have arrangements of this type," El-Mahdi said in an interview from the war-ravaged nation. "Those arrangements are more dignified than camps."

This leads to the basic summary of what the story is about.

Conflict in Iraq and Syria has driven millions from their homes, and Baltimore's international aid community is doing what it can to help. Lutheran World Relief, which is based in Federal Hill, has sent supplies to Syria. The International Rescue Committee, with an office in Highlandtown, has settled refugees in Maryland.

Now, let me stress that it is a good thing to mention the Lutheran agency. That's valid and that connection should be mentioned. After all, as the story notes:

Lutheran World Relief has sent more than $6 million worth of quilts and personal items to almost 270,000 Syrians since 2012.

So what local angle is missing? The story says that it is about the efforts of "Baltimore's international aid community," so that's what one would expect to be covered. Right?

Well, what if I told you that there was another agency located in Baltimore -- 110 West Road, in Baltimore, to be precise -- that is directly linked to many, if not most, of the churches that are actually being crushed by ISIS? What if this agency represented local and global churches made up of Middle Eastern Christians, many of whom live and worship in Syria and other locations in the war zone?

What if some of them are, in terms of church hierarchy, directly linked to a patriarch whose ministry has for centuries been located on the Street called Straight, in Damascus? What if this patriarch's own brother had been kidnapped and is still missing? Several Baltimore churches pray for this missing archbishop every Sunday.

Yes, Baltimore is the location of the headquarters of the International Orthodox Christian Charities network which, needless to say, is doing everything it can to help believers in the Antiochian Orthodox Archdiocese, based in Damascus, and other refugees in and near ISIS territory. With a few clicks of a mouse, Sun editors could have found this info (and lots of telephone numbers):

International Orthodox Christian Charities (IOCC) supports one of the largest established networks to deliver life-saving humanitarian aid inside Syria where more than 10.8 million people are currently in need of assistance, 6.5 million of which are internally displaced. In addition to its work inside Syria, IOCC staff is working regionally to address the growing needs of more than 3.2 million refugees in Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq and Armenia as well as people in need in those host countries.
Responding to one of the worst humanitarian and refugee crises in history, IOCC is one of the few international nongovernmental organizations working on the ground in 27 offices across Syria to provide aid to people who have been displaced inside the country by the civil war. In providing this aid, IOCC works in close partnership with the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Antioch and All the East.

That's 27 offices IN SYRIA linked to the headquarters IN BALTIMORE.

Now, the IOCC is not as large as Catholic Relief Services. I know that. However, the story said its goal was to cover the local relief agencies involved in this story in the region surrounding Syria. The Sun -- once again -- missed one a key agency, one the newsroom has missed in the past.

Really? Click here for a 2006 post -- "Yo, Baltimore Sun, look in your own town" -- in which I made many of these same points when Sun journalists covered a story about an Eastern-Rite Catholic parish in the Washington, D.C., area that was working to build ties to believers in Lebanon.

I was curious, to say the least, why they didn't include Baltimore parishes with Orthodox roots in the same country (yes, such as my own parish) and region. Yes, I also noted the Middle East work of the IOCC.

All news is local. Someone in that newsroom needs to do more homework about religion in Baltimore. Just saying. Again.

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