Willamette Week muffs simple story on Anglicans vs. actors

Willamette Week is a feisty independent paper in Portland, Ore., that has long broken good stories and won awards. But their latest entry into religion coverage makes me wonder if they need to employ a few fact checkers.

Last time I reported on a piece the Week had done on religion, I noticed the piece seemed rushed and lacking in much detail.

This latest piece is far worse. Why is it that this newspaper seems to give anything about faith the back of its hand? There's no lack of decent journalists in town, especially since the Oregonian just laid off a bunch, including my brother. Surely there are plenty of scribes on hand who can lend expertise in certain needed areas.

So here's how it starts:

St. Mark's Cathedral won't host a play featuring genetic engineering and abortion after an apparent misunderstanding between the Anglican church and Masque Alfresco theater.
St. Mark's was slated as the venue for the company's world premiere of I Know Things, a play about a futuristic human race that's been altered by "genetic fiddling," for the Fertile Ground Festival starting Jan. 21, but that changed at the last minute. The space is booked, says St. Mark's rector, the Rev. Mark Lillegard, but theater director Fayra Teeters thinks the church changed its mind after discovering the contents of the script.
"It has abortion, genetic engineering and mind control," says Teeters, the Masque Alfresco director whose husband, Don Teeters, wrote I Know Things. "All of that was a little too strong for them."

Unfortunately, the link to “St. Mark’s Cathedral” reveals that the church actually not a cathedral at all but a parish within the Anglican Province of Christ the King, which started as a group of former Episcopalians who left the denomination after women’s ordination was approved in 1976. But whatever moved this reporter to call the church a “cathedral” is puzzling, as its web site doesn’t mention it being one.  Maybe she confused it with Trinity Cathedral, a nearby Episcopal congregation?

To make matters worse, the supposed interior photo of St. Mark’s isn’t legit. Whatever church that is in the photo, it’s not that of the Anglican parish under discussion. I learned this from the comments, then by comparing the photo of the altar on the church's web site with that used by Willamette Week.

Anyone with the slightest knowledge of the difference between Protestants and Catholics would have caught that one, as Protestants don’t have crucifixes above their altars and this church does. And subbing in the wrong photo used to be a firing offense at papers I've worked at.

But that was then. Judging by the bio of the reporter that runs alongside the piece, the writer is the newspaper’s theater critic. It's questionable whether she even read the play, as she only gives us a one-sentence description of it.

A basic journalism question: You think she could have picked up a script to see exactly what the Anglicans had problems with?

And, the next time Willamette Week touches on the religion beat, they might want to use a reporter that at least knows the difference between cathedrals and parishes, Protestants and Catholics or at least employ an editor who’s not sloppy when it comes to making employees do basic reporting.

Photos are from St. Mark's web site and Facebook page.

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