I've been gone for nearly a week to the rain-drenched Texas Hill Country and, during that time, I received all kinds of email about that remarkable page-one essay by William Lobdell of the Los Angeles Times about how his work on the religion beat knocked the foundations out from under his Christian faith. Click here for the quick post I wrote about that essay during my travels. Frankly, I do not have any new comments to add about his piece, other than to restate what I said before. This was a striking work of personal confession and reflection on the complex and painful questions linked to theodicy, but not a piece of newspaper journalism -- at least, not the kind of journalism that editors place on page one in a major daily newspaper. Thus, I still wonder what the editors were thinking.
Meanwhile, legions of Times customers have offered their opinions about Lobdell's loss of faith. It is interesting to note that, at least in the context of the online chat session that let the reporter interact with readers, people elected to ask him about the faith issues in the piece and not (sadly) the journalistic issues that it raised. This is not a surprise to the GetReligionistas, since we spend quite a bit of time trying to get our readers to focus on journalism, as opposed to doctrinal squabbles and (at times) cat fights.
There was this one exchange, however:
2007-07-24 13:34:03.0 Peggy Normandin: Bill, what do you think made your story "LA Times front page newsworthy"?
2007-07-24 13:36:22.0 Bill Lobdell: I think it's a story that almost everyone -- including the saints of the church -- grapple with. Everyone identifies with a struggle over faith. Some people have criticized the paper and said it was only on the front page because I ended up without faith. If I ended up with my faith intact, it would have gotten the same play. The editors were interested in how my spiritual journey was impacted by my professional life.
Ah, yes. I would ask the same question. I think this piece would have been right at home in a Sunday magazine, the op-ed pages or some other essay-oriented section of the newspaper. I also do not think that Lobdell is right when he says that the story would have ended up on page one if it affirmed his faith. It was a story about a crisis. That was the "news" hook in the first place.
Meanwhile, the Times also received this email from a reader. In fact, this appears to be the very first email that the newspaper received -- of the 1,200 and counting -- in reaction to this piece:
1. I'd be interested to know if the Los Angeles Times ever printed an article of similar length on how someone came to faith and held onto it through dark times. If not, why not? Dare we imagine a bit of bias?
Submitted by: Thotful 10:15 AM PDT, July 24, 2007
Let me add that, should the Times decide to publish some kind of "how working as a journalist strengthened my faith" piece, I am not sure it should be published on page one.
The bottom line: I still have journalistic questions about all of this, as opposed to theological questions.