This is why serious journalism is helpful when reporting on objections to immunizing a child

This is why serious journalism is helpful when reporting on objections to immunizing a child

In an an age of clickbait, I appreciate the Kansas City Star's serious, straightforward treatment of a Kansas family's objections to immunizing a child.

Yes, there's a strong religion angle to this developing story.

"Report what you know" is an old journalistic adage: The Star does a nice job of that in a news report that meticulously explains a federal lawsuit filed by the family of a 2-year-old boy.

Let's start at the top:

The 2-year-old grandson of Linus and Terri Baker has never been vaccinated.
His mother and the Bakers oppose immunization on religious and health grounds.
But now that the boy is in temporary state custody, the Kansas Department for Children and Families intends to vaccinate him despite the family’s wishes.
The Bakers, who have physical custody of the boy as his foster parents, say it’s an unconstitutional overreach and they are now fighting it in federal court.
The grandparents are particularly galled that DCF appears to be requiring people who want to exempt their children from daycare and school vaccination requirements to cite their denomination and its specific teaching opposed to immunization.
“They’ve become the religious police,” said Linus Baker, a lawyer who lives in southern Johnson County.

Given that statement, it's probably not a surprise that the family's specific religious beliefs come across as relatively vague in this story. 

The Star does report:

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BBC and The New York Times: Who listened to Catholics who prayed at Poland's borders?

BBC and The New York Times: Who listened to Catholics who prayed at Poland's borders?

If you read up on the life and times of the Polish man who would become St. Pope John Paul II, its interesting to note that he learned so many languages during his life that scholars are not really sure which ones he spoke fluently.

Most lists will look something like this -- Polish, Slovak, Russian, Italian, French, Spanish, Portuguese, German, Ukrainian, English and Latin. It is my understanding that, in his childhood, he also knew so many Jewish children that he also spoke Yiddish.

What does this fact say about Poland? At the very least, it's symbolic of the fact that in the past Poland has been seized by more than its share of empires. If you live in a Polish border town, it helps to speak several languages. Again, think of St. John Paul II's life in the time of the Nazis and then Communism.

I bring this up because Poland is a land, and a predominately Catholic culture, with a strong sense of national identity. Yet it is also a land that fears -- with good reason -- being conquered once again.

So, why were legions of Polish Catholics standing on the land's borders the other day saying the rosary? Clearly, this is a religious question, yet one with political overtones. So how did the world's two most powerful newsrooms handle this? Here is the top of the New York Times report, which ran with this low-key headline: "Polish Catholics Gather at Border for Vast Rosary Prayer Event."

WARSAW, Poland -- Polish Catholics clutching rosary beads gathered at locations along the country’s 2,000-mile border on Saturday for a mass demonstration during which they prayed for salvation for Poland and the world.
Many participants described it as demonstration against what they see as the secularization of the country and the spread of Islam’s influence in Europe.

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Of all the contraceptive mandate stories out there, very few quoted religious folks

Of all the contraceptive mandate stories out there, very few quoted religious folks

Trying to dissect the Donald Trump Administration’s decision to religiously minded employers to cut birth control from their health plans is like tackling an elephant. But one has to start somewhere.

Just for review, we have covered this topic before here, here and here

As I scanned various articles on the topic, I noticed how few articles explained why some people and employers have religious objections to contraceptives. Do those in the media think we know these reasons already, so it’s no using re-explaining them? In other words, how do you understand this story without talking to people in the faith-based schools and ministries that are at the heart of the decision?

The most cogent piece was from the Atlantic:

Faced with setbacks on the legislative front, the Trump administration is going it alone on taking apart the Affordable Care Act piecemeal.
On Friday, the administration made one of its boldest moves yet, with two memos from multiple agencies that would dramatically curtail women’s access to birth control through their employers. The new regulations, effective immediately, would exempt all employers and insurers from covering or paying for coverage of contraceptives if they object “based on its sincerely held religious beliefs,” or have other “moral convictions” against covering such care.

 Mind you, this is not all employers, but it is those who have religious objections to it contraceptives being included in their employee health coverage. We’re talking about 71 companies here, according to Mother Jones.

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Why show up in person? CNN and its scoop on evangelical plea for Trump to slam alt-right

Why show up in person? CNN and its scoop on evangelical plea for Trump to slam alt-right

It's time for a trip into my thick guilt file of news pieces that I wanted to get to a week ago (or more). However, most of my work this past week focused on Las Vegas, for reasons I am sure readers will understand.

Instead of Las Vegas, this post is about Southern Baptists and Phoenix. It's also about the negative side effects, in terms of news, of current trends in newsroom budgets (and I'm not just talking about editors declining to hire religion-beat professionals).

Now, please trust me when I say that I have spent lots of time studying the economic dominoes that keep falling in newsrooms during our industry's money crisis, which is primarily being caused by weak revenues from advertising, both digital and analog.

I know that there are fewer reporters, even in the healthiest of newsrooms. I know that those reporters are being stretched thinner and thinner, with some being forced -- often by editors -- to cut corners while delivering more news, in more formats, on shorter deadlines, with fewer copy editors watching their backs.

At the same time, travel budgets are thinner than ever (maybe even for crucial subjects, like sports and, gasp, politics).

So I understand why many newsrooms are not sending reporters -- in the flesh -- to cover some major news events that drew live coverage in the past. Take this summer's Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix.

However, CNN showed up -- in the person of feature correspondent Chris Moody. I will argue that, because Moody was there in person, the odds may have been tilted in his favor when it came time to land a major scoop the other day, the one with this headline: "Exclusive: Evangelicals urge more action from Trump against alt-right."

Hold that thought.

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Cleaning up the lost and found: The Religion Guy rediscovers three journalistic morsels

Cleaning up the lost and found: The Religion Guy rediscovers three journalistic morsels

You know how it is. A newswriter comes across a really interesting item and sets it aside for a serious second look.

Then the pile of other goodies continues to grow and said item disappears amid the clutter on your desk. Weeks or months go by, you force yourself to clean up, and there it is. At this particular weblog, the GetReligionistas like to talk about finding things in their "Guilt Files." Well, we all have them.

In just such a cleanup, The Religion Guy unearthed three set-aside articles about U.S. culture with solid story potential for fellow writers on the beat:

One more time, “Nones” explained: Writing last January 23 for the scholarly theconversation.com, Richard Flory of the University of Southern California culled current research for the five chief factors behind the recent rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans (“Nones”):

(1) With widening access to knowledge, “everyone and no one is an authority,” which “reduces the need for traditional authorities” of all types, including religious ones.

(2) Fewer Americans think important social institutions have “a positive impact in society,” again, religious ones included.

(3) U.S. religion developed a “bad brand” from things like sex scandals or “political right” linkage that turns off moderates and liberals.

(4) Increased “competition for people’s attention” from work, family, social media, whatever, making religious involvement “yet another social obligation” that clogs schedules.

(5) More young adults were raised to “make up their own mind about religion” and end up without any.  

Flory doubts the increase in “nones” will have much impact on U.S. politics, since they register and vote less often than others. But he sees serious problems ahead in finding enough volunteers “to provide important services to those in need.” Long term, how will non-religious Americans create the necessary “infrastructure” and  “communities of caring”?

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Good advocacy journalism -- The French daily Liberation on the right to die

Good advocacy journalism -- The French daily Liberation on the right to die

What the weak head with strongest bias rules, Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools. Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, (1711) line 203.

Regular readers of these columns will discern my disdain for advocacy journalism. It is part of my personal catalogue of the seven deadly sins. Let us tick them off according to Pope Gregory I’s list: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, wnvy and pride. Advocacy journalism is the reporter’s particular sin of pride. It takes humility to handle opposing voices with accuracy and respect.

But I do not want to dismiss this style out of hand for there are many examples of excellent opinion-centered news articles. A recent story on euthanasia from the French daily Libération is an example of how to do advocacy journalism well.

But first let us define our terms. In a recent GetReligion article, editor tmatt described the clash of ideologies between the classical school of Anglo-American reporting, and the older but now revived school of advocacy reporting.

When I say "old-school journalism," I am referring to what textbooks often call the "American model of the press," which stresses that journalists should strive to honor standards of accuracy, fairness and balance when covering the news. The key: When reporting on hot-button issues, journalists should strive to treat people on all sides of these debates with respect.
This classically liberal approach to news emerged, and evolved, in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. The goal was to produce news that was as independent as possible, thus exposing readers to genuine diversity. Citizens could then make up their own minds.

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Putting God on trial, 2017: What if Stephen Paddock really just snapped in Las Vegas?

Putting God on trial, 2017: What if Stephen Paddock really just snapped in Las Vegas?

All over America, and perhaps the world, people are trying to make sense out of the actions of the mysterious millionaire (we think) gunman Stephen Paddock.

That isn't news. But in a way, the only big news that we have is that there hasn't been any big news since this vision of hell unfolded on the Vegas Strip.

The waiting continues. The one thing mainstream journalists (and their sources) seem to agree on is that the massacre in Las Vegas just doesn't make sense, it doesn't fit into any of our familiar intellectual file folders that we use when tragedy strikes.

Islamic State terrorism? There are debates, but no evidence that has been made public.

Some other form of religious or political fanaticism? Lots of talk, but no evidence.

Massive gambling debts? Ditto. Some kind of mental breakdown, maybe a brain tumor? Maybe science will give us an answer? Maybe chemistry? Paddock was taking Valium, along with legions of other people. So there.

The bottom line: What happens to our minds and hearts if this act turns out to be random and senseless, now that the gunman is dead and cannot explain his actions? What mental file folder do we use then to help us move on, other than the one that says, "Where was God?"

During this week's "Crossroads" podcast (click here to tune that in), I defended my statement -- made at the end of my very first Las Vegas massacre post -- that there was a religious element to this event, no matter what. In fact, a massacre with no answer to the "Why?" puzzle is especially troubling, in terms of "theodicy" questions. I said, at that time:

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Loved the headline, not a fan of the story: Associated Press reports on churches-turned-breweries

Loved the headline, not a fan of the story: Associated Press reports on churches-turned-breweries

The Associated Press has a 675-word trend story on closed churches finding second lives as breweries.

I loved the headline, which includes a punny reference to "Holy spirits."

And the story itself starts out as if it's going to be interesting and informative. To some extent, I guess the piece turns out that way.

But here's what's frustrating to me: The AP report hopscotches all over the place, fails to reflect the voice of a highly relevant source and generally tries to do way too much in too little space. There's no way to know if this is a reporting problem or one created at the editing stage. We do know a memo was issued a few years ago limiting most AP stories to 300 to 500 words.

The lede:

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (AP) — Ira Gerhart finally found a place last year to fulfill his yearslong dream of opening a brewery: a 1923 Presbyterian church. It was cheap, charming and just blocks from downtown Youngstown.
But soon after Gerhart announced his plans, residents and a minister at a Baptist church a block away complained about alcohol being served in the former house of worship.
“I get it, you know, just the idea of putting a bar in God’s house,” Gerhart said. “If we didn’t choose to do this, most likely, it’d fall down or get torn down. I told them we’re not going to be a rowdy college bar.”

Based on those first three paragraphs, is there any source from whom we might expect to hear as the story keeps going? The Baptist minister perhaps?

That was my thinking, but he or she never appears.

Instead, we get this later on:

Gerhart’s is scheduled to open this month after winning over skeptics like the Baptist minister and obtaining a liquor license.

OK, I suppose we have no choose but to take your word for it.

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The Times of London goes clever (and surprisingly deep) with party girls and praying nuns

The Times of London goes clever (and surprisingly deep) with party girls and praying nuns

Every so often, there’s an article out there that’s truly a pleasure to read and it makes some interesting points about life and faith, even if the piece isn't hard news. Such is the case with the Times of London’s take on an upcoming reality TV show.

GetReligion does not ordinarily cover opinion pieces, but this was a mix of analysis and news, so I grabbed it.

The writer, Helen Rumbelow, shows a keen awareness of the human condition as she describes the comedic collision of party girls and nuns when a group of wild twentysomethings are sent to a convent in rural Norfolk. They don’t exactly swap their go-go boots for godliness but there are subtle transformations.

Plus, the piece shows how easy it can be to write profound observations on something as everyday as a reality show.

Five new girls arrive at the Daughters of Divine Charity convent in Swaffham, deep in rural Norfolk. The first, Paige, 23, has, between her red go-go boots and her miniskirt, a gap large enough to display the entire face of Nicki Minaj that is tattooed on her thighs. She is struggling to pull a suitcase the size of a small wagon across the gravel courtyard. It’s full of her clubbing lingerie. She is joined by Rebecca, 19, another committed hedonist who seems to sum up their situation when she realises what their new home is, crying: “F***, I’m in a f***ing nunnery.”
It’s a fair guess that this Channel 5 reality-TV experiment, called Bad Habits, Holy Orders, wouldn’t have taken much of a “sell”. “Think Sister Act,” the executive would say, “crossed with St Trinian’s.” …
The five women had been told only that they were going on a “spiritual journey” and had imagined a yoga retreat in Bali. Instead they were to be confined to a nunnery off the A47 with a bunch of mature ladies in wimples, whose modesty was far more shocking than anything they could think up.

What follows is a photo showing an elderly nun face-to-face with one of the sultry five. I’m guessing that the reality show paid the nuns a good amount to film this show on their property, for why else would a religious order put up with this craziness?

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