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Dear Washington Post international desk: Does Russia's 'Putin Generation' have a soul?

Dear Washington Post international desk: Does Russia's 'Putin Generation' have a soul?

I have spent the last several days on the West Coast, hanging out with a circle of journalists from around the world -- think Asia, Europe, Latin America, Africa, etc.

As you would expect, when journalists get together it's rather common for us to talk about the news and, in particular, stories in major media that have captured our attention. #DUH

One of the stories that came up for discussion this week was a Washington Post feature that ran with this headline: "The Putin Generation -- Young Russians are Vladimir Putin’s biggest fans." The bottom line: That headline clashed with the impressions several of these journalists have had in the recent past while working in Russia or talking with Russia experts.

In particular (here comes the GetReligion "ghost"), several journalists wanted to know more about the role that moral, cultural and religious issues -- think LGBTQ questions, to name one example -- played in this equation.

To be blunt: The story contains no information on moral and religious issues at all. However, there is evidence that it should have.

Hold that thought, while we explore the overture:

KURGAN, Russia -- A young woman, riding a city bus to her journalism class, enjoys using the time to scroll through an independent news site that can be scathing in its reports on Russia’s authoritarian president -- leaving her to wrestle with a paradox, the paradox of her generation.
“What the Russian soul demands,” says Yekaterina Mamay, “is that there be one strong politician in the country who resembles a czar.”
In Russia’s upcoming presidential election, the 20-year-old student, who knows that journalism in her country is not free, will nonetheless vote to reelect Vladimir Putin.
Here, where the forest of the taiga meets the grassy steppe, the “Putin Generation” is no different from anywhere else across Russia’s vastness: coming of age without a rebellious streak. Today’s Russian young adults have no memory of life before Putin, who first took power as their president 18 years ago. Some have taken to the streets in protest, but social scientists say many more have grown to accept him. Polls show that Putin enjoys greater support among youth than among the public at large.

OK, I'll ask: What kinds of issues have driven young Russians into the street in the past? What Putin-era issues have they protested?

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So, you thought the bizarre crisis at Newsweek was complicated enough already?

So, you thought the bizarre crisis at Newsweek was complicated enough already?

If you are a long-time reader of weekly news magazines (many old people like me will raise their hands), then it is has been bizarre trying to follow the bizarre reports coming out of the Newsweek newsroom.

We are, of course, talking about news reports ABOUT Newsweek, not reports BY Newsweek about others. Then again, there have also been headlines about Newsweek reports about events at Newsweek, and the fallout from all of the above. This New York Post headline (of course) captures the mood: " 'Bats–t crazy’ Newsweek staff meeting quickly goes off the rails."

Confused? To top it all off -- from a GetReligion perspective -- there are several very complicated religion angles (think arguments about the end of the world and a possible messiah) buried in the details here. Reporters need to be careful.

First, what the heckfire is going on? Let's walk into a CNN Money report for a few basics:

Employees at Newsweek have been told that editor-in-chief Bob Roe and executive editor Ken Li have been fired, sources with knowledge of the situation told CNN.
A reporter, Celeste Katz, who had written articles about financial issues at the magazine as well as an investigation by the Manhattan District Attorney's office into its parent company, Newsweek Media Group, was also let go, the sources said.
Katz declined to comment to CNN but tweeted on Monday afternoon, "My warmest thanks to the brave Newsweek editors and colleagues who supported and shared in my work -- especially our recent, difficult stories about the magazine itself -- before my dismissal today. I'll sleep well tonight... and I'm looking for a job!"

OK, it helps to know that, earlier, co-owner and Newsweek Media Group chair Etienne Uzac resigned, along with his wife, company finance director Marion Kim. Oh, and in January the Manhattan District Attorney's office raided Newsweek offices -- exiting with several computer servers. Then there was the BuzzFeed report about pre-Newsweek allegations about sexual abuse by chief content manager Dayan Candappa.

I think that's enough context. So now, the religion angles.

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Playing 'Think like a Godbeat pro': Let's look for religion hooks in big Amazon.com search

Playing 'Think like a Godbeat pro': Let's look for religion hooks in big Amazon.com search

One of the big themes through our years of work here at GetReligion is that reporters with experience and training on the religion beat do a better job of handling stories with strong religious themes than reporters with zero experience on this complicated beat.

I know, I know. #DUH

So why, I am asked all the time, do the editors that staff major newsrooms (a) fail to see the big religion hooks (we call them "ghosts" here at GetReligion) in so many stories and (b) fail to include religion-beat professionals in the teams covering these stories? Obviously, those two questions are connected. It's a big journalism mystery.

With all of that in mind, let's look at a major national story and then play a little news-coverage game. Let's call it, "Think like a Godbeat pro." In this case, we are talking about the much-ballyhooed process to select a home for a massive new Amazon.com headquarters, with thousands of jobs attached.

This story is everywhere, as you would expect, since the 20 "finalist" cities are spread across much of the map of North America. To save time and space, let's look at a new report on this topic by the team at Axios, with this punchy headline, "Jeff Bezos’s brilliant PR stunt." Here is the overture:

Elected officials across the country have spent the past three months falling all over themselves to show Amazon just how much their cities love the e-commerce giant and would do just about anything to house its new headquarters.

Bottom line: The real winner is Amazon, which has created a feedback loop of positive press and fawning politicians just as the company increasingly needs both.

Big picture: Amazon, the world’s largest Internet company by revenue and the fourth-largest company by market cap, is reshaping everything from industries to main streets to homes. But this omnipotence also has put Amazon in the bullseye of a burgeoning "tech-lash," alongside gilded peers like Facebook, Google and Apple.

Now, that "tech-lash" angle is interesting and it involves all kinds of issues, from the brutal side effects of economic libertarianism (must-read book here) to religious, moral and cultural battles linked to gender and sexuality.

Now, let's keep reading. This brings us to the religion hook for this little journalism game.

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Church gives away $100 bills; Waffle House workers get $3,500 tip; and more feel-good headlines

Church gives away $100 bills; Waffle House workers get $3,500 tip; and more feel-good headlines

Annual church giving tops $50 billion, according to one report.

The average Christian puts roughly $800 a year into the collection plate.

But that's dog-bites-man kind of news, meaning it's not really news. It's too routine. 

On the other hand, you know what makes for interesting stories? Churches giving away cash for members to go out and do good deeds, that's what. I like those kind of headlines, especially at Christmastime.

Enter Julie Zauzmer, religion writer for the Washington Post, with a feel-good report out of a Maryland suburb:

On the first Sunday of December, the Rev. Ron Foster invited his congregants to step up to the altar to receive the bread and wine of Communion — and to receive a $100 bill.
“Listen to where the Holy Spirit’s leading you,” he said to the stunned congregation as he distributed a stack of money at Severna Park United Methodist Church, located in a Maryland suburb. “Listen to the need that’s around you, that you find in the community. You may be in the right place at the right time to help somebody, because you have this in your hand.”
One hundred congregants walked out into the Advent season, with the money burning a hole in their pockets.
One stack of bills totaling $10,000, dropped off at the church by an anonymous donor, has turned into 100 good deeds in the Severna Park community this Christmas season.
Ginger ale and soup and warm socks for a cancer patient. Snow pants and gloves so a child with a brain tumor can play outside. Christmas presents for children who are homeless, for children whose parents are struggling with drug addiction, for children whose parents have suffered domestic abuse, for children in the hospital. Cash for dozens of grateful strangers, from waitresses to bus drivers to leaf collectors.
One hundred donations go a long way.

Amen.

The story notes that the donor — who asked to remain anonymous but granted an interview to the Post — "had heard about other communities, including her mother’s church in Texas, where everyone in the congregation was entrusted with money to distribute."

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The surprising secret about that in-depth Washington Post Magazine profile of Paula White

The surprising secret about that in-depth Washington Post Magazine profile of Paula White

My apologies for the clickbait title.

But I had to get you here so I could congratulate a colleague: my fellow GetReligion contributor Julia Duin.

If you follow religion headlines, you've probably already heard about the Washington Post Magazine's in-depth — really in-depth — profile of televangelist Paula White and her role as pastor to President Trump.

Perhaps, though, you missed Duin's byline on the piece.

As she described it on Twitter, her magnum opus — 6,408 words in all — took four months to research and write.

I won't even pretend to be able to offer an unbiased critique of my colleague's work. But I will share a variety of tweets from the Twitterverse praising Duin's "fascinating," "fantastic," "must-read," "quite a meaty profile":

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#Reformation500: Washington Post tackles the modern Protestant Reformation happening in Brazil

#Reformation500: Washington Post tackles the modern Protestant Reformation happening in Brazil

When a former GetReligionista asks you to read her story, you do it.

Sarah Pulliam Bailey, now a respected religion writer for the Washington Post, traveled to Brazil to report on "How the prosperity gospel is sparking a major change in the world's most Catholic country."

Yes, the in-depth piece is tied to today's 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

Bailey wrote on Facebook:

I'm not kidding you, I've thought about this anniversary for at least the past 10 years.
I grew up in a family that didn't celebrate Halloween (have never been trick-or-treating!) but we DID have Reformation Day parties. Yes, it's true.
When I realized there was going to be a big anniversary, I plotted ways to get to Germany. I really, really wanted to go see the town where Martin Luther did his thing.
But I've been to Germany. Religion isn't exactly booming there right now. So I started to think about the question: where is a Protestant Reformation happening RIGHT NOW?
That led me to Brazil. As I mentioned a few months ago, I received a grant from The International Reporting Project to spend a few weeks in Brazil to write about Pentecostalism for the Washington Post. While I was there, I was stunned by the prosperity gospel's power, the immense influence they have, especially in poor areas of the country. I watched exorcisms, healing services, prophesies and donations pour in.
The same debates over money, power, authority that Germany saw 500 years go are happening now--just in another country with a very different twist. Check it out and please share with your friends.

So:

1. I checked it out.

2. I'm sharing it with all my friends who read GetReligion.

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Does deductibility really influence church giving? Salt Lake Tribune skirts the question, sort of

Does deductibility really influence church giving? Salt Lake Tribune skirts the question, sort of

The fact that Americans who itemize their income tax deductions can also deduct their donations to the church, mosque, synagogue or (recognized) religious outpost of their choice is a cherished part of American taxation, something that's not true in all nations of the world.

Now, the latest tax reform proposal knocking around Congress may -- or may not -- put a dent in such deducting. If the "standard deduction" of $5,500 for individuals and $11,000 for married couples is doubled, as proponents want, the thinking goes, more folks will skip itemizing and just go with the higher number. No itemizing means less in the collection plate, they theorize.

But here's the journalistic question: Does a mere assertion mean something's a fact? Logic would say no, but sometimes a media outlet will seem to glide around logic for a compelling story. At the least, that's how it could look to a reader.

The Salt Lake Tribune, serving a state where returning tithe is mandatory for Mormons, dives right in to the charitable deduction issue, leading with a dramatic point:

A Republican tax plan being debated on Capitol Hill maintains the deduction for charitable giving but still may have an unintended consequence that could hurt donations to churches and nonprofit groups.
The impact of the tax bill — if passed and signed into law — could mean less revenue for the LDS Church and other denominations and faith-based organizations as well as groups like the Salvation Army, Goodwill and humanitarian operations.

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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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Kaepernick vs. Tebow? Washington Post passes along flawed take on a crucial heresy

Kaepernick vs. Tebow? Washington Post passes along flawed take on a crucial heresy

It's a question I have heard over and over during the nearly 14 years that GetReligion has been online. It's a question that I am hearing more and more often these days, as the reality of online economics shapes what we read, see and hear.

The question: Why doesn't GetReligion address journalism issues in opinion pieces, as well as in hard-news stories?

After all, major news organizations keep running more opinion pieces about major events and trends in the news, often in place of actual news coverage. Why does this keep happening?

There are several obvious reasons. First, as your GetReligionistas keep noting, opinion is cheap and hard-news reporting is expensive. All kinds of people are willing to write opinion pieces for next to nothing, while reporting requires lots of time and effort by professionals who, you know, need salaries.

Opinion pieces are also written to provoke and, most of the time, to make true believers shout "Amen!" before they pass along (click, click, click) URLs on Twitter or Facebook. You can usually tell a news organization's worldview by the number of opinion pieces it runs that lean one way or another, while appealing to core readers. In the South this is called "preaching to the choir." Check out the opinion-to-news ratio in the typical "push" email promo package sent out each morning by The Washington Post.

It also helps that it's hard to blame news organizations for the slant or content of opinion pieces they publish. Editors can say, and this is true: Hey, don't blame us, that's his/her opinion.

Finally, there is a deeper question behind this question: How does one critique an opinion piece on issues of balance, fairness and even accuracy? After all, it's not real news. It's just opinion.

Yes, I am asking these questions for a reason. Yesterday, my Twitter feed was buzzing with reactions to an "Acts of Faith" essay published by The Washington Post. It was written by Michael Frost, an evangelism professor who is the vice principal of Morling College, a Baptist institution in Sydney, Austrailia.

The headline: "Colin Kaepernick vs. Tim Tebow: A tale of two Christians on their knees."

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