Journalism 2018: The name on the masthead frequently is not as crucial as the one on the byline

Journalism 2018: The name on the masthead frequently is not as crucial as the one on the byline

It seems like just yesterday that I was complaining about an incomplete, slanted Washington Post story on a controversial religious topic.

Actually, it was last Monday.

In that post (titled "Not the right kind of paper to report both sides? About that story on fired Catholic teacher"), I noted — not for the first time — that it's often difficult these days, even in the Post, to tell what's supposed to be real news and what's simply clickbait and/or aggregation.

Today, I come to you with another Post story on a controversial religious topic. Except this time I intend to offer praise, not criticism.

Welcome to the world of Jekyll-and-Hyde media criticism.

Yes, this new story has one of those clickbait-style headlines at which the Post specializes online:

This former gymnast raised an army to take on Larry Nassar. Can she take on sex abuse in churches next?

But unlike the previous story, this one — by a different writer and perhaps handled by different editors (who knows?) — addresses the complex topic in a fair, impartial manner.

he lede:

Rachael Denhollander’s children recently asked her a question that continues to show her the cost of coming forward against sports physician and convicted sex offender Larry Nassar, a campaign which has given her a platform to speak out about a sexual abuse scandal in Sovereign Grace Ministries, a network of churches mostly based across the United States.
Last month, Denhollander’s statement in Nassar’s sentencing turned her into a Christian celebrity. In her victim statement in court, the former gymnast said her advocacy for sexual assault survivors “cost me my church.” Her own children recently asked her about this, why they stopped going to the church they belonged to for five years.
“It was painful to have to search for a church again because we really, really loved the people at our former church,” she said.
“That simply was part of the cost of coming forward” as one of Nassar’s victims, she added, and also speaking out against how churches handle sex abuse allegations.
Denhollander, who declined to name her former church, said she and her husband, Jacob, left the Louisville church in 2017 because of elders’ lack of response to the concerns she has described as “the intentional failure to report sexual assault perpetrated in multiple churches, by multiple elders, at Sovereign Grace Ministries.” Their church was not part of Sovereign Grace Ministries (now Sovereign Grace Churches), she said, but it did support the organization, which had been accused of covering up cases of child molestation. A class-action lawsuit was dismissed in 2014 for reasons including statute of limitations issues, and current leaders of Sovereign Grace Churches say those accusations are “completely false.”

The piece is fact-based and allows those accused of wrongdoing an opportunity to present their case.

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Thinking about Justin Welby and the Church of England, in prose blending praise with candid acid

Thinking about Justin Welby and the Church of England, in prose blending praise with candid acid

Let me begin with a note to digital obsessives who care about this kind of thing, since I hear from readers of this kind every now and then.

In the software categories and tags for this weekend's "think piece," I have included the word "demographics," even though this feature from The Guardian about Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the Church of England does not include a direct reference to statistics about marriage, divorce, gay marriage, birthrates or other topics of that kind.

No, the goal of this opinion piece by Andrew Brown -- no friend of traditional forms of Christianity -- is to praise Welby for steering Anglicanism in the direction of compromise with the modern world. The headline: "With piety and steel, Justin Welby has the church in his firmest grip." Anyone looking for praise or even constructive criticism of low-church evangelicals or Global South Anglicans can look elsewhere.

However, this piece has its moments of brutal candor about the state of Anglican life, doses of acidic reality mixed in with the praise. The information contained in these passages is especially interesting, since it it comes from a voice on the left. If conservative Anglicans made the same comments, they would be easier for many readers to dismiss.

As an introduction, here is a lengthy summary passage that follows a discussion of Welby's actions in one controversial case linked to alleged sexual abuse of a minor by a famous clergyman.

The whole show was typical of Welby’s style as Archbishop of Canterbury: he combines energy, ruthlessness and a determination to get the church moving, through a mixture of public theatricality and arm-twisting behind the scenes. He has been archbishop for five years and next month will publish a fat state-of-the-nation book that covers almost all the current areas of political and cultural dispute in the church. ...
(H)e loves the work of nudging and manipulation. When he was trying to get the bishops of the worldwide Anglican communion to agree to meet again after decades of wrangling over gay sex and female bishops, he spent much of his annual holiday ringing the heads of the member churches for 20 minutes each -- not how most people would choose to spend their holidays. And though he disclaims the ability to select bishops, ever since he drove through the legislation to make women bishops in 2013, the holy spirit has somehow ensured that half of the bishops appointed have been women, among them Sarah Mullally to the prominent see of London, and Jo Bailey Wells, his former chaplain, to be bishop of Dorking.

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Generic prayers for fallen hero: Lots of faith details missing in Parkland massacre coverage

Generic prayers for fallen hero: Lots of faith details missing in Parkland massacre coverage

Back in the days when he attend Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Joseph LaGuardia had a good friend who was working his way through some tough times.

But there were two constants that his friend could count on -- football and church.

The friend was Aaron Feis, who would later become a security guard and football coach at his alma mater. Feis has emerged as one of the most heroic figures in the school massacre in Parkland, Fla. Students said he used his massive frame to shield the innocent and was fatally wounded while doing so.

The national press has paid attention to the Feis story, with lots of quotes talking about his unique and powerful bond with students and his commitment to his work. He died in a local hospital, while friends sent out waves of social-media appeals for prayer on his behalf.

Today, LaGuardia is the pastor of First Baptist Church of Vero Beach, north of West Palm Beach. I don't know how the local newspaper found him, but his warm words about Feis added some interesting and poignant details to his life story.

The bottom line: Bless be the ties that bind.

As often is the case, there may have been a faith angle in all of those appeals for prayer. In a way, that's the theme that ran through this week's "Crossroads" podcast, which followed up on my earlier post about the Ash Wednesday-Valentine's Day shooting. Click here to tune that in.

But back to the TCPalm.com story about Fies, as seen through the eyes of this pastor who knew him well.

LaGuardia ... said Feis was a couple of years behind him in school, but the two grew close through their church, the New Covenant Church on the Lake in Pompano Beach.

“There were three of us friends who spent most weekends together,” LaGuardia said. “We were very active in the youth group, kind of always there when the doors opened. And his wife was also part of the youth group as well.”

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Friday Five: Florida school shooting, Ash Wednesday photo project, Pence's 'mental illness' and more

Friday Five: Florida school shooting, Ash Wednesday photo project, Pence's 'mental illness' and more

Sometimes, a single picture really does tell the story in a way that a thousand words — or a million words — cannot.

Such was the case with Associated Press photographer Joel Auerbach's image of one woman consoling another after this week's mass shooting at a Florida high school.

Auerbach's photo was striking. Powerful. Gut-wrenching. And yes, there was a religion angle. More on that in a moment.

First, though, let's dive right into this week's Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Most weeks, we've already introduced you to the story featured here. This week is an exception.

The religion story of the week is an interview that NPR did with photographer Greg Miller, who has spent 20 years documenting "the smudge on people's foreheads" on Ash Wednesday. The piece on "The Penitent Pause for a Portrait" contains a number of the images.

It really is worth a click.

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Yakima, Wash., sheriff dying of Lou Gehrig's disease gets sympathetic treatment

Yakima, Wash., sheriff dying of Lou Gehrig's disease gets sympathetic treatment

I sure do appreciate it when smaller papers put out a good religion story and the Yakima Herald (out of central Washington) does not disappoint with its latest.

The theme, a dying sheriff who has Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis -- also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease -- is done with generous dollops of the 58-year-old officer’s faith . That is what's keeping him going after getting some very bad news.

I reported a few weeks ago about an imam who has the same disease. No matter where you are on the theological spectrum, the thought of this living death would test the strongest believer.

Early on, readers learn that he has three to five years to live and was diagnosed in December. He has been in the area much of his life, starting from when his father, a Grace Brethren pastor, was sent to a local church.

Fortunately, the reporter asked the sheriff what’s keeping him going.

Facing death is challenging but he believes God and friends will look after his family.
“You can throw your arms up and say oh my God ... You can quit and start blaming God, or you can try to live the way in accordance, in a way you’d want someone else to handle the challenge. I don’t want to be the guy who says you should handle it this way and then do something different,” Winter said.
“Even though from the human side of this it’s hard to see how anything good can come out of this, but I know God loves me and my family. I’m not worried about dying. I’m not worried about where I’m going.”

At present, he’s feeling fine but that may not last long. Interestingly, he’s not asking for healing --  but for light at the end of his tunnel.

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Assumptions instead of voices and facts: Anti-Catholic bias in The Guardian?

Assumptions instead of voices and facts: Anti-Catholic bias in The Guardian?

Along the Paris streets, the death-carts rumble, hollow and harsh. Six tumbrils carry the day’s wine to La Guillotine. All the devouring and insatiate Monsters imagined since imagination could record itself, are fused in the one realisation, Guillotine. And yet there is not in France, with its rich variety of soil and climate, a blade, a leaf, a root, a sprig, a peppercorn, which will grow to maturity under conditions more certain than those that have produced this horror. Crush humanity out of shape once more, under similar hammers, and it will twist itself into the same tortured forms. Sow the same seed of rapacious license and oppression over again, and it will surely yield the same fruit according to its kind.

-- A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens (1859) Book 3, Chapter 15.

The tom-toms announcing the death of Chief Wahoo, the logo of the Cleveland Indians, may not immediately bring to mind the arts carrying aristocrats to their deaths in Revolutionary France, but for Dickens the creek of the tumbrils’ wheels hurrying to the guillotine sounded, as do the drums from Cleveland, the death of an old way of life.

The mob must be satisfied with their choice of victim. Be it a king or a smiling, cartoon Indian warrior. Vox populi, vox dei. The voice of the people is the voice of God.

In principle I have no objection to the smashing of idols in a good ideological rant. But it is somewhat trying to see these rants presented as journalism.

The newspaper of Britain’s chattering classes, The Guardian, never ceases taking a hammer to the Catholic Church. As an Anglican I don’t mind a good kick in the Vatican’s shins from time to time, but when fairness, balance and context are replaced by conventional wisdom and bigotry, even a good Protestant like me can feel aggrieved.

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'Ghost' in South Florida school shootings? 'Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return'

'Ghost' in South Florida school shootings? 'Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return'

You turned on the television.

Within minutes you saw the images, you saw the religion "ghost." Clearly, the journalists behind the cameras knew what they were seeing.

It would be hard to imagine a more powerful image -- in terms of ancient traditions clashing with Life. Right. Now. -- than ashes in the shape of a cross on the foreheads of people caught up in yet another mass shooting of students and teachers.

The images, of course, called up words that would be familiar to any reporter who has worked, or is working, on the religion-news beat. We are talking about words that -- especially in South Florida's large Catholic community -- many people, including students, had heard that morning as a priest marked their foreheads with the sign of the cross, during Ash Wednesday rites.

"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

The prayer that many worshipers would have whispered during the rite are even more haunting:

Jesus, you place on my forehead the sign of my sister Death:
"Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

So did this symbolic detail make it into many stories about the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School? To my surprise, it did not. To see the context, let's look at the main story in The Washington Post. Did the national desk see the religion ghost?

PARKLAND, Fla. -- A heavily armed 19-year-old who had been expelled from a South Florida high school opened fire on campus shortly before classes let out Wednesday, killing 17 people while terrified students barricaded themselves inside classrooms, police said.

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Today’s low point for American news media affects all beats -- including religion

Today’s low point for American news media affects all beats -- including religion

Instead of the usual focus on religion coverage, this Memo scans the over-all news-media landscape as viewed by a newshound of (embarrassingly) long experience.

The Religion Guy, who strives to be non-partisan, believes with others that America’s news media -- in terms of economics and public trust -- have reached the low point of the past half-century.

This affects the religion beat as surely as every other segment of journalism.  

There’s chaos at the storied Los Angeles Times and Newsweek, with other forms of newsroom turbulence that shakes even Gannett’s DC monolith honoring journalism's role in American life.

With GetReligion readers, there’s no need to detail the economic travail and consequent death of countless dailies and magazines, with staff shrinkage for those that still struggle to survive.  Can online ad revenues sustain decent coverage? Will twittery Americans read substantive copy any longer?   

But forget media economics and corporate maneuvers. Worst of all is sagging esteem. Consider TV shallowness and bile, stupendous screw-ups forced by 24/7 competition, and the eclipse of objectivity -- or even minimal fairness -- amid the glut of opinion. There’s also simple bad taste, the StormyDanielsization of daily news budgets.  

In September, 2016, the Gallup Poll found Americans’ trust in the media to report “fully, accurately, and fairly” was the worst since it first asked this question in 1972. Only 32 percent had a “great deal” or “fair” amount of trust, down 8 percent in just a year. A mere 26 percent of those under age 50 felt trust, capping a decade of decline. One year later, 37 percent of respondents thought the media “get the facts straight” but with a worrisome partisan breakdown: 62 percent of Democrats versus only 37 percent of Independents, and a pathetic 14 percent of Republicans.  

However, it was a good sign that less than one-fifth of those of whatever partisan identity or educational level had “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in Internet news.  

There was much to mourn before Donald J. Trump came down that golden escalator.

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GetReligion readers! Help with research project linked to one thing about Lenten news

GetReligion readers! Help with research project linked to one thing about Lenten news

Western liturgical Christians (and a few other believers, these days): I hope you are having a blessed Ash Wednesday and not getting into any trouble at work.

In newsrooms, the days just before Ash Wednesday officially open the season in which lots of editors and non-religion-beat reporters scramble to try to find photo-ops and maybe even easy stories linked to something that is going on called "Lent" and, eventually, "Easter."

This year, the calendar yielded a perfectly valid news hook, as captured in this headline from Religion News Service: "When Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day, what’s a clergyperson to do?" What happens when the waves of advertisements for jewels and chocolate collide with centuries of Catholic -- large "C" or small "c" -- tradition?

(RNS) -- For many this year, Feb. 14 is a day of mixed messages. It’s Valentine’s Day, a time for chocolate, roses and perhaps a dinner date. But it’s also Ash Wednesday, which for many Christians is the start of Lent, a period of penitence that precedes Easter Sunday.
How do clergy reconcile this calendar clash, the first of its kind since 1945? 

Eventually, attention will return to Lent itself, the penitential season (in the West) between Ash Wednesday and Easter. In the ancient traditions of Eastern Christianity, Great Lent begins this year -- on the older Julian calendar -- this coming Sunday, Feb. 18, with a service called Forgiveness Vespers, a beautiful rite that would be worthy of coverage. This year, Easter is on April 1 and, for the Orthodox, Pascha is on April 8.

Now, journalists -- on or off the religion-news beat -- what is the first thing that comes to mind when you think of Lent? There are lots of facts and traditions linked to this season (the Orthodox go vegan for the whole thing), but I would assume that most people think, well, of one thing.

Right, what is the one thing you will give up for Lent? Chocolate? Colas? Facebook? While thinking that through, check out the top of this new Rick Hamlin commentary at The New York Times: "What Will You Give Up for Lent?"

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