Laurie Goodstein

Duck, duck, goose: Three different approaches to covering Mormon church president's death

Duck, duck, goose: Three different approaches to covering Mormon church president's death

As a young journalist fresh out of college, I applied for a business editor position in small-town Oklahoma.

As part of the interview process, the newspaper's top editor asked me to write an obituary — for myself.

The exercise both tested my writing skills and gave me an opportunity to enlighten my potential boss on what made me tick. I guess I passed the exam because I got the job. (I drove extra carefully on the way home, hoping to avoid the tragic car wreck I had just described.)

Very few people get to write their own obit, which leaves the story of their life — if their life merits an obit at all — to others to tell.

I mention this because — even though I am not a Mormon — I was interested in how various major news organizations covered this week's death of Thomas S. Monson, president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I wonder what Monson would have thought of the way these the following three ledes characterized him. (I'll reveal the source of each lede later in this post and pose a question or two.)

Lede 1:

Even as he ascended to the pinnacle of a worldwide faith, Thomas S. Monson never stopped being a Mormon bishop.
He was the same affable leader, folksy preacher and care-taking friend after becoming the LDS Church’s 16th president in 2008 as he was during his more than five decades as one of the faith’s 12 apostles.
During Monson’s nearly 10-year presidential tenure, which ended with his death Tuesday night at age 90 of causes incident to age, Mormonism faced some of the most intense public scrutiny in its history — from a divisive vote over gay marriage to high-profile Mormon candidacies for president, and a hotly debated policy for same-sex couples and their children. Still, the private prophet stayed largely behind the scenes, showing up unexpectedly at funerals, comforting the bereaved, visiting the sick and, before her death, caring for his wife, Frances.
“With tender feelings we announce that Thomas S. Monson, president and prophet of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, died this evening at 10:01 p.m. in his home in Salt Lake City,” church spokesman Eric Hawkins wrote in an email Tuesday at 11:39 p.m. “He was with family at the time of his passing.”

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Here we go again: The question of Roy Moore's solid 'evangelical' support just won't go away

Here we go again: The question of Roy Moore's solid 'evangelical' support just won't go away

"When it comes to Roy Moore, the reality on 'evangelical' opinion is just as complex as ever."

That was the highly appropriate title of a post that GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly wrote just last week.

Here's my question: How soon is too soon to cover much the same ground once again? Is six days enough? (I'm not even counting tmatt's later post on "Sex crimes and sins in the past.")

Based on weekend headlines, it's obvious that journalists are still grappling with where Alabama's conservative Christians stand on Moore. And rightly so -- that is an extremely important angle on this major national political story. In fact, cheering for a massive white evangelical turnout at the polls seems to be the only real strategy that Moore has, right now.

As tmatt noted, the best coverage notes that when it comes to Moore, there is indeed a wide diversity of opinion among evangelicals (if that's even the right term ... more on that label in a moment).

I'm also impressed with coverage that attempts to explain why some people of faith would keep backing Moore even amid mounting sexual misconduct claims against him.

The Associated Press has an analytical piece that hits at many of the key reasons:

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) -- Alabama's Christian conservatives see Roy Moore as their champion. He has battled federal judges and castigated liberals, big government, gun control, Muslims, homosexuality and anything else that doesn't fit the evangelical mold.
The Republican Senate candidate has long stood with them, and now, as he faces accusations of sexual impropriety including the molestation of a 14-year-old girl, they are standing with him.

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New York Times offers solid Religious Left update, with skewed headline that's LOL territory

New York Times offers solid Religious Left update, with skewed headline that's LOL territory

Every now and then, newspapers need to go out of their way to correct errors found in headlines, but not in stories.

This would, for example, help news consumers understand that headlines -- 99.9 percent of the time -- are written by copy-desk editors who do not consult with the professionals who actually reported, wrote and edited the story in question.

My first full-time job in journalism was working as a copy editor -- laying out news pages, doing final edits and, yes, writing headlines. It's hard work and you rarely have time to visit the newsroom for debates with reporters about the wording of headlines.

Anyway, one of the big religion-beat stories of the weekend ran at The New York Times with this double-decker headline: 

Religious Liberals Sat Out of Politics for 40 Years. Now They Want in the Game.
Faith leaders whose politics fall to the left of center are getting more involved in politics to fight against President Trump’s policies

That top line is simply wrong. Anyone who has worked the religion beat in recent decades knows that it is wrong -- wrong as in factually wrong.

Read carefully, and note that the headline does not accurately state the primary thesis by religion-beat veteran Laurie Goodstein in this summary material up top:

Across the country, religious leaders whose politics fall to the left of center, and who used to shun the political arena, are getting involved -- and even recruiting political candidates -- to fight back against President Trump’s policies on immigration, health care, poverty and the environment.
Some are calling the holy ruckus a “religious resistance.” Others, mindful that periodic attempts at a resurgence on the religious left have all failed, point to an even loftier ambition than taking on the current White House: After 40 years in which the Christian right has dominated the influence of organized religion on American politics -- souring some people on religion altogether, studies show -- left-leaning faith leaders are hungry to break the right’s grip on setting the nation’s moral agenda.

I would question one piece of that statement. When did religious progressives (defined in terms of doctrine) ever "shun the political arena"?

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'They say the press doesn't cover them': Trump weighs in on March for Life

'They say the press doesn't cover them': Trump weighs in on March for Life

Friday's March for Life is gonna be yuuuuuge.

President Donald Trump said so.

In an interview with ABC News' David Muir, Trump was asked about last weekend's Women's March on Washington: 

"I couldn’t hear them, but the crowds were large," Trump responded. "You’re gonna have a large crowd on Friday, too, which is mostly pro-life people. You’re gonna have a lot of people coming on Friday, and I will say this, and I didn’t realize this, but I was told, you will have a very large crowd of people. I don’t know – as large or larger – some people say it’s gonna be larger. Pro-life people. And they say the press doesn’t cover them."

The newly inaugurated president obviously hasn't spent enough time reading GetReligion — or he would be better informed on the longstanding and indisputable problem of news coverage heavily favoring the pro-choice side. Specifically regarding the March for Life, our archive is filled with posts on the (lack of) coverage.

But guess what? The Trump effect already seems to be making a difference. First, the Dow Jones industrial average closes above 20,000 for the first time. Then — the morning after Trump mentions the March for Life on ABC — the annual pro-life march makes the front page of today's Washington Post:

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Once again: Cover the values built into globalization, not just the financial stories

Once again: Cover the values built into globalization, not just the financial stories

Perhaps our most damaging limitation as humans is our inability to see past the tip of our collective nose. We constantly fail to fully consider the likely consequences of our actions, no matter how much past experience we have to draw on.

Instead, we -- which is to say those of us who think we have something to gain -- repeatedly drink the Kool-Aid in anticipation of the short-term gains promised by some elite pushing for our buy-in for whatever they're selling.

Such is the case with globalization. It has economically benefited many but left many more economically floundering, psychologically bewildered and emotionally irate in its wake. No wonder it's at the center of the American presidential campaign.

We hear a great deal from the presidential candidates about international trade deals and the loss of jobs to nations with cheaper labor or to advancing technology (witness the journalism trade). We hear about the pluses and minuses of the global migration of economic and political refugees. These are all hallmarks of the Age of Globalization.

Here are three recent analytical pieces detailing globalization's role in the Clinton-Trump presidential campaign. Click here. Then click here. Finally, click here.

What's missing from these pieces? As GetReligion readers, the answer I'm seeking should be obvious.

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That political despair among white evangelicals? New York Times nails it

That political despair among white evangelicals? New York Times nails it

This — 100 percent this. And about time.

Perhaps you saw the debate the other night. I caught an hour or so of it — about all I could take. 

For those concerned about culture-war issues, count how many times words such as "abortion," "marriage" and "religious liberty" were uttered in the showdown between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. (The answer, in each case, would be zero.)

Thus, tweets such as the ones below appeared in my timeline on debate night (yes, including one from our own tmatt).

Then on Wednesday, I noticed this tweet from James A. Smith Sr., a GetReligion reader, a Southern Baptist minister and vice president of communications for the National Religious Broadcasters.

So back to "This," that link I shared earlier.

It's an in-depth story by Laurie Goodstein, the New York Times' veteran national religion correspondent who just won the Religion News Association's top prize for excellence in religion reporting at large newspapers and wire services.

Here is how an email sent to religion writers by a New York Times public relations guru (who knew newspapers had PR people?) describes today's story:

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Does the Godbeat sometimes fill you with despair? Well, you're far from alone

Does the Godbeat sometimes fill you with despair? Well, you're far from alone

My colleague Bobby Ross Jr. posted a piece last week keyed to a comment made by Laurie Goodstein, the veteran, award-winning New York Times religion reporter, who recently pulled down another big Religion Newswriters Association prize.

Here's what she said, as reported by Religion News Service, which was the source of Bobby's lede:

"There are days when I feel despair about the news and the place of religion in it,” said Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times, named first-place winner for excellence in religion reporting at the Religion Newswriters Association’s 66th annual awards ceremony over the [Aug. 27-30] weekend in Philadelphia.
“This work is getting harder,” added Goodstein, in what she said were unprepared remarks. She won in the large newspapers and wire services category for stories published in 2014.

Neither the RNS story or Bobby' post explained further what Goodstein meant. But Bobby did ask others to react to the question of on-the-beat despair. So here's my response.

On-the-job despair? Sure. Perhaps not of the order experienced by William Lobdell (younger readers should click here to understand this older-demographic God-beat reference), but despair nonetheless.

Frankly, I don't see how anyone -- religion journalist or not, person of faith or no faith -- cannot feel despair from time to time if they are at all aware of the vast world that exists outside themselves and they do not seriously numb their sensitivities via escapist self-indulgence (which, I hope it is clear, I am not endorsing).

It's a bloody mess out there, with much of the absurdity, depravity and pain brought to us in the name of religion.

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Veteran New York Times religion writer declares: 'This work is getting harder'

Veteran New York Times religion writer declares: 'This work is getting harder'

Last week, I highlighted the winners in the Religion Newswriters Association's annual contest.

However, I didn't mention one of the most talked-about moments at the RNA's annual conference in Philadelphia.

That would be veteran New York Times religion writer Laurie Goodstein's remarks as she accepted the first-place prize for religion reporting at large newspapers and wire services.

What exactly did Goodstein — described by contest judges as "the gold standard in religion journalism" — say?

The scoop from Religion News Service:

PHILADELPHIA (RNS) Writing about religion isn’t all hope and inspiration.
“There are days when I feel despair about the news and the place of religion in it,” said Laurie Goodstein of The New York Times, named first-place winner for excellence in religion reporting at the Religion Newswriters Association’s 66th annual awards ceremony over the weekend in Philadelphia.
“This work is getting harder,” added Goodstein, in what she said were unprepared remarks. She won in the large newspapers and wire services category for stories published in 2014.
Yet religion reporting is more important than ever, said David Gibson of Religion News Service, who won the first-place award for excellence in religion news analysis.
“Religion writers are crucial in providing a deeper historical, cultural, political and theological framework,” said Gibson.
“The industry’s woes and the amount of news and the subject matter can weigh heavily,” Gibson added. “But then stories like the pontificate of Pope Francis and the response to him of so many people of good faith, and no faith at all, can provide a whole new perspective.”

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Big news report card: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) changes definition of marriage to include same-sex couples

Big news report card: Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) changes definition of marriage to include same-sex couples

In case you missed it, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) made headlines Tuesday night.

As noted by The Washington Post's Sarah Pulliam Bailey — a former GetReligionista — the denomination voted to change its definition of marriage from "a contract 'between a woman and a man' to being 'between two people, traditionally a man and a woman.'"

In light of the widespread coverage of the Presbyterians' decision, it's time for another "big news report card." 

In today's grades, I'm particularly interested in how the major media covered these factors: the decision itself, the ramifications for the denomination, the reactions of supporters and opponents, and the wider context of American Christianity within which this decision occurs:

• Associated Press: A

Nice work by AP's longtime Godbeat pro, Rachel Zoll, on all the criteria I mentioned.

In particular, Zoll did an excellent job of putting the decision into context:

Although several Protestant denominations have taken significant steps toward recognizing same-sex relationships, only one other major Christian group has endorsed gay marriage churchwide.
In 2005, the 1.1 million-member United Church of Christ became the first major Protestant denomination to back same-sex marriage, urging its individual congregations to develop wedding policies that don't discriminate against couples because of gender.

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