Religion reporter, columnist, blogger?

crozier 2 smallGetReligion readers who want insights into religion news in Great Britain need to know that veteran London Times Godbeat scribe Ruth Gledhill has started writing a blog. I think this is interesting because many will say that it further blurs the lines between the personal and the journalistic for someone who is still the reporter of record on the newspaper's hard-news coverage of religion. You could, of course, make a similar comment about me (as many have). However, my weekly column for the Scripps Howard News Service is precisely that -- a column.

In the past, some editors have expressed discomfort about having reporters on a hard-news beat, such as religion, also serve as columnists who write material that blends opinion and news. It's part of the whole "How can you cover religion if you go to church?" question. The blogosphere takes that question and turns it up another notch -- 24/7.

However, let me be the first to confess that it is interesting to read behind-the-scenes material from Gledhill that fills in some of the cracks on major stories from the news pages. For example, she recently offered this straight news lead on a report about the explosive issue of female bishops in the already splintering Church of England.

The Church of England is to press ahead with the ordination of women bishops despite warnings that the move could tear it apart.

Then, in the blog she is able to turn right around and offer some personal reflections, such as:

One of the most thrilling aspects of being a journalist is being "leaked" information, being handed a report, a document, a "secret", perhaps passed under a table in a smoky sawdust-filled bar in Fleet Street or, as was given to me once, in a Macdonald's in Basingstoke. It doesn't happen often to me, maybe once a year if I'm lucky. The latest document to reach me like this is the deliberations of Bishop Christopher Hill's Guildford Group on women bishops. ...

The document, stamped "restricted" or "strictly confidential" on every page, sets out how the new proposals for TEA, or transferred episcopal arrangements, would work.

Much of the content of the blog is precisely what newspapers in the cyber age must begin offering -- especially links to the real documents, transcripts and other forms of information that let the most dedicated of readers go the extra mile. This also lets readers make some of their own judgment calls about the decisions made by reporters and editors. When in doubt, more information is amost always an improvement.

church 20050713 wed4artAt the same time, you have to wonder what the leaders of a traditionalist group like Forward In Faith UK -- which opposes the ordination of women as priests or as bishops (photo by ENS) -- think when they read a passage such as the following from the beat reporter who covers their organization. As it turns out, the Gillian Warr praised in this passage as a pioneer worker on behalf of women's ordination was both a friend and the godmother of -- wait for it -- Ruth Gledhill.

But as for the bishops of the Church of England, well some of them must be hoping the lights will be permanently on red. That way, they will not have to cope with the consequences of what Gillian's father Percy Dearmer fought for so bravely and so long ago.

In memory of Gillian, I urge them to go crashing through that episcopal glass window. They might even find that the only criticism, in the end, is that they simply did not open the door fast enough.

Believe me, I know how easy it is to find yourself making friends with the people that you cover on your beat. I have also had many a conversation with my editors about what happens when, as a reporter, you find yourself covering your own denomination or even your own parish.

When in doubt, I believe that as a reporter you have to level with your editors and let them help you make decisions about what you cover and what you do not cover (or when you need to share a byline with another reporter). Sometimes you simply have to pull yourself off a story or take the unusual step of writing about it in the first person, so that readers know your connection to the events. In the end, the crucial thing is that the people you are covering believe that you quoted them accurately and presented their views in a manner that was as fair as possible.

Anyway, I, for one, am glad that Gledhill has started a blog. It will certainly make for more lively, and better informed, discussions of her work at the Times. It will almost certain lead to more speculation about the sources of future leaked documents.

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