I've never talked to a priest. As a reporter, that is. I've talked to bishops and cardinals. I talked even to a former president, which for reporters is a big "get." But I've never talked to a priest. This is no boast. This is an admission of guilt.
To see why, read The Washington Post's story about the ways in which the Washington archdiocese is distributing tickets for Pope Benedict XVI's visit to the District this spring. Reporters Jacqueline L. Salmon and Michelle Boorstein showed that the tickets are in much demand. But note how Salmon and Boorstein got this story:
Monsignor W. Ronald Jameson, rector of St. Matthew's Cathedral in the District, has received hundreds of letters and e-mails, in English and Spanish, many with a heartrending story of why the sender should be chosen to go to the Mass. A woman who experienced two miscarriages and believes the Mass will help relieve her grief. A man who suffers from HIV and hopes the Mass will produce a miracle. A wife whose husband has just returned from a two-year deployment to Iraq.
The descriptions struck me as not only memorable but also novelistic. It's easy to imagine a woman who endured two miscarriages or a man suffering from HIV wanting to see the Holy Father. Salmon and Boorstein might have been tempted to declare that the tickets were in demand. Instead, they detailed the extent to which Catholics are going to see the Pope.
By talking with a priest, the reporters humanized their story. This should not come as a surprise. Priests, rabbis, imams are on the religious frontlines. They know their congregations, at least in detail, better than anyone.
That said, the reporters' story was not perfect. Perhaps they should have given readers more context. It would have been helpful to be reminded why the Pope decided to come to DC; why he is going to a smaller venue (the Nationals' new baseball stadium) than an older one (RFK Memorial stadium); or how Pope Benedict the XVI views outdoor Masses compared to his predecessor.
I know, my point is inside baseball to most GR readers. But have you read a story and thought, man, if only this reporter had talked with a cleric or minister, it would have been better?