I was pleasantly surprised last Monday morning to see in my morning newspaper a story of significant length on the Southern Baptist's convention, held this week across the street from where I work. Indianapolis gets all sorts of conventions, from Gen Con to the National FFA. The newspaper does a reasonable job covering them, but some fall through the cracks. The reporter on the story, Robert King, is one of my favorite religion reporters, partly because he is local and partly because he is an excellent journalist. If you're not from Indiana, you wouldn't care too much about the story though since it focuses on how this "Southern" church is growing in HoosierLand.
Unfortunately, after this story, it seems The Star abandoned all hope of covering the rather significant news coming out of the convention. Our friends over at The Revealer had this to say about the media's general failure to cover the convention:
Big, big story missed by the press: Messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention's annual meeting, held in Indianapolis, rejected the relatively moderate vision of outgoing SBC president Frank Page by electing -- with big numbers -- Johnny Hunt, an Atlanta megachurch pastor associated with the "fundamentalist" wing of the denomination.
While it is right to call on major national media organizations to buy plane tickets to Indianapolis to cover this news, I'd like to call out the news organization down the street from the convention center for failing to give us any substantive coverage of the convention beyond the initial story and posting Associated Press articles on their Web site:
INDIANAPOLIS -- Four years ago, the Bush-Cheney re-election campaign hosted a reception for Southern Baptist pastors at a hotel across the street from their annual meeting.
The country is electing a president again, the Baptists are meeting again and John McCain's campaign is nowhere to be seen at a gathering of 7,200 people, most of them staunch Republicans.
The absence has some Southern Baptists wondering whether the Arizona senator wants their vote. Others are more sympathetic to a campaign still gearing up, a candidate not known for talking about his faith, and reticence McCain might feel over his recent rejection of two endorsements by high-profile, evangelical pastors.
Don't get me wrong, you can't do much better than the AP's Eric Gorski in terms of quality religion reporting, but why is The Indianapolis Star using an AP article for an event in its own town? The most obvious answer, unfortunately, is that the newspaper is understaffed.
I understand from Monday's story that the Southern Baptists are not the biggest religious group in the state and the AP story is a national story but there are plenty of local hooks for covering the country's largest Protestant denomination and the largest Baptist association in the world.
How about a story on the fact that the governor of the state, former Bush Administration Office of Management and Budget chief Mitch Daniels, is running for re-election this fall and is one of John McCain's biggest supporters? As Gorski writes, McCain may be nervous about associating too closely with religious groups these days, as Southern Baptists seem to be nervous about him. But what about the state's politicians? Or is that even an issue in Indiana?