Every now and then I stop and think to myself, "How in the heckfire did I do my job -- make that my jobs, plural -- before there was email and the World Wide Web?
Let me give you an example of what I'm talking about, while sending a shout out to Michael Paulson and the Boston Globe, who kept looking for the faith content in the Eunice Kennedy Shriver story after the opening blitz of all-to-standard obituaries. Click here for my earlier take on that sad situation.
Anyway, Paulson posted a major chunk of a very thoughtful online reflection by Cardinal Sean P. O'Malley of Boston about the life, faith and work of Shriver, which connected the dots between her pro-life Catholic convictions, her older sister Rosemary and her social activism on behalf of the mentally and physically challenged (and Cesar Chavez, while we're at it). Here is a piece of that:
That work with the farm workers was just one more indication of the profound commitment of Eunice and Sargent Shriver to the social doctrine of the Church. She was preeminently prolife, against abortion and there to protect and underscore the dignity of every person. This, of course, manifested itself in her love for children with disabilities. ...
Her sister, Rosemary, who was mentally retarded, opened up a whole reality that led Eunice to be such a pioneer and allowed her to make such a mark on history with the Special Olympics. It has been my experience that when a family has a child with a mental disability or Down Syndrome, the siblings often learn more about compassion and understanding than they would have if they did (not) have that exceptional child. ...
While Eunice's works were remarkable, I don't want to lose sight of the fact that her Catholic faith and education was a very important part of what motivated her and helped her to interpret reality, particularly the reality of disability and retardation. ... It was certainly the soil out of which grew her passion and dedication to the less fortunate and those who are challenged by disabilities and mental retardation.
Over the past week or so, I had been searching for material of this kind about Shriver, in large part because I wanted to write a Scripps Howard News Service column on this subject. I shipped that column to the copy desk this morning and, because of Paulson's weblog post, I ran into this public statement by Cardinal O'Malley.
Now stop and think about this for a moment.
I am pretty sure that the cardinal in Boston would have returned a telephone call if a veteran Boston Globe reporter -- on deadline -- called after a major funeral of this kind in need of a quick interview. At least, I think the cardinal's press staff would make that happen if we were talking about a church member who was free of scandal.
The big local paper gets that call. There is also a chance that the New York Times would get a return call. Maybe.
But do you think that the religion-beat columnist from Scripps Howard is going to get that interview with this prince of the church about a major political, cultural and religious leader? The odds would be slim and none, unless I had a big church contact (perhaps another bishop) who would be willing to go to bat for me.
However, the material uploaded to the cardinal's blog was a click or two away.
Yes, I know that this is a church PR officer's dream -- good quotes, with no dangerous follow-up questions (perhaps about the faith status of other members of the Kennedy family, broadly defined). Of course I would prefer to do interviews myself. But this is one case in which the cardinal was able to say what he wanted to say and those insights covered the main question of the day.
In the digital age, reporters are having to work fast and, frankly, I think access to online verbatim interviews, recordings of speeches, transcripts of panel discussions and weblog items are wonderful resources for background research and, from time to time, as source materials. I know that, with a Capitol Hill day job and no wire-service travel funds, I could not cover half of the speeches and forums that I cover without these kinds of digital materials.
So, thank you to Paulson for his post. And I would urge the press aides to other major religious leaders to consider posting more verbatim speeches, interviews, articles, essays, panel discussions, sermon texts, etc. The more information available on deadline, the better.