Problems with parachuting into AFA

Air Force Thunderbirds Aerial Demonstration

Remember that reporter vice I discussed last week? If you need a refresher: Reporters and people and people are prone to temptation and maybe the greatest temptation of a reporter on deadline for a story they aren't married to is to rely, often over-rely, on previously quoted experts.

This is the way little-known academics or think-tank folks or advocacy organizations become go-to sources. That's not to say sometimes the reputation isn't deserved; in many cases it is. But even when it is deserved, there is a dearth of voices that begins to appear over the life cycle of a newsworthy story.

This appears to not be an issue for Lance Benzel, a reporter for the Colorado Springs Gazette. The proof is in the pudding. The pudding is Benzel's version of the story about the Pagan worship site at the Air Force Academy, which was the impetus for my previous reporter-vice post.

The article is short and sweet, but does what's necessary. Benzel includes a great detail about the design of the cross, which was made with two railroad ties, and, more importantly, revealed facts that all his competitors at the big papers, the folks who parachuted in, missed. For example:

Wiccans, pagans and other followers of Earth-centered religions have been active on campus for at least a decade, and are now among 14 religious groups recognized under a program that sets aside time for cadets to worship on their own, said cadet wing chaplain Lt. Col. William Ziegler III.

"We're here to serve as caretakers to support every cadet's religious freedoms," Ziegler said of Special Programs in Religious Education, or SPIRE.

Really? Every story I read suggested that if it ain't evangelical, then it ain't welcome at the Air Force Academy.

Benzel, like the AP and unlike the Los Angeles Times, also talks with the lay leader of the AFA's Pagan group, Tech. Sgt. Brandon Longcrier. (I'm still shocked Longcrier didn't make it into the LAT piece.) And, shocker, no mention of Mikey Weinstein here, though Benzel still -- miraculously -- managed to mention the sentiment that the academy did not take the cross incident seriously enough.

Longcrier charged the academy downplayed his Jan. 17 complaint about the incident, which he called a hate crime.

Unlike in the LAT article, this allegation wasn't in the lede and wasn't overemphasized, and no part of Benzel's reportage felt like it was based on a press release. All in all, well played.

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