Reporter who catches facts with chopsticks ...

Another gem from the Godbeat at the Los Angeles Times. If you didn't pick up on my sarcasm, here's a post from last week about the litany of bad religion stories that have been coming forth from Spring Street. The subject this time is not evangelicals or the Catholic Church; it's a Shaolin Buddhist Temple.

And it's a "real kick!"

China's world-famous Shaolin Temple gained prominence among many Americans with the release of the 1980s martial arts movie of the same name. An updated version of the film, loved by fans for the riveting kung fu stunts of the temple's legendary fighting monks, is in the works. And in recent weeks, Hollywood's remake of "The Karate Kid" has topped the box office, wowing audiences with its seemingly magical martial arts techniques.

But while kung fu continues to make a splash on the big screen, members of the Shaolin Buddhist Temple in Sherman Oaks are keen to spread a different message about the Shaolin culture and what their sanctuary has to offer.

"When people come here, it's not just about martial arts," said the temple's master, Italian-born Franco Testini, 43, whose Buddhist name, Shifu Shi Yan Fan, was given to him by the abbot of the Shaolin Temple in China.

"Hollywood has completely exaggerated the martial arts scene," added Cindy Truong, 32, a temple volunteer and event coordinator. "It's not all about Chinese people being thrown over chairs. The martial arts you see in the movies, that's Americanized. It's a very small part of Shaolin culture."

In one way, I want to applaud this story because it debunks a myth, and that is an esteemed role of the journalist. This article, in particular, reads like a blend of news feature and the Explainer.

But I didn't even realize there was a kung fu fad to clarify. So when you realize that the best news hook for this story was the remake of "The Karate Kid," this article takes on a new appearance, one more along the lines of the LAT's Not News piece about the Self-Realization Fellowship from last August.

On a slightly embarrassing note, as a cub reporter at The Sun I was not above such karate kick religions stories, though I think that novelty is a bit more interesting.

The real issue is whether Russell Chandler would have ever written this story, and, if so, whether it would have had the same new-to-town tone. I doubt it. This is the type of story that a veteran religion reporter is unlikely to write, just as they aren't going to write about this crazy new thing called the Rosary. As Mark Silk once told me, there are so many different strands of Buddhism in Los Angeles that a religion reporter could write about a different one each week -- and spend a career doing it.

But at this point the Los Angeles Times has had at least three religion reporters in the past two years, and a lot of their religion stories, like this one, are being written by other beat reporters.

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