Some reporters just react to events and press releases. Others do a good job of keeping the big picture in mind. I thought of this when I read Washington Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein's blog request for assistance on one of the issues she covers. She says she's been requesting access to the faith-based offices in federal agencies for more than six months but has been shut down across the board:
Sure, we know generally that the offices help faith-based and other nonprofits that run programs on things like job training, but let's get more specific. Which groups do they help and fund, and for what projects? Have their priorities changed since the offices were run by the Bush White House? Does the office at USAID, for example, get involved in the many millions of dollars of contracts related to sex and family planning overseas? And what does the Justice Department faith office do?
If you can help provide answers, be sure to let her know.
The Chicago Tribune actually had the opportunity to find out answers to these questions but squandered the opportunity.
But, no. Instead the newspaper published a puffy, no-news piece praising Joshua DuBois, the head of the faith-based office. You'd be hard pressed to find a reporter who dislikes DuBois as a person but many of the reporters I know who cover the faith-based office have been nothing if not frustrated with their inability to get answers to basic questions about what the office is doing. At a Religion Newswriters conference a couple of years ago, an NPR reporter asked him point blank why he was so unresponsive to reporter queries.
So next time someone gets an opportunity like the Tribune had, let's make sure we use it well!