Time does not have layers

The other day, I praised the "Shrek-like" nature of a CNN story exploring what religious leaders planned to say on the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks:

You know what I mean if you’ve seen the movie (“Onions have layers. Ogres have layers.”). This story has layers. The writer talked to religious leaders all over the nation. He quotes a United Church of Christ pastor, Catholic priests, a Southern Baptist chaplain, a Jewish rabbi, a daughter of the Rev. Billy Graham and a spectrum of other voices.

I thought of that description as I read a Time magazine story, ostensibly on the same topic, passed along by a GetReligion reader. Unfortunately, I came to this conclusion: Time does not have layers. At least this particular piece does not.

The Time lede is not terrible:

On the 10th anniversary of September 11 Sunday morning, some 120 million Americans will be sitting in church pews.

Waiting nearby in half a million pulpits will be much of the nation's clergy, sermons in hand.

The question is, What will they preach?

But after referencing 500,000 pulpits, Time proceeds to quote only three clergy members by name. Guess how many of them are Episcopalians?

Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! If you guessed "all three," you win the prize.

More from the story:

This Sunday's sermon has been a hot topic for pastors across the country for months. Barbara Brown Taylor, a critically-acclaimed Episcopal preacher and Islam professor at Piedmont College, has become a go-to for sermon counsel. "I would focus on wisdom gained. I would try to think about what we have learned over these 10 years," she says of the anniversary Sunday. "What we have learned about our religious neighbors, what we have learned about ourselves, and what does our tradition teach us about how to go forward?"

Now, I have no reason to doubt that Taylor is "critically acclaimed" (without the hyphen, please!). But way back in Journalism 101, they teach reporters (and future editors) to give the source's credentials and let readers decide if she's "acclaimed." Or at the very least, quote someone describing her as such. That's called attribution, which, come to think of it, isn't exactly a strong point of this report.

I also praised CNN for not being afraid of religious words. For instance, the CNN report made reference to "the lectionary, a standardized collection of scripture readings." We get this from Time:

This week's lectionary lineup offers powerful passages for reflection along these lines.

Notice the difference? CNN used five words to explain what "lectionary" means. Time did not. Thus, you get a word in the middle of the story that not every reader is going to understand.

Speaking of layers, I guess the opposite of peeling back journalistic onions would be making broad statements with no attribution or effort to provide context or deeper understanding. Ding, ding, ding, ding, ding! More from Time:

In the back of many preachers' minds lingers the painful reality that a tiny minority of Christians proclaimed not reconciliation but planned Quran burnings and mosque relocation wars.

And this:

On the whole, this decade has brought Christian efforts to better understand other religions, especially Islam.

Basically, what we have here is one journalistic organization that devoted real reporting and resources to telling a story. And another that phoned it in. The difference between the two pieces could not be more stark.

Sorry, Shrek.

P.S. I'd be curious to know how your local paper handled the religious angle on 9/11. Please provide links and let us know whether you were impressed with the caliber of journalism.

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