An odd piece of outstanding journalism

A reader sent GetReligion a link to a Washington Post story with this headline:

Black pastors take heat for not viewing same-sex marriage as civil rights matter

The reader said he's not accustomed to the Post treating traditional religious viewpoints with respect. Therefore, he "cringed thinking about how these pastors were about to be flayed in the press."

Then he read the story — all 1,350 words of it: Only two people are quoted. One of the sources, in fact, accounts for roughly 10 full paragraphs of direct quotes on his own.

A thinly sourced hit piece? Not exactly.

Said the reader:

It was actually respectful. The two pastors in the story were treated with respect and as real people, not as caricatures.


The top of the report:

All of a sudden, they are bigots and haters — they who stood tall against discrimination, who marched and sat in, who knew better than most the pain of being told they were less than others.

They are black men, successful ministers, leaders of their community. But with Maryland poised to become the eighth state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage, they hear people — politicians, activists, even members of their own congregations — telling them they are on the wrong side of history, and that’s not where they usually live.

Sometimes, the pastors say, the name-calling and the anger sting.

Nathaniel Thomas spent decades as an administrator in Howard University’s student affairs office, counseling young people not only about their course work but also about their personal quests for justice. He came to the ministry at the dawn of middle age, eager to help people, and especially fellow black men, discover in the word of God a path out of despair.

Over the past couple of years, as Thomas and dozens of other black clergymen in Prince George’s County have stood on the front line of the campaign against same-sex marriage, he has come to see the revolution at hand — in his view, a rebellion against religion and tradition — as an assault on the sustainability of the black family.

When I read the story, it amazed me how much I liked it because generally I would be complaining about too few sources and the lack of any opposing voices quoted by name. Etc. Etc. Etc.

In this case, I felt like the reporter produced a rather remarkable piece of daily journalism by stepping out of the way and letting the sources explain their beliefs fully in their own words.

This piece would have lost its power, I believe, if the writer had chosen to quote 10 different pastors instead of focusing on just two (actually, mainly just one).

By all means, read the story and tell me if you agree.

Maryland State House photo via Shutterstock

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