Way to go, Joe! Colorado civil-unions story hits the mark

In the interest of full disclosure, I should point out that Joe Hight, the relatively new editor of the Colorado Springs Gazette, is a longtime friend and mentor of mine. Twenty years ago, Joe hired me to work at The Oklahoman, then a statewide newspaper with a Sunday circulation of about 350,000. During my nine years with the Oklahoma City newspaper, Joe provided regular guidance and encouragement as an eager young reporter — sometimes too combustible and other times too naive about newsroom politics — gained valuable real-world experience.

Together, we and other Oklahoman reporters and editors tackled two of the biggest stories of our careers: the April 19, 1995, Oklahoma City bombing and the May 3, 1999, Oklahoma tornadoes.

While in Colorado Springs on a reporting assignment in January, I enjoyed catching up with Joe over dinner. He took me on a tour of the Gazette newsroom and excitedly showed off his new digs. As we talked, he discussed his desire to see the Colorado Springs newspaper focus on fair, aggressive news coverage. In an era when so many mainstream media outlets seem inclined to take sides, I offered my hearty endorsement of that approach.

All of the above serves as a prelude to my critique of a front-page report in today's Gazette. I have no idea whether Joe had any direct involvement in the story or the approach taken. But the report on Catholic Charities' concerns about a proposed civil-unions law in Colorado exemplifies the kind of old-fashioned, straight-news reporting that characterizes the best daily journalism. (I have written about the religious exemptions issue for Christianity Today.)

Let's start at the top of the Gazette story:

DENVER - Religious-based adoption agencies might be forced to close if civil unions for same-sex couples become law, Mark Rohlena, president of Catholic Charities of Central Colorado, testified Thursday before a House committee.

“A broad conscience protection should be included in this bill if it must be passed,” Rohlena said. “Sadly in places like Illinois, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., we have seen Catholic Charity organizations forced out of their adoption and foster care programs where they are trusted partners with the state when conscience objections are not protected.”

Rohlena said the organization’s adoption guidelines require they place children only with couples who have been married three years. The proposed civil unions law would require them to place children with same-sex couples in civil unions.

Keep reading, and the story quotes the Democratic House speaker, who hopes to adopt a 1-year-old girl with his gay partner, and a Unitarian minister who suggests that Catholic Charities shouldn't be able to discriminate if it accepts public funding.

But the story also quotes the state's attorney general, who was adopted as a child through Catholic Charities, and an adoptive couple using Catholic Charities because of its compatibility with their religious beliefs.

It's pretty simple, really: Detail what the law will do. Include arguments from supporters and opponents. Provide relevant facts and insight.

This story does all of those things.

I'm not suggesting that this piece will win a Pulitzer Prize or that it's perfectly written. But I am suggesting that this story — reported under deadline pressure —provides the basic information necessary to help readers understand what's at stake. And I am suggesting that it's impossible to tell where the reporter or the newspaper stand on the issue. As GetReligion readers know all too well, that's not always the case.

In closing, let me just say: Way to go, Joe!

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