Concerning GetReligion and our history of openly biased commentary on news

Anyone who has ever taken the time to read the first essay published at this blog more than 11 years ago -- "What we do, why we do it" -- or who knows how to use a mouse and a search engine well enough to reach Wikipedia knows that one of my closest friends in journalism is a writer whose byline, back when she was a nationally known religion-beat professional, was Roberta Green.

Roberta and I were on the beat during the same era, primarily when I was at The Rocky Mountain News and she was at The Orange County Register. Then, in the pre-Internet era, she vanished from the beat when she married someone she met in a church Bible study. Our paths crossed again a few years later, at a Columbia University conference on religion-news issues, linked to the famous Freedom Forum study called "Bridging The Gap (.pdf here)."

As it turned out, Roberta had married a philanthropist named Howard Ahmanson, who at times has been a controversial figure in Southern California cultural and political life. At this point, I will simply say that if you want to know more about his evolving views on a host of subjects, you should check out his blog -- "Blue Kennel." For those who know political symbolism, it's logical to note that blue kennels might house blue dogs, a label Ahmanson embraced a few years ago when he left the Republican Party and registered as a Democrat.

For the past two decades, Roberta and I (and a host of other journalists and academics) have been involved in many journalism-education projects working with the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, the Global Media Project,, Oxford University Press and now The McCandlish Phillips Journalism Center, a project at The King's College in New York City that honors the legacy of the great New York Times reporter John McCandlish Phillips. My work with has been part of all of this, for 11 years.

Like I said, these connections were put into print the day this blog opened. Still, I was not surprised when the GetReligion reader named "Jay," or whoever resides at the lambda98 address at Hotmail, had this response to my recent post about GetReligion, Religion News Service and debates about "church" and "state" conflicts in newsrooms.

So it raises ethical and journalistic questions and blurry lines when the RNS accepts a grant from the Arcus Foundation, but no such ethical and journalistic questions and blurry lines get raised with GetReligion is funded by Howard Ahmanson, Jr. and his wife Roberta Green Ahmanson. ... Unbelievable. This is not only applying a double standard, but it reeks of rank hypocrisy to write a column about the funding of RNS but to spike any mention of the funding of GR.

First, let me confirm that I did spike the wave of "Jay" comments, in part because we strive not to let readers attack folks by name, especially in comments that do not focus on the actual facts of the blog post in question. Also, I spent that whole day and most of the evening -- after finishing the RNS post -- at a Baltimore Orioles doubleheader and there is only so much blog work one can do on a cellphone. However, the key "Jay" points are noted above.

Let me make a few key comments here. GetReligion is a blog with a very open editorial stance and bias, which I repeated again in my post the other day. Here is a refresher:

... The journalism "theology" of GetReligion -- our openly stated editorial bias -- is that we ... defend the old school "American model of the press" approach that, especially on controversial debates, calls for the balanced, accurate coverage of voices on both sides, with believers on both sides being shown respect. ...
If you see a GetReligion post that argues for showing favoritism to one side of a debate, please let me know. Send me the URL, pronto. However, if you are upset when we call for balanced, accurate coverage of voices on both sides of crucial doctrinal debates in the news, such as the many firestorms about sexuality, then please stop and think -- in journalism terms -- about what you are saying.

As a mainstream reporter and, now, as a philanthropist on journalism education issues, my colleague Roberta Green remains totally committed to mainstream, "American model of the press" journalism as she practiced it and admired it in the work of many others (folks both secular and religious) on the beat, then and now. To state it again, GetReligion will fiercely support religion-news coverage -- hard news -- built on the American model of the press.

Here is the question to those who share the concerns of lambda98: Is it now controversial, or even "anti-gay," to advocate coverage of controversial, divisive issues in the news that is accurate, balanced and shows respect for informed, representative voices on both sides of the debates?

Also, remember that the key is to focus on news coverage -- basic hard news.

My post about RNS focused on open debates about an Arcus Foundation grant that was meant to produce both NEWS and commentary on LGBT issues. Would there have been similar controversy if the Arcus grant was, let's say, for the purpose of establishing a media-criticism blog with -- as an openly stated editorial point of view -- the goal of praising and criticizing news coverage of LGBT issues linked to religion? Probably not. GetReligion certainly would not have addressed that. Why criticize a commentary blog for doing commentary?

The question is whether RNS, as a mainstream news wire service, would be the logical home for that kind of advocacy blog. As I stressed the other day, many editors -- not just RNS leaders, for sure -- are currently struggling to keep a bright line between their hard-news products and the world of editorials, commentary and advocacy, "European style" journalism. RNS is not alone in this struggle, in hard economic times.

So, let's be clear. GetReligion is a commentary, advocacy blog -- not a hard-news site. We are very open, around here, about our bias in support of the American model of the press and, if need be, about our own religious views. As I have said many times, I am an Eastern Orthodox Christian layman who is a pro-life Democrat with a portrait of FDR hanging over his desk.

People are complex and we appreciate that, both among the journalists we know and respect and among our diverse crowd of faithful readers.

So back to work.

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