I got my first taste of Popemania in 1999.
The Oklahoman put me on an airplane and sent me to cover Pope John Paul II's visit to St. Louis.
In my introductory post with GetReligion, I made this confession about that experience:
After nearly 10 years in the newspaper business, I knew how to chase fire trucks and police cars and burn the midnight oil with city councils and school boards. But my knowledge of the Roman Catholic Church was scant. Honestly, I had no idea what a diocese was. I didn't know the difference between a bishop and a cardinal. I had heard of the pope.
Despite a mild case of fear and trembling, I researched the basics of Catholic faith and prepared to handle the assignment. I wrote three or four Page 1 stories the week of the pope's visit. My favorite focused on a youth event where Catholic teens jammed to the ear-piercing beat of DC Talk's "Jesus Freak" before welcoming to the stage a gray-haired pontiff who walked with a cane.
No doubt, I perfected the unfine art of #PapalGoofs long before hashtags were cool.
My first pope story was a Page 1 Sunday advance on Oklahomans making the trek to see their spiritual leader in person. For The Oklahoman, John Paul's visit was a local story as much as a national and international headline.
All these years later, the same remains true for newspapers across the U.S.:
While much of the local and regional coverage focuses on parishioners making the pilgrimage, a reader pointed us to a nuanced profile of Francis in the Dayton Daily News in Ohio:
The Dayton reader said:
A business reporter at the Dayton Daily News did an outstanding job of putting Pope Francis into focus, ignoring the easy labels. Sure, many stories will grudgingly admit that "he hasn't changed doctrine" (as if he could) and that he says many of the same things St. John Paul II and Benedict XVI did, but this story puts that up front. This shows that it doesn't take a big newspaper in a major metro area to do great work on the Godbeat.
But not everyone is excited about Popemania:
It was all-pope-all-the-time Wednesday morning as television media ignored virtually any other news to reverently cover Pope Francis’ address at the White House.
Wherever one turned, there he was, acknowledging the perils of climate change and deriding inequality in one of his longest English-language speeches ever: ABC, CBS, NBC, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News Channel, even CNBC and Fox Business Network.
Of course, old reliable C-Span was there but without any intrusion from anchors, reporters or academic pundits.
There was as much emoting as cold analysis, even on Fox, where many viewers surely take issue with Francis’ unequivocal views on climate change, if not other matters.
Fox stalwart Shepherd Smith said, “It feels like the sort of thing you can get on a Sunday [at church]: ‘Take in those that need it, protect the things that god gave us. Be good stewards, live honorably and do what’s right.’”
A quick note before moving to the meat of Warren's concerns: According to the Associated Press Stylebook — the journalist's bible — "God" should be capitalized. (Lowercasing it almost gives the impression that the writer's problem is with religion and not media coverage.)
GetReligion readers, of course, already know that style rule:
But back to papal coverage: In his daily news roundup today, Warren writes:
Media approaching divine reverence
There was wall-to-wall coverage of Pope Francis' first full day in Washington. On television, there was as much emoting as cold analysis. (Poynter) We've even taken the Fiat 500L and turned it into a symbol of all that is virtuous and humble, as ugly as that vehicle is (and it is ugly). Knock on wood it's not a Volkswagen Passat with a rigged emissions monitoring system. As opposed to President Obama's primary vehicle, "The Beast," which costs about $1 million, prices for this piece of metal and glass start at around $20,000. What would we say about his decency and humility if he used a Ford F-350 pickup, instead? Regardless, the capital's estimable local paper offered what went beyond terrific blanket coverage — no, this was duvet coverage — including a video on "waves and kisses" as he rode about town. (The Washington Post) Imagine if media used this much journalistic firepower daily to cover local and state social services, real estate scams and incompetent nonprofits, among about 50 areas now largely untouched amid the overall decline.
I notice that he didn't mention the demise of the Godbeat in major Bible Belt cities. But religion, too, is an area that could benefit from more journalistic firepower daily — not just when the pope lands on U.S. soil.
I'd quibble, however, with Warren singling out the Washington Post for criticism, given that it focuses on religion coverage all the time, not just when the pope comes to town. The Post employs two full-time, veteran religion writers, Michelle Boorstein and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, and has other talented, experienced journalists — such as GetReligion friend Hamil R. Harris — who regularly write about matters of faith. (Full disclosure, once again: Bailey is a former GetReligionista.)
As for Warren's main point, I'd love feedback from GetReligion readers on this question:
How much coverage of Francis' U.S. visit is too much?
Reply in the comments section below or tweet us at @GetReligion.