One of the hardest parts of being a reporter, on any beat, is trying to figure out what to do while you are waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Let's say that a major event has taken place and that you have written that story. However, you just know that there will be other developments. Do you try to get ahead of it and write an advance story about what MIGHT happen, about the developments that you know the experts are already anticipating, if not investigating? Then again, if lots of scribes do that, it's possible that they will influence the story that they're covering.
This happens all the time in political coverage. Right now, major newsrooms are cranking out stories based on the whole "what will the candidates do next in an attempt to stop Donald Trump, etc., etc." line of thought. It's speculation mixed with blue-sky planning.
As you would imagine, I am thinking about a specific story now looming in the background, as the churches of the West move through Holy Week toward the bright liturgical grief of Good Friday. I am referring to that note that I added the other day, at the end of a post with this headline: "Did gunmen in Yemen kill the four Missionaries of Charity for any particular reason?"
The hook for the post was a comment by Pope Francis in which he wondered why journalists around the world were offering so little coverage of the deaths of these four nuns. I added:
So what's the bottom line at this point, in terms of the pope's lament about the news coverage? Have we reached the point where attacks of this kind are now normal and, well, not that big a deal? Did these news reports really need to be clear about who lived and who died in this case? Did the faith element -- the "martyr" detail -- matter in the original coverage of these killings or did it only become valid when the pope said so?
Just asking. And does anyone else fear that we may soon see the missing priest in an Islamic State video?
I was thinking, of course, about what could happen to Salesian Father Tom Uzhunnalil during Western Holy Week (Holy Week for the Eastern Churches is April 25-30 this year).
Now, if you do a logical search in Google News, it's easy to see that some journalists (mostly with "conservative" outlets, since religious persecution stories are by definition "conservative," for some strange reason) are reporting that -- according to thinly attributed reports in social media -- the other shoe in this story is about to drop.
My question: Is this valid coverage?
If ISIS had kidnapped a major sports star, perhaps a Jordanian soccer star, would the press do advance coverage on this issue? I
f a Turkish diplomat was awaiting his or her fate, would this produce advance stories on what MIGHT happen?
Now, on the other side of the pond, The Mirror has come right out and stated the common fear:
Fears are growing for a priest believed to have been kidnapped by ISIS as sickening reports suggest he may be crucified on Good Friday.
Father Tom Uzhunnalil was seized when four armed militants stormed an old people's home in Aden in Yemen on March 4. The gunmen killed 16 people, including four nuns in the brutal attack.
No group has come forward to claim responsibility for the kidnap of the priest, who was a member of the Salesian order in of Bangalore, India, but a survivor said ISIS was to blame.
Now reports shared on social media suggest the priest faces being brutally tortured this Friday as Christians mark the day Jesus died.
Is there a source for this? Yes, and it is not a weak one:
The Franciscan Sisters of Siessen , based in South Africa, posted on Facebook: "Was informed that the Salesian priest, Fr. Tom who was kidnapped by ISIS from the Missionaries of Charity Home in Yemen is being tortured and is going to be crucified on Good Friday.
"This calls for serious concerted prayers from all of us."
This raises several questions. Yes, (1) why is this a "conservative" story? Then, (2) is it valid to simply report that a branch of the Salesian order is raising this question about one of its own? (3) Does it become a story if the pope mentions this? Obviously, it would be a story if the White House mentioned it. Then again, why is that worthy of the word "obviously"?
Just asking. And worrying.