We've said it before, but Associated Press writers face an almost impossible task: providing real depth and insight in wire-service-length news reports.
Yes, the AP goes in depth from time to time — such as religion writer Rachel Zoll's deep dive inside the changing status of evangelicals in America, which I praised last week:
But typically, AP limits stories to 300 to 500 words.
By my quick copy-and-paste count, an AP story out today on Southern Baptists talking racial unity with a black Baptist leader is 532 words.
So perhaps it's no surprise that the piece falls short when it comes to backing up its generalizations and quoting relevant sources.
Let's start at the top:
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — When Ferguson, Missouri, exploded two years ago with racial unrest that spread across the nation, the newly elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention was moved to action.
Together with an interracial group of his fellow ministers, the Rev. Ronnie Floyd penned an article that called on Southern Baptist pastors, churches and laypeople to repent of racism and injustice. "Silence is not the answer and passivity is not our prescription for healing," it read.
It was one of the most strongly worded denunciations of racism ever released by leaders of a denomination founded in a split over slavery, and it set in motion events leading to a "national conversation on racial unity" to take place at the SBC's annual meeting on Tuesday.
Speaking to the membership of the nation's largest Protestant denomination will be the Rev. Jerry Young, president of the nation's largest historically black denomination, the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A.
My journalistic questions about those first few paragraphs: Who is the source on the statement that "it was one of the most strongly worded denunciations ever released" by the Southern Baptist Convention? Wouldn't it be helpful to attribute that claim to a named person whose credentials and expertise on the subject could be assessed by AP readers?
Also, why doesn't the AP quote Young? This is basically a one-source story with Floyd the only Baptist leader interviewed.
More from the story:
The discussion follows a series of steps by Southern Baptists to overcome their history and address racism that include the election of its first African-American president in 2012 and an increasing focus on opposition to racism by the denomination's public policy arm.
But those efforts have been obscured at times as some in the denomination reject calls to be more deliberate about diversity, likening that to racial quotas. And while the 15.3-million-member denomination says about 20 percent of its churches are now predominantly non-white, including many African-American churches, the top Southern Baptist leadership remains entirely white.
OK, more journalistic questions: Who are the "some in the denomination" who have rejected calls to be more deliberate about diversity? What are their names and roles within the denomination? What do they say about Floyd's emphasis on a racial unity conversation?
Meanwhile, you'll recall that I complained a few weeks ago that a New York Times story on Baptist racial unity efforts by former President Jimmy Carter did not quote any Southern Baptists:
This time, I couldn't help but notice that the AP didn't mention the effort by Carter. Just a sentence or two, it seems to me, would have given readers a better understanding of the bigger picture.
Alas, expecting a bigger-picture approach is a tall order in a quick-hit piece that — by design — barely tops 500 words.