New York Times gets a scoop (by phone!) with 'first extensive interview' of Sutherland Springs pastor

I want to congratulate the New York Times on this scoop.

Before doing so, however, a part of me wishes I knew more about how the Times landed "the first extensive interview" with the pastor of the Texas church where 26 people — including the pastor's daughter — died Nov. 5.

Previously, I shared a Dallas Morning News journalist's thoughtful editorial on the media horde that swamped tiny Sutherland Springs, Texas, after the First Baptist Church shooting.  "We can do better," the News' Lauren McGaughy said of how news organizations chronicle such tragedies.

So, I guess my question is: Was the pastor, Frank Pomeroy, a willing participant in the Times' story?

I mean, obviously, Pomeroy chose to talk to the Times for the piece headlined "The Day the Pastor Was Away and Evil Came Barging Into His Church." In fact, this is one of those rare one-source stories that made the front page of the Times.

Certainly, the story contains dramatic, revealing details, starting at the top:

On any other Sunday, Frank Pomeroy, the pastor at First Baptist Church of Sutherland Springs, Tex., would have been in the pulpit. He would have seen the gunman, his steely gaze familiar, barge in mid-sermon. He would have heard the gunfire break out.
But he was hundreds of miles away. And so Mr. Pomeroy, reflecting in his first extensive interview on the mass shooting that took place inside his church, can only imagine the awfulness of it. And ponder whether he could have made a difference had he been preaching that day.
Instead, Mr. Pomeroy was attending a class in Oklahoma City on the morning of Nov. 5. A three-word text message came across his cellphone. “Shooting at church,” it said.
He thought the sender, who was the church’s videographer, was kidding. “I hope you are joking,” he wrote back.
The reply came seconds later: “No.”
Mr. Pomeroy frantically tried to call parishioners who were at the service, but no one picked up. “By then, it was too late,” he recalled. “They had been shot.” He finally reached a friend, who was 10 minutes away from the church. The friend rushed to the scene and soon confirmed the unimaginable. Bodies were sprawled everywhere. Among the dead was the pastor’s 14-year-old daughter, Annabelle.

Keep reading, and the Times describes compellingly how Pomeroy has had to balance his pastoral role with his parental grief. It's heart-wrenching stuff.

As one GetReligion reader noted, "I was struck by the fact that he just can't turn off his pastor's role, even with the blow to his own family."


From the story:

Amid the collective grieving, Mr. Pomeroy, 51, has found himself in an unfamiliar situation for a pastor. While presiding over funerals and counseling bereaved families are cornerstones of his calling, he now requires consoling himself.
“What is different here is that the comforting is mutual,” he said through his cellphone this week from outside a hospital where he was visiting a wounded survivor of the shooting. “We are all leaning on each other because this is surreal and beyond the scope of anything we have had to deal with. We are a tightknit group anyway. If nothing else, this has made us closer.”

My hesitancy to embrace this story 100 percent: This seems — to me at least — a strange story to do on the phone. Did the Times schedule an interview with Pomeroy and call him at an agreed-upon time? Or did the paper get his number somehow and just start asking questions when he answered the phone? If the latter, does it make a difference in how readers should perceive the story? Is this really the kind of circumstance where the first extensive interview is best handled on the phone?

Maybe I'm overthinking this. Maybe I should simply praise the Times for a story that offers Pomeroy ample space to tell readers what he's experiencing and feeling, mostly through an unfiltered lens.

By all means, dear GetReligion readers, read the piece yourself and let me know what you think.

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