Journalists have a real hard time reporting on certain subjects in an evenhanded manner.
I first covered the voucher debate in 1999 as an education reporter for The Oklahoman, Oklahoma City's major daily.
I'm thinking about the voucher issue again after reading a recent Indianapolis Star that — especially in the headline and lede — seems to favors the opponents. But please tell me if I'm mistaken.
This is the headline that struck me the wrong way:
How taxpayers pay for religious education
And the overly negative lede:
At Colonial Christian, an Indianapolis school on the northeast side that receives public funds through Indiana’s private school voucher program, students are warned they can be kicked out of school for “promoting a homosexual lifestyle or alternative gender identity.”
At even more voucher-accepting schools, families are required to sign statements of faith as a condition of enrollment, affirming that they hold the same religious beliefs and values as the school.
Theology classes are required for four years at Bishop Chatard High School, as are hours performing service and outreach. And some schools, including Bethesda Christian in Brownsburg, require a recommendation by a pastor.
Those admissions standards reflect arguably the most controversial aspect of Indiana’s voucher program, also known as school choice scholarships. The GOP-driven program allows religious schools to receive public funds. At the same time, those private schools can reject students who don't affirm certain religious precepts — and impose religious requirements on those who are accepted.
Is it me or does the newspaper seem intent on casting the voucher program — specifically faith-based schools' involvement in it — in a poor light? Who wrote the headline and the lede: a public teachers union or the Indy Star? It's difficult to tell.
Please don't misunderstand me: I'm not suggesting that the newspaper should ignore opponents' concerns about vouchers. They're a necessary and crucial part of the debate.
What I'm saying, though, is that a headline like "How taxpayers pay for religious education" is not fair and balanced journalism. Imagine a headline at the other extreme: "How taxpayers avoid failing public schools." Would that title survive the Indy Star's editing process?
Or what if the lede recited all the ills of public schools and the lack of values-focused education that some families seek to avoid?
My point is this: The Indy Star could do a whole lot better job at not showing its hand. (Of course, that may be asking too much from this particular newspaper.)
Regrettably, the slanted headline and lede may keep some readers from making it deeper into the story.
Read the whole thing, and the paper actually does a pretty nice job of giving voucher supporters an opportunity to present their side:
At Colonial Christian, which last year received $340,000 in state dollars, the school is “very clear about who we are up front with every family,” said Kevin Suiter, the school’s administrator.
The school’s website reflects that transparency, where along with the same-sex ban, it states families must "faithfully attend" the school’s parent church, Colonial Hills Baptist Church, or a like-minded congregation.
“We’ve been advised on legal grounds if that is our Biblical conviction we need to communicate that with folks before they go through the admissions process,” Suiter said.
Suiter sees the voucher program as a use of the “people’s money.” Families who receive vouchers are taxpayers and part of that money goes toward education. Now, those tax dollars can follow students to their chosen school, and he’s seen families benefit whose income limitations previously meant they homeschooled for a Christian education.
Your turn, GetReligion readers: Do you share my journalistic concerns about the headline and lede? Or am I being too hard to the Indy Star?
By all means, please reply in the comments section or by tweeting us at @GetReligion. But remember that we're concerned about media coverage, not your personal opinion for or against vouchers.
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