Chris Moody

Why show up in person? CNN and its scoop on evangelical plea for Trump to slam alt-right

Why show up in person? CNN and its scoop on evangelical plea for Trump to slam alt-right

It's time for a trip into my thick guilt file of news pieces that I wanted to get to a week ago (or more). However, most of my work this past week focused on Las Vegas, for reasons I am sure readers will understand.

Instead of Las Vegas, this post is about Southern Baptists and Phoenix. It's also about the negative side effects, in terms of news, of current trends in newsroom budgets (and I'm not just talking about editors declining to hire religion-beat professionals).

Now, please trust me when I say that I have spent lots of time studying the economic dominoes that keep falling in newsrooms during our industry's money crisis, which is primarily being caused by weak revenues from advertising, both digital and analog.

I know that there are fewer reporters, even in the healthiest of newsrooms. I know that those reporters are being stretched thinner and thinner, with some being forced -- often by editors -- to cut corners while delivering more news, in more formats, on shorter deadlines, with fewer copy editors watching their backs.

At the same time, travel budgets are thinner than ever (maybe even for crucial subjects, like sports and, gasp, politics).

So I understand why many newsrooms are not sending reporters -- in the flesh -- to cover some major news events that drew live coverage in the past. Take this summer's Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix.

However, CNN showed up -- in the person of feature correspondent Chris Moody. I will argue that, because Moody was there in person, the odds may have been tilted in his favor when it came time to land a major scoop the other day, the one with this headline: "Exclusive: Evangelicals urge more action from Trump against alt-right."

Hold that thought.

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Thinking about the past: CNN reporter follows his own roots into SBC's Russell Moore wars

Thinking about the past: CNN reporter follows his own roots into SBC's Russell Moore wars

Let's flash back about a month to the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Phoenix. You may recall that the hot story turned out to be the mishandling of a stirring resolution on politics and race that, for America's largest Protestant flock, attempted to drive a stake into the heart of the alt-right.

In terms of the religion beat, it was interesting to watch major news operations scramble to cover the story, since -- in this age when few Godbeat reporters are granted even minimum travel budgets -- hardly anyone had boots on the ground in Arizona.

However, to the surprise of your GetReligionistas, CNN was there -- in the person of multimedia specialist Chris Moody of the network's political team.

Now, let me stress right here that I have long ties to Moody and to his family. For starters, he was one of my best students at Palm Beach Atlantic University and then in the first, very experimental semester of the Washington Journalism Center. Decades earlier, Moody's grandfather -- a legendary Southern Baptist preacher, the Rev. Jess Moody -- was a good friend of my late father.

Chris Moody headed to Phoenix while reporting a background feature on what everyone expected to be the hot story at the 2017 SBC meetings -- the battle over the future of the Rev. Russell Moore, the outspoken (and very #NeverTrump #NeverHillary) leader of the convention's Washington, D.C., office.

Apparently, Moore to more than survive in Arizona. He also played a high-profile role in the alt-right drama, contributing a 5-star soundbite on that front. That quote made it into a new Moody feature about Moore, that is now online. Moore said this, concerning the revised SBC resolution. The opening image sounds like something from a Johnny Cash song.

“This resolution has a number on it. It’s Resolution Number 10. The white supremacy it opposes also has a number on it. It’s 666,” [Moore] said, referring to the biblical number representing the devil.

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What was hottest story in Phoenix? Southern Baptist confusion or final vote slamming alt-right? (updated)

What was hottest story in Phoenix? Southern Baptist confusion or final vote slamming alt-right? (updated)

So in the end, what was the big news story at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix?

Was it the resolution slamming the alt-right that "messengers" from churches in America's largest Protestant flock passed or the strange timing of the action to pass it?

Was it the painful chaos after SBC leaders decided not to send the original resolution to the floor for debate, a decision raising myriad issues about Southern Baptist tensions linked to race and politics in the age of Donald Trump? Or was it the successful protests from many younger pastors -- white and black -- demanding a chance to speak to America about this issue?

The answer, of course, is all of the above.

As always, journalists faced the challenge of crunching that complex reality into as few words as possible, in a form that average readers could understand. Clearly, it helped to have a veteran religion reporter on hand to do this work (or someone who spoke fluent Southern Baptist).

Here is the good news: The Associated Press produced a punchy, highly accurate report from Phoenix, which means that your average newspaper reader had a chance to get the basic facts. Note the sequence of news elements at the top of this report (produced by an AP reporter on the scene, and veteran religion-beat pro Rachel Zoll in New York):

PHOENIX (AP) -- Southern Baptists on Wednesday formally condemned the political movement known as the "alt-right," in a national meeting that was thrown into turmoil after leaders initially refused to take up the issue.
The denomination's annual convention in Phoenix voted to "decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ" and "denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil."

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IRS scandal and 'easy' religion ghosts

On a recent Crossroads podcast, host Todd Wilken remarked with interest on how many of the year’s major news stories have to do with religion. A cursory glance at the headlines proves it, year after year. But even the non-religion news stories frequently have religion angles.

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