Fred Luter

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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Black, white and vague: trying hard to decipher Southern Baptist racial unity efforts

Black, white and vague: trying hard to decipher Southern Baptist racial unity efforts

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.

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Jimmy Carter talks Baptists and racism, but SOUTHERN Baptists missing from the conversation (Updated)

Jimmy Carter talks Baptists and racism, but SOUTHERN Baptists missing from the conversation (Updated)

When a former president talks, we journalists listen.

That's part of why Jimmy Carter still makes headlines 35 years after he left the Oval Office. The other part is, of course, how active he remains. The Atlantic wrote in 2012 about "The Record-Setting Ex-Presidency of Jimmy Carter."

Today's Carter-related news involves the longtime Sunday school teacher's plans for a conference promoting racial unity among Baptists, as reported by the New York Times:

Former President Jimmy Carter, who has long put religion and racial reconciliation at the center of his life, is on a mission to heal a racial divide among Baptists and help the country soothe rifts that he believes are getting worse.
In an interview on Monday, Mr. Carter spoke of a resurgence of open racism, saying, “I don’t feel good, except for one thing: I think the country has been reawakened the last two or three years to the fact that we haven’t resolved the race issue adequately.”
He said that Republican animosity toward President Obama had “a heavy racial overtone” and that Donald J. Trump’s surprisingly successful campaign for president had “tapped a waiting reservoir there of inherent racism.”
Mr. Carter conducted telephone interviews to call attention to a summit meeting he plans to hold in Atlanta this fall to bring together white, black, Hispanic and Asian Baptists to work on issues of race and social inequality. Mr. Carter began the effort, called the New Baptist Covenant, in 2007, but it has taken root in only a few cities. The initiative is expanding to enlist Baptist congregations across the country to unite across racial lines.

Later in the Times story, the Southern Baptist Convention, the nation's largest Protestant denomination, enters the discussion:

He pointed out that the evangelicals in the Southern Baptist Convention had aligned themselves with the Republican Party and organized the Moral Majority, a conservative Christian political group, only in the late 1970s, while he was president. Mr. Carter announced that he was leaving the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000, after the denomination solidified its turn to the right and declared that it would not accept women as pastors.

But what's missing from the story? That would be Southern Baptists. 

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#SBC14: Race, sex, Muslims make Baptist headlines

As Southern Baptists convene their annual meeting in Baltimore — home of editor tmatt — all could make headlines. In fact, they already are. Sunday’s front page of the New Orleans Times-Picayune featured a 2,500-word farewell profile on the Rev. Fred Luter Jr., who is wrapping up two years as the convention’s first black president.

A few blocks from where he grew up in New Orleans’ Lower 9th Ward, in a wet and rising wind, Rev. Fred Luter Jr. is pacing behind a microphone. In his last weeks as president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the leader of the United States’ largest protestant denomination is here in an official capacity, to speak at the dedication of a non-profit health clinic. But the event also marks a homecoming of sorts.

Here are the streets Luter walked as a boy. He can point to where his mother went to church, and to the barber shop where he honed a gift for speaking. Those buildings are now boarded and the streets marred by blighted homes, by empty lots — evidence of deep racial inequalities that Luter has seen as his life’s work to resolve.

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