Peter Jennings

Weekend thinking: If press covered abortion news fairly, would that help restore public trust?

Weekend thinking: If press covered abortion news fairly, would that help restore public trust?

What we have here is an interesting byline on an interesting essay about an essential media-bias subject.

First, the byline: If you know your religion-beat history, you will recognize this name — Peggy Wehmeyer.

Back in the mid-1990s, the late Peter Jennings hired Wehmeyer away from a major station in Dallas to cover religion full time for ABC News. The result, he told me in two interviews, was spectacular in at least two ways.

For starters, the first wave of Wehmeyer reports for the American Agenda feature drew more audience response than any other subject covered on ABC’s World News Tonight. Here’s a piece of one of my “On Religion” columns, quoting Jennings.

"It is ludicrous that we are the only national television network to have a full-time religion reporter," he said. "Every other human endeavor is the subject of continuing coverage by us — politics and cooking, business and foreign policy, sports and sex and entertainment. But religion, which we know from every reasonable yardstick to be a crucial force in the daily life of the world, has so few specialists that they are hardly visible on the page or on the screen."

The second reaction was in the newsroom.

Wehmeyer’s balanced news reports on controversial religion-news topics — especially abortion and LGBT debates — created anger and intense newsroom opposition to her work. I know that because Jennings told me that. He was right to worry that this religion-news experiment would be a success with the public, and with ratings, but would ultimately be torpedoed by ABC staffers.

This brings me to an essay that Wehmeyer just wrote for the Dallas Morning News, which was published with this headline: “If journalists would cover abortion with impartiality, maybe they could gain the trust of Trump voters.”

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New York Times seeks another Godbeat scribe: How would Yogi Berra parse the job listing?

New York Times seeks another Godbeat scribe: How would Yogi Berra parse the job listing?

I have some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that one of the buzz topics in religion-news circles this week was that job posting at The New York Times, the one with this headline: "Change Is Coming to the New York Times National Desk."

It appears the Times is thinking about doing something new on the religion beat, 12-plus years after the 2005 report on its newsroom culture and weaknesses, "Preserving Our Readers Trust." That was the amazing document that urged editors, when hiring staff, to seek more intellectual and cultural diversity -- to help the Gray Lady do a better job covering religion, non-New York America and other common subjects. Yes, I've written about that report a whole lot on this site.

Oh, and Times editor Dean Baquet's recent journalism confession on NPR -- that the "New York-based and Washington-based ... media powerhouses don't quite get religion" -- may have had something to do with this, as well.

The bad news? There is one chunk of language in this job posting that, for veteran Godbeat observers, could cause a kind of bad acid flashback to another religion-beat job notice in another newsroom, at another time. Hold that thought. 

So here is the Times job notice for a "Faith and values correspondent."

We’re seeking a skilled reporter and writer to tap into the beliefs and moral questions that guide Americans and affect how they live their lives, whom they vote for and how they reflect on the state of the country. You won’t need to be an expert in religious doctrine. The position is based outside of New York, and you will work alongside Laurie Goodstein and a team of other journalists who are digging deep into the nation.

Did you see the key sentence? Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher sure did:

Two cheers for them! I’m glad they’re adding this position, and I’m really glad they’re not basing this reporter in New York (I hope they don’t base him or her in any coastal city, or in Chicago, but rather someplace like Dallas or Atlanta). Why not three cheers? That line about how “you won’t need to be an expert in religious doctrine” bothers me. ... 

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Just keep swimming, just keep swimming? When reporters fear talking about prayer

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming? When reporters fear talking about prayer

Faithful readers of GetReligion may recall the interview I did years ago with the late Peter Jennings of ABC News in which we talked about the failure of many major news organizations to, yes, "get religion." For a few years, Jennings attempted to get his elite newsroom to take religion news more seriously, with mixed results.

This interview came up the other day when I received a call from columnist Jay Evensen of The Deseret News, who was acting on a research tip from former GetReligionista Mark Kellner.

Evensen was doing a follow-up column on an amazing story about the survival of two girls after a boating accident on Bear Lake in Utah. This drew the attention of Good Morning America over at ABC News. Yes, this was a classic case of "How did you survive this ordeal" syndrome. Here is a slice of the online ABC news text.

Hang on, because we will get to the "Finding Nemo" angle in a moment.

Tiffany Stoker and Tylinn Tilley credit their friendship with helping to keep them alive. ...
The Utah girls, both 13, survived a deadly boating accident that claimed four lives after they swam for hours, singing songs and shouting prayers as they fought exhaustion in the 53-degree waters of Bear Lake.
The teens were on a ski boat with family friends Lance Capener, his wife Kathy, their two daughters and another friend from school. The weather took a turn for the worse, bringing 76-mph winds and 10-foot waves.
The boat capsized, throwing all seven people into the water. All on board were wearing life jackets, but the waves separated Tiffany and Tylinn from the group. The two tried to swim the 6 miles to shore, treading water for hours. They chanted songs and said prayers, even massaging each others' cramps.

The key to Evensen's column, and the sense of outrage felt by the families of these girls, is what appears to a fictional addition to the actual video report featured on Good Morning America (see the video at the top of the post).

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Pod people: Talking personal history on the religion beat

Granted, 25 years is a rather long time, especially in the Internet age.

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