The Times of London

News test: Try to figure out what The New York Times thinks about abortion vote in Ireland

News test: Try to figure out what The New York Times thinks about abortion vote in Ireland

Innuendo, bias and half-truths make a mess of a report in the New York Times on next month’s abortion referendum in the Republic of Ireland. Though over 1200 words-long, the March 27, 2018 story entitled “As Irish Abortion Vote Nears, Fears of Foreign Influence Rise” is nearly incoherent. A great many words are used to say rather little rather badly.

What exactly is the Times trying to say in what is supposed to be a hard-news feature?

That it is wrong that money from foreign anti-abortion activists is being spent to influence the vote? That religious sentiment, thank goodness, is now a minor factor in the debate? That fell consultancy groups are manipulating the simple-minded to vote against relaxing the republic’s abortion laws? That there is a vast right-wing conspiracy™ at work seeking to deprive women of control over their bodies?

These assertions all appear, but are either unsubstantiated, or knocked down by facts cited elsewhere in the article. The way this reads indicates that there must have been an editor with an agenda at work.

Bits that would give a logical flow are missing, while buzzwords are pushed to the forefront of the story that plays to the Times’ core readership. The National Rifle Association, the Trump Administration, the Republican National Committee, Cambridge Analytica and the Vote Leave campaign in Britain (gasp!) appear as villains. An ur-reader of the New York Times will be expected to clutch their pearls and faint with shock at the goings on in Ireland, or explode with righteous indignation.

The lede opens magazine style -- offering a vignette that illustrates the arguments that will be raised further into the story.

DUBLIN -- As Ireland prepares to vote in May on a referendum on whether to repeal its ban on abortion, anti-abortion campaigners can be seen rallying most weekdays on the streets of Dublin, outside Parliament, and at universities, news media buildings and the offices of human rights groups.

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Times of London offers classic example of how NOT to do religion survey stories -- at Christmas or ever

Times of London offers classic example of how NOT to do religion survey stories -- at Christmas or ever

There is great religion writing and there is lousy religion writing -- though most of it, like most journalism in general -- falls somewhere between the poles and is not worth endless discussion. But the following Times of London piece is such a missed opportunity that it's worth pulling it apart as a text-book example of how not to do the job.

In short, it's beyond lousy.

It should probably come as no surprise that the piece ran on Christmas Day. I say this because, and this just my conjecture, Christmas Day is probably the day we’re subjected to the year’s very worst religion journalism.

That, I'm guessing, is because of the self-created newsroom belief that something -- anything may be the better word -- relating to the holiday, or religion in general, must be published that day. Or who knows what will happen?

Will people not have received the “news” that it was Christmas? Will people drop their subscriptions and advertisers withhold their Christmas-related sales going forward? Don't really think so.

Oh, the things we do to ourselves out of misguided beliefs and our professional ruts.

OK, now onto the piece itself. (Take note: The Times website requires registration, though it will allow you to read a couple of pieces monthly for free. Also, the newspaper’s website is one of the more inefficient ones I've come across in some time.)

Here’s the top of it:

Politics and religion should not mix, according to the British public, who want politicians to keep their personal faith to themselves.

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Lead us not into confusion -- concerning The Lord's Prayer in French

Lead us not into confusion -- concerning The Lord's Prayer in French

Writing the story of the Belgian dockworkers was like eating sand.

 Once upon a time he’d persuaded himself that technical facility was its own reward: a sentence singing hymns to the attainment of coal production norms in the Donets Basin was, nonetheless, a sentence, and could be well rendered. It was the writer’s responsibility in a progressive society to inform and uplift the toiling masses.”

-- Dark Star by Alan Furst (1991)

I have my favorites. Writers whose work I turn to for enjoyment, inspiration and to steal phrases. The American spy-thriller novelist Alan Furst is a craftsman and storyteller whose work with each re-reading offers different insights into the human experience. It is fun, too.

The passage above from Dark Star illuminates the mental processes of reporting. For every exclusive or breaking story, for every fascinating glimpse or profound discussion of life, God, or the world -- come hundreds of other pieces reporting on committee meetings, speeches and conventions. The eating sand imagery is quite real to me, as is the sense of pride and pleasure of mastering a craft.

Technical ability -- things such as cleverness of language or an edgy tone -- are welcome but cannot make a story great. For an article to break free from the pack of mind numbing junk that overwhelms journalism, the writer must have technical facility but also a sense of the background to the subject. Knowing why the story matters moves it beyond being merely amusing.

The Times story of Nov. 17, 2017, entitled: “Revised Lord’s Prayer delivers French from confusion” is technically proficient, but dull. The author recites but he does not report.

The lede states:

God will no longer be asked to do the Devil’s work in a revised version of the Lord’s Prayer that has been adopted by the French Catholic Church.

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The Times of London goes clever (and surprisingly deep) with party girls and praying nuns

The Times of London goes clever (and surprisingly deep) with party girls and praying nuns

Every so often, there’s an article out there that’s truly a pleasure to read and it makes some interesting points about life and faith, even if the piece isn't hard news. Such is the case with the Times of London’s take on an upcoming reality TV show.

GetReligion does not ordinarily cover opinion pieces, but this was a mix of analysis and news, so I grabbed it.

The writer, Helen Rumbelow, shows a keen awareness of the human condition as she describes the comedic collision of party girls and nuns when a group of wild twentysomethings are sent to a convent in rural Norfolk. They don’t exactly swap their go-go boots for godliness but there are subtle transformations.

Plus, the piece shows how easy it can be to write profound observations on something as everyday as a reality show.

Five new girls arrive at the Daughters of Divine Charity convent in Swaffham, deep in rural Norfolk. The first, Paige, 23, has, between her red go-go boots and her miniskirt, a gap large enough to display the entire face of Nicki Minaj that is tattooed on her thighs. She is struggling to pull a suitcase the size of a small wagon across the gravel courtyard. It’s full of her clubbing lingerie. She is joined by Rebecca, 19, another committed hedonist who seems to sum up their situation when she realises what their new home is, crying: “F***, I’m in a f***ing nunnery.”
It’s a fair guess that this Channel 5 reality-TV experiment, called Bad Habits, Holy Orders, wouldn’t have taken much of a “sell”. “Think Sister Act,” the executive would say, “crossed with St Trinian’s.” …
The five women had been told only that they were going on a “spiritual journey” and had imagined a yoga retreat in Bali. Instead they were to be confined to a nunnery off the A47 with a bunch of mature ladies in wimples, whose modesty was far more shocking than anything they could think up.

What follows is a photo showing an elderly nun face-to-face with one of the sultry five. I’m guessing that the reality show paid the nuns a good amount to film this show on their property, for why else would a religious order put up with this craziness?

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Media blitz follows survey saying Brits have 'no religion,' but enlightenment remains elusive

Media blitz follows survey saying Brits have 'no religion,' but enlightenment remains elusive

Cue the R.E.M. video again.

This time for the United Kingdom, where a survey reveals a stunning number of folks who say they embrace no faith at all. Yep, the nation where Queen Elizabeth is, officially, "By the Grace of God, Queen, and Defender of the Faith," is ... losing its religion.

Of course, there's more to it than the headlines, and more than many reporters and editors seem to have grasped. By reporting the news on the surface data alone, the media are missing key questions, let alone reporting any answers.

Let's begin with the most venerable of British journalistic institutions, the BBC, which reports:

For the first time, more than half of people in the UK do not identify as religious, a survey suggests.
Last year 53% of people described themselves as having "no religion", in a survey of 2,942 adults by the National Centre for Social Research.
Among those aged between 18 and 25, the proportion was higher at 71%.
The Bishop of Liverpool said God and the Church "remains relevant" and that saying "no religion was not the same as considered atheism".

There's a lot to consider here, but one of the key elements missing is any consideration of why this has happened and what it might mean, other than calls for defunding of the state-sanctioned Church of England and of religious schools by the government.

As you read, look for signs that some forms of religions are growing and others are in decline.

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Sex-trafficked Nigerian teens: Why so little reporting on religious roots of this tragedy?

Sex-trafficked Nigerian teens: Why so little reporting on religious roots of this tragedy?

There’s been some amazing articles out there about the modern-day slave trade involving Nigerians who think they’re fleeing to Europe for jobs, but end up getting forced into prostitution or crime.

The British press has been particularly astute in tracking this horrific trend, which involves west Africans, the majority who come from Nigeria, Gambia and Ghana and who head north via Libya only to end up in a tangle of slave markets patronized by Arab buyers. The Guardian, BBC, the Washington Post and many other media are describing how Libya is outdoing India in being the world capital of sex trafficking.

But not enough has been done when you consider there's a bizarre mix of voodoo and Pentecostalism undergirding it all. After all, CNBC calls Libya the “torture archipelago” for poor African migrants. The Guardian asks the world why it’s ignoring this African holocaust in its midst.

Possibly the best story of them all was the New Yorker’s “Desperate Journey of a Trafficked Girl” that ran in April. Now The Times of London did a piece on what happens to the few lucky Nigerian teenagers who get through this hell to reach Italy. 

 The Nigerian prostitutes working on street corners in Castel Volturno this summer look like schoolgirls dressed up for a fancy dress party in their mothers’ clothes and make-up.
The reason: they are schoolgirls, as young as 14, part of a new wave of children tricked into crossing the Sahara and forced by voodoo threats, beatings and gang rape to become prostitutes.
“No-one acknowledges what is going on, but customers are coming here from miles away just for a chance to have sex with these 14-year-olds,” said Blessed Okoedion, a Nigerian woman who escaped from prostitution and now helps working girls.

We’re not talking Sicily here; we’re only 12 miles south of Naples. And this is not a topic where one would expect religion to be an issue but the author does find a “Sister Rita,” who is an Italian Ursuline nun helping these girls. Then:

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How a British scribe's study of Islam helped explain Pakistani immigrant gangs' sex crimes

How a British scribe's study of Islam helped explain Pakistani immigrant gangs' sex crimes

I haven't spent substantial time in London in several years, and, frankly, I generally feel little pull to revisit.

But I would have liked being there earlier this week to attend what promised to be an interesting talk by a leading British investigative journalist on how his knowledge of religion -- Islam in particular -- helped in his reporting a crime story that officials were loathe to explore too closely for fear they'd be accused of religious or racial bias.

I'm referring to a talk by Andrew Norfolk of The Times, the Murdoch-owned weekday daily,  organized by Lapido Media, the online arm of the London-based Centre for Religious Literacy in Journalism.

Norfolk was interviewed by Lapido for a piece published in advance of his talk. During the interview, he spoke about how his knowledge of South Asian Islamic culture in Great Britain enabled him to uncover what Lapido called "the grooming of teenage white girls by gangs of Asian men -- and the blind eye turned by the local council and police force."

 (At the Monday night event, Lapido also launched what it called -- incorrectly -- the "first guide in the world to religious literacy for media professionals." I say incorrectly because on this side of the pond journalists have long been able to profit from the similar work of the Religion News Association, to which I belong. Not that Lapido's effort, Religious Literacy: An Introductionisn't a welcome contribution. I mean, our own tmatt wrote the last chapter.)

Norfolk's work on the gangs story led to his being named 2014 Journalist of the Year by the British Journalism Awards, the organization that doles out such accolades in the U.K.

Here's the top of Lapido's advance story.

ANDREW Norfolk remembers the time when mentioning religion at work was so taboo that ‘it was as if you had burped at a party’.
That was in a regional newsroom in the 1990s.

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