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Calling all sportswriters: Don't forget the 'Catholic angle' in those Notre Dame football stories

Calling all sportswriters: Don't forget the 'Catholic angle' in those Notre Dame football stories

December can be lots of things to different people. For Christians, it’s the season of Advent that culminates with Christmas. Jews have Hannukkah. Sports fans have … lots and lots of college football leading into the bowl games that really matter.

The College Football Playoff introduced just a few years back has added that extra layer of excitement to the Bowl season and Heisman trophy contest that highlights the end of every season. The quartet of teams vying to be national champions this year are Alabama, Clemson, Oklahoma and Notre Dame.

While Alabama is ranked No. 1 and the heavy favorite to win the title, the team that stands out from this group for reasons not at all associated with sports is Notre Dame. For sportswriters out in the field covering games and feature stories (and, more importantly, the editors who dictate that coverage), let’s not forget what can be called the “Catholic angle” to any Notre Dame team.

To cut to the chase: There’s more to this team than its iconic golden helmets, deep-blue uniforms and movies like “Rudy.”

That’s not to say the Catholic rituals and traditions associated with the school’s football team have been totally overlooked over the year. Michael Leahy, author and award-winning writer for The Washington Post, wrote a column in 2013 about the Catholic connection to the Division I school in South Bend, Indiana. Here is an excerpt from that piece:

If there is a single reason for Notre Dame’s enduring mystique, it is that — putting aside the perspectives of its alumni, students, professors and administrators — the place exists in the American psyche solely as a football team. The school has a top-notch faculty and notable graduates who never played a down, but who in Ann Arbor, Los Angeles or Tuscaloosa cares about that? To them, Notre Dame is the locker room where Knute Rockne exhorted his troops before they stampeded the opposition. It is the Four Horsemen. It is Ronald Reagan as George Gipp. It is a place where greatness, reality and fable mingle, and few know where one ends and the others begin.

For most of the 20th century, the adoration of Notre Dame also reflected the relatively favored status of Catholicism in American culture. Despite unfounded fears over whether a Catholic president could escape the Vatican’s influence, films from the era demonstrate a largely benign perception of Catholicism. The most memorable priests from the period’s major movies possess the same saintly qualities ascribed to Notre Dame: rectitude, hearts of gold and the righteous power to knock out a foe.

Leahy’s commentary is spot on. It captures a snapshot of the school’s religious and cultural relevance to American society like few pieces about Notre Dame ever have previously or since its publication. It is the backdrop and larger context for nearly every story regarding the Fightin’ Irish‘s football program.

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Washington Post offers another 'omniscient anonymous voice' clinic in synod report

Washington Post offers another 'omniscient anonymous voice' clinic in synod report

One of the most frustrating things in journalism these days (your GetReligionistas write about this all the time) is the blurring line between news and commentary.

It's not simply a matter of snarky material on Twitter by reporters about topics, institutions and people that they are also covering in hard-news stories. That's a problem, but not the biggest problem, from my point of view.

Meanwhile, I'll be honest. If I was a reporter right now, instead of a columnist and an opinion blogger, I do not know how I would handle Twitter.

No, I'm talking about the material that is actually being produced by newspapers, wire services and major news websites. Some use clear labels for "analysis" work and others do not. There are reporters who do straight news and also analysis and, at times, there are no graphics or labels to clearly tell you which is which and what is what.

Some standing online features with titles are news and some are not. There are "reported" blogs and blogs that are totally opinion. The logos often look the same to me. There are online-only features that look like news, but they are not, and people who only see certain newspapers in digital forms have no way to know which is which.

I don't think this digital swamp will be cleared up anytime soon. Still, I want to confess my frustration. This leads me to another example of a related trend, the writing style that your GetReligionistas call "omniscient anonymous voice." Here is how I described this journalistic trend in an earlier post:

Normally, hard-news journalism is written in third-person voice in past tense, with a heavy emphasis on the use of clear attributions for quoted materials, so that readers know who is speaking. That crucial "comma, space, said, space, name, period" formula is at the heart of traditional, American Model of the Press journalism.
The bottom line: It's a key element in retaining the trust of readers. Traditional journalists are, as a rule, going to tell the reader the sources for the information they are reading.

So what are we dealing with when journalists publish copy with paragraph after paragraph of material with little or no clear attribution? You know that this material has sources; but you also know these sources, for some reason, are not being cited. What does this look like?

Consider this recent story in The Washington Post.

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What's the black-market value of a Host in Ottawa right now?

When dealing with a crime, journalists (as well as police, of course) often ask question about what may or may not have been the motives behind the illegal act. That’s pretty logical, right? With break-ins and common thefts, it is commonly assumed that the criminals want to sell valuable stolen goods on the black market. Diamonds are valuable, as are computers, etc. Money is money.

If that is the case, then the following story from The Ottawa Citizen — “Special mass held after theft of church’s tabernacle” — has a rather glaring hole, journalistically speaking.

First things first: Under Associated Press style, that reference in the headline — and later on in the story text — should be “Mass,” rather than the lower-case “mass.”

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News flash! AP ends the Great Schism of 1054!

Many moons ago — just under a quarter of a century — I covered a major ecumenical event in the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado. I believe it was a festive Divine Eucharist marking the departure of Bishop William C. Frey, as he exited to serve as dean and president of the Trinity School for Ministry. One of the honored participants in the service was Denver Archbishop J. Francis Stafford, who was a national level figure in Catholic ecumenical efforts (and today is a cardinal serving at the Vatican). It was natural for Stafford to be there, in large part because he had a positive working relationship with the charismatic Frey, who was a traditionalist on key doctrinal issues that affected ecumenical work in public life.

Stafford took part in the first half of the service, but did not formally vest to take part in the Holy Eucharist itself. As the rite moved into the sacramental prayers of the Mass, the Catholic archbishop moved to the side of the auditorium — where a prie dieu had been placed, allowing him to respectfully kneel in solitary prayer.

The symbolism was important: Stafford was there in prayer, but because the Catholic and Anglican churches are not in Communion, with a large “C,” he could not take part in the celebration of the Mass (with female priests, for example) or receive Communion. Stafford was there as a show of unity, to the degree allowed by the doctrines of the two churches.

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Readers get hot and bothered about 'Sin Burger' reports

GetReligion is almost a decade old and, from the very beginning, many readers have struggled to understand a very basic fact about this blog. To state the matter bluntly, many readers think this is a religion blog.

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Fox forces the Mass into Christmas

A friend put this picture up on Google+ (so I guess that answers the question of whether people still use Google+!). Around the same time, a reader submitted this story from Fox News, headlined:

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