Journalism

Friday Five: Religious holidays, Notre Dame fire, declining church ties, journalist grants, Chick-fil-A

Friday Five: Religious holidays, Notre Dame fire, declining church ties, journalist grants, Chick-fil-A

It's Good Friday.

And Passover begins tonight at sundown.

Enter Greg Garrison, longtime religion writer for the Birmingham News, with informative overviews of both religious holidays.

In one piece, Garrison asks, "If Jesus suffered and died, why is it called Good Friday?"

His other helpful primer explores this question: "What is Passover?"

Be sure to check out both articles.

Now let's dive into the (Good) Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: New today, GetReligion Editor Terry Mattingly has our latest post on this week’s major news.

The compelling title on tmatt’s must-read post:

Priest rushes under the flames inside Notre Dame Cathedral to save a ... STATUE of Jesus?

Over at the New York Post, former GetReligion contributor Mark Hemingway makes this case in regard to Notre Dame news coverage:

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Big news on Godbeat: President of Religion News Association wins Pulitzer for Tree of Life coverage

Big news on Godbeat: President of Religion News Association wins Pulitzer for Tree of Life coverage

One of my favorite religion writers just won a Pulitzer Prize, the most prestigious award in journalism.

Mega-congrats to Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette!

The Post-Gazette staff — including Smith, president of the Religion News Association — earned the Pulitzer for Breaking News Reporting.

That paper was cited for “immersive, compassionate coverage of the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that captured the anguish and resilience of a community thrust into grief.”

I liked what David Shribman, the Post-Gazette’s executive editor and vice president, told his newsroom: “There isn’t one of us in this room who wouldn’t exchange the Pulitzer Prize for those 11 lives.”

But when the massacre occurred, they did what journalists do: They wiped their tears and reported the news as fully and compassionately as possible.

Among the 10 links on the Post-Gazette’s winning Pulitzer entry are two stories by Smith. This was the lede on the first one, by Ashley Murray and Smith:

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Given the byline on this profile of radio personality Delilah, it's no surprise that it gets religion

Given the byline on this profile of radio personality Delilah, it's no surprise that it gets religion

Radio personality Delilah Rene is the queen of sappy love songs and dedications.

When my kids were younger and still rode in the same vehicle as me, we’d always listen to the “Delilah” show. Alternately, we’d be touched by her heartwarming stories and chuckle at her willingness to dole out relationship advice after multiple failed marriages.

Last year, I pitched the idea of an interview about her faith — something that was evident on the show but about which I’d never heard much — to a national editor I know. But I got no bite.

So I was pleased this week to see an in-depth profile of Rene in the Seattle Times — and one that delves nicely into the radio host’s faith.

Grab a tissue before diving in:

IT HAS BEEN more than a year since he left her: the carefree 18-year-old son with the tousled hair and crooked grin.

Zachariah Miguel Rene-Ortega’s ashes are buried under an apple tree in a planting bed shaped like a tear. “Zack’s Grove” also includes Greensleeves dogwoods, two fig trees and a wooden bus shelter with a sign stenciled in white: “Every hour I need Thee.” Scattered about the grove are little talismans left by his friends.

Zack’s mother is Delilah Rene, the most-listened-to woman in American radio. She lives with her large family on a 55-acre Port Orchard farm, along with one zebra, three emus, three dogs, four pigs, five sheep, six cats, 30 goats and dozens of chickens. A remodeled 1907 farmhouse on the property serves as her six-bedroom, 2,500-square-foot home. A multiwindowed turret on the second floor is set aside for prayer. This farm is where Zack grew up and made friends with local kids who still come over.

“Stuff just shows up,” Delilah says, standing in the rain at the grove. “I come out here and find little tokens, mementos, stakes and flags.”

She still dreams of Zack: happy, beautiful, ageless.

When asked how she gets through each day’s mix of regret and sadness, she mentions God. “I know he’s with Him,” she says. “And when my time comes, I’ll be with him.”

No, this writer isn’t afraid of faith — even complicated faith — which will become more clear if you read the whole piece in the Times’ Pacific NW Magazine.

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You know what? Peter Boyer does have some thoughts on religion news, Trump and the press

You know what? Peter Boyer does have some thoughts on religion news, Trump and the press

I recently wrote a think-piece post about an Esquire piece by Peter Boyer on how Donald Trump has successfully baited many elite mainstream journalists into switching from classic American Model of the Press journalism and into advocacy mode.

If you didn’t see that GetReligion post, please click this link: “Peter Boyer in Esquire: Thinking about Trump, advocacy journalism, religion and stick-on labels.”

Boyer, of course, is best known for his years of work with The New Yorker. I have always thought that he has an incredible ability to write about hot-button topics while showing respect for the beliefs of people on both sides of those emotionally charged issues. Yes, that includes religion. Check out this example from 2005: “Jesus in the Classroom.”

In my earlier post, I wondered how Boyer might apply his thesis about Trump and the press to, well, the whole issue of journalists not “getting” religion. It helps that Boyer started reading GetReligion back in 2005 and that we’ve been in touch over the years.

Now, I have something to share, from Boyer, about that religion-news question. But first, here is a crucial section of my earlier post to help introduce readers to this discussion. In the Esquire piece, a key scene opens with Boyer interviewing Trump:

… Amid those passing controversies was one story that Trump himself remembers clearly still. “Yep, very famous story,” he remarked to me in a recent interview. “It was a very important story...” Trump was referring to a front-page New York Times article published on August 8, 2016, under the headline "The Challenge Trump Poses to Objectivity." The opening paragraph posed a provocative question:

“If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?”

Here’s another key statement:

Reporters who considered Trump “potentially dangerous,” [Jim] Rutenberg wrote, would inevitably move closer “to being oppositional” to him in their reporting — “by normal standards, untenable.” Normal standards, the column made clear, no longer applied.

This reminded me, of course, of the famous remarks that Times editor Bill Keller made several days after his retirement — the 2011 remarks that led a GetReligion reader (a D.C. area scholar) to create our “Kellerism” term.

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A string of teen suicides in Utah — might town's Mormon influence offer relevant context?

A string of teen suicides in Utah — might town's Mormon influence offer relevant context?

Certainly, not every national story out of Utah has to include mention of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

But given the LDS church’s strong influence in the Beehive State, that faith connection is highly relevant in many cases.

Take the Wall Street Journal’s recent front-page on a string of teen suicides in Herriman, Utah.

Based on the Journal’s powerful lede, it’s not immediately clear whether religion is a crucial factor — or a factor at all:

HERRIMAN, Utah — Eight months to the day after his only son, Chandler, killed himself, Kurt Voutaz was in his kitchen eating lunch.

He and his wife, Catherine, had long since ripped the blood-soaked carpet out of Chandler's bedroom and cleaned the walls and ceiling. It was warm for February, and they had taken the snow tires off the car. They were hoping winter was over.

Suddenly, a police car sped across a footpath in the park behind their house. A couple of teenagers were standing nearby, shouting.

Mr. Voutaz stepped outside to see what was going on. He quickly wished he hadn't. Just a few yards from his house, a body was lying on the ground. It was Chandler's friend, Cooper Nagy. Like Chandler, he had shot himself.

Cooper was the fourth high-school student from Herriman to die by suicide since Chandler's death in June of 2017. Two more would kill themselves by May of 2018, bringing the total to six in less than a year, plus at least one recent graduate.

Keep reading, and the story provides the nut graf — noting that the nation’s suicide rate is rising and that “suicide clusters” involving multiple deaths and almost always adolescents hit roughly five U.S. communities per year.

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Notre Dame in flames: What was lost? What was saved? What was 'news'? What issues remain?

Notre Dame in flames: What was lost? What was saved? What was 'news'? What issues remain?

As it turns out, Paris firefighters — apparently drawing on centuries of tradition — know quite a bit about how to save a medieval cathedral, or how to save as much of one of these unique structures as can be saved. They know more about this subject than the president of the United States does, apparently.

It will take weeks to unpack all of the stunning details of the story that unfolded before the eyes of the world yesterday in the heart of Paris. Officials are saying that it is too early to begin an in-depth investigation of what happened, but also that they are sure the fire was not an act of vandalism or worse. That’s an interesting pair of statements, right there.

Watching several hours of television coverage, it became pretty apparent that it really mattered whether newsrooms had people involved in the coverage who knew anything about Catholicism and its sacraments. It was, to be blunt, the difference between news about a fire in a symbolic building, like a museum, that is important in French culture and coverage of the near total destruction of a Catholic holy place, a cathedral, at the start of Holy Week.

Case in point: Is an ancient relic — a crown of thorns venerated for centuries as part of the one worn by Jesus — really an “artwork” that was rescued from the flames? How about a container holding what Catholics believe is bread consecrated to be the Body of Christ? Is that “artwork”? Are people praying the Rosary and singing “Ave Maria” really “in shock,” and that is that?

I could go on. But to get a sense of what happened in much of the journalism yesterday, compare these two overtures from two very important American newspapers. Guess which material was written by a team that included a religion-beat professional.

The headline on case study No. 1: “The fire at Notre Dame, a Catholic icon, was made even more heartbreaking by the timing.” The overture:

PARIS — A symbol of Paris, a triumph of Gothic architecture and one of the most visited monuments in the world, the Cathedral of Notre Dame is a beloved icon for millions across the globe. But for many in this largely Catholic country, especially for the most faithful, the medieval masterpiece is a sacred space that serves as the spiritual, as well as the cultural, heart of France.

So as it burned Monday — during Holy Week, which precedes Easter — Parisians gathered on the other side of the Seine, embers blowing onto their heads, praying and crying as they sought fellowship in their shared disbelief. As night fell, people clutched flickering candles, still praying as ochre plumes of smoke billowed in a dimming sky. The sound of hymns filled the air.

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If churches keep getting vandalized in France, should American news outlets cover the story?

If churches keep getting vandalized in France, should American news outlets cover the story?

Is it a news story if a church is set on fire or vandalized in some other way? What about if it’s part of a string of incidents? What if it happens five times? How about 10 times?

What if there are flames pouring out of one of the world’s most iconic cathedrals and it’s Monday of Holy Week?

We will come back to the flames over Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris in a moment.

The answers to the earlier questions are yes, yes, yes, yes and, of course, yes! As someone who worked as a news reporter (and later a editor) at two major metropolitan dailies (at the New York Post and New York Daily News) and a major news network website (ABC News), I can tell you that any suspicion of arson at a house of worship, for example, is a major story.

It must somehow no longer be the case in the new and frenetic world of the internet-driven, 24-hour news cycle. That’s because a major international story — one involving at least 10 acts of vandalism at Catholic churches in France — went largely unreported (underreported, really) for weeks. The vandalism included everything from Satanic symbols scrawled on walls to shattered statues.

That’s right, a rash of fires and other acts of desecration inside Catholic churches — during Lent, even — in a country with a recent history of terrorism somehow didn’t warrant any kind of attention from American news organizations. Even major news organizations, such as The Washington Post, were late to covering it and only did after running a Religion News Service story.

This brings us to Monday’s fire at Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris, where a massive blaze engulfed the 12th century gothic house of worship. It’s too early to tell if this incident is part of the earlier wave of vandalism, but it certainly comes at a strange time. For now, officials say the blaze remains under investigation. The cathedral has been undergoing some renovation work and the fire may — repeat MAY — have started in one of those areas.

It would be crazy to assume there is a connection between all of these fires and acts of vandalism. It would be just as crazy for journalists not to investigate the possibility that there are connections.

There will be more to come on the Notre Dame story in the hours and days that follow and comes at the start of Holy Week, the most solemn time on the Christian calendar.

But back to my questions about the earlier string of fires and the lack of coverage.

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How do sports scribes go 'inside' the epic Chris Davis slump without asking about his faith?

How do sports scribes go 'inside' the epic Chris Davis slump without asking about his faith?

Sometimes, I wish that baseball meant less to me than it does. Can I get an “amen,” Bobby Ross, Jr.?

When judging levels of sports loyalty, it is absolutely crucial to take into account whether fans stick with their favorite teams during bad times, as well as good. In a way, it’s like going to church. True believers are in their pews or stadium seats during the bad times, as well as the good times.

So I am going to write about Chris Davis of my Baltimore Orioles — again — even though many GetReligion readers could care less about this slugger and his historic slump at the plate. I am going to write about this story — again — because there is an important journalism point to be made.

Here it is: When writing about public figures who are religious believers, you cannot write about what is happening in their hearts and heads (and, yes, their souls) without asking questions about religion.

Consider this ESPN headline atop a story that ran when Davis broke his MLB-record slump at the plate: “How Chris Davis snapped, embraced baseball's most epic oh-fer.”

The key word is “embraced,” which implies that he managed to come to terms with the slump and faced the reality of it. In other words, there is more to this story than taking extra batting practice. Something had to be done at the level of head and heart.

Another ESPN headline, on a different feature, captured the agony of all of this: “ 'I hear the people every night': Inside Chris Davis' 0-for-54 streak.” The key word here is “inside,” as in “inside” the head and heart of the man who is enduring this agony.

So did ESPN pros factor in this outspoken Christian believer’s faith? Did they talk to his pastor? The team chaplain? Did they take faith seriously, as a factor in this man and his struggles?

Wait for it.

Here’s the overture in that first ESPN story that I mentioned, the one with “embraced” in the headline:

BOSTON -- When the longest hitless streak in major league history ended and when the Baltimore Orioles wrapped up their sixth victory of the season with a 9-5 victory over the Boston Red Sox, Chris Davis channeled his inner Rocky Balboa and walked into the visitors clubhouse with his fists above his head, a smile streaking across his face. His teammates prepared a hero's welcome too, banging the walls of their lockers, turning the scene into an impromptu "STOMP" performance. Davis looked around at the joy emanating from his teammates and felt a weight lift off his shoulders.

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Is it me or does this NYT story on anti-abortion movie 'Unplanned' contain a lot of extra qualifiers?

Is it me or does this NYT story on anti-abortion movie 'Unplanned' contain a lot of extra qualifiers?

Regular GetReligion readers are familiar with the concept of scare quotes.

For those new to the term, Dictionary.com defines scare quotes as “marks used around a term or phrase to indicate that the writer does not think it is being used appropriately or that the writer is using it in a specialized sense.”

Journalists frequently use scare quotes in coverage of “religious liberty,” for example, a sort of journalistic raising of the eyebrow, as we have noted from time to time.

A recent New York Times story on the controversy over the anti-abortion movie “Unplanned” doesn’t rely on scare quotes. But in quoting anti-abortion sources, the piece repeatedly employs what might be characterized as a similar tool.

I’m talking about the Times’ repeated use of qualifiers in the indirect quotations. I’ll elaborate on what I mean in a moment. But first, here’s the top of the story with a few crucial details:

CLIFTON, N.J. — It was a rare packed house for a weeknight in the suburbs, and when the movie was over, the sold-out crowd of about 100 last Wednesday spilled haltingly into the light.

A few — a gaggle of nuns in their habits, at least one collared priest — wore their dispositions on their sleeves. Others communicated in muted gestures, dabbed at tears, or lingered for long stretches in the popcorn-strewn vestibule at the AMC multiplex here, as if still processing the deliberately provocative movie they had just seen.

Since March 29, similar scenes have played out across the country as faith-based groups and many others have gathered en masse to see “Unplanned,” a new movie that paints a scathing portrait of abortion rights in general, and Planned Parenthood in particular.

A few paragraphs later comes the first instance of a qualifier:

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