George Conger

Reading a newspaper story (about a prayerbook) through Richard Pryor's eyes

Reading a newspaper story (about a prayerbook) through Richard Pryor's eyes

"Who you gonna believe, me or your lying eyes?” So saith Richard Pryor in his 1982 film “Live on the Sunset Strip."

Caught in flagrante delicto with another woman by his wife, Pryor’s character in his stand up comedy routine denies the claims of objective reality by reference to a higher authority -- himself.

Reading the Miami Herald’s recent story entitled “Long overdue: This book was stolen in 1840. Now it’s back on the library shelf” shook loose this phrase from the windmills of my mind.

You might well ask why I would think of Richard Pryor when reading a light news item concerning the return of an overdue Irish library book. I am seldom subject to Richard Pryor flashbacks. However, the text of this story -- which was distributed via the Fort Worth Star-Telegram’s syndication service -- is rather odd and speaks to a reporter unfamiliar with his subject matter.

But it was the illustration that accompanied the article that was immediately problematic. SImply put -- nothing matches. What is written in the article does not match what is presented in the accompanying illustrations.

The lede begins: 

A book published in 1666, believed to be one of only two in the country of its kind, was returned to Marsh’s Library in Ireland after going missing for nearly 180 years.
The book, a prayer guide of sorts for members of the old Church of England, was brought back to the library by none other than a priest, who found the 17th Century tome while going through a pile of dusty books in his Monkstown parish rectory, according to the Irish Sun. It had been missing since 1840, when it was taken from the library’s reading room. This wasn’t one that could be checked out.

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Good advocacy journalism -- The French daily Liberation on the right to die

Good advocacy journalism -- The French daily Liberation on the right to die

What the weak head with strongest bias rules, Is pride, the never-failing vice of fools. Alexander Pope, An Essay on Criticism, (1711) line 203.

Regular readers of these columns will discern my disdain for advocacy journalism. It is part of my personal catalogue of the seven deadly sins. Let us tick them off according to Pope Gregory I’s list: lust, gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, wnvy and pride. Advocacy journalism is the reporter’s particular sin of pride. It takes humility to handle opposing voices with accuracy and respect.

But I do not want to dismiss this style out of hand for there are many examples of excellent opinion-centered news articles. A recent story on euthanasia from the French daily Libération is an example of how to do advocacy journalism well.

But first let us define our terms. In a recent GetReligion article, editor tmatt described the clash of ideologies between the classical school of Anglo-American reporting, and the older but now revived school of advocacy reporting.

When I say "old-school journalism," I am referring to what textbooks often call the "American model of the press," which stresses that journalists should strive to honor standards of accuracy, fairness and balance when covering the news. The key: When reporting on hot-button issues, journalists should strive to treat people on all sides of these debates with respect.
This classically liberal approach to news emerged, and evolved, in the late 19th century and the early 20th century. The goal was to produce news that was as independent as possible, thus exposing readers to genuine diversity. Citizens could then make up their own minds.

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Once again, Charlie Hebdo takes aim at violent Islamists -- this time in Spain

Once again, Charlie Hebdo takes aim at violent Islamists -- this time in Spain

Here we go again.

The French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo has published a cartoon on its cover page devoted to the August 17, 2017, terror attack in Barcelona that left 13 dead and 130 injured.

Le FigaroEl Pais, and the other European outlets that have picked up the story so far have largely re-published the offending cartoon as has the Qatar based network Al Jazeera.

Newsweek and a handful of American mainstream news outlets have picked up the story, too, but unlike their European counterparts have not reprinted the cartoon. The American press has been down this road before -- engaging in self-censorship so as not to offend radical Islam. And it also revolved around Charlie Hebdo.

The left-wing, satirical magazine entered the conscience of the Anglophone world on January 7, 2015, when two gunmen forced their way into the magazine’s offices and killed twelve of its staff. Brothers Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, Muslims of Algerian descent, carried out the attack in revenge for a cartoon published by the magazine that lambasted the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

In the weeks after the attack, free speech advocates adopted the cry “Je suis Charlie,” (I am Charlie), to show their solidarity with the magazine and the right to free expression. However, support for free speech and Charlie Hebdo’s right to offend was not universal. And this support has further dimmed in recent years.

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Daily Telegraph backs old guard in row over Church of England's 'Alpha' evangelicals

Daily Telegraph backs old guard in row over Church of England's 'Alpha' evangelicals

The Daily Telegraph has leapt into a dispute between two factions of a London church, offering its support to traditionalists who dislike changes brought by a new priest and the younger crowd of worshipers he has attracted.

The author of the 14 August 2017, article entitled “Proms conductor in row with musicians' church after it bans 'non-religious' concerts” would most likely reject this summary of her story. Yet the journalistic shortcomings of this article turn it into a club for traditionalists to beat modernizers.

Congregational conflicts are seldom newsworthy. But they are often vicious, taking their cue from the command to smite the Amalekites and “utterly destroy all that they have, and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling, ox and sheep, camel and ass" (1 Sam 15:3). And these church spats seem to revolve around the same set of problems that often boil down to a battle for power.

The exceptions to the rule, however, are often great news stories.

Who would not relish reading about the conflict in this Tennessee church:  “Pastor’s Wife And Mistress Fight At Communion Day Service In Church.”

The Daily Telegraph picked up a story about St. Sepulchre-without-Newgate Church in the City of London over a power struggle within a church, which has widened to include comments and criticisms from non-members.

The lede telegraphs the Telegraph’s construction of the story. We are told who are the villains and who the heroes.

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Flying Spaghetti Monster flock gets a fair shake in new Deutsche Welle report

Flying Spaghetti Monster flock gets a fair shake in new Deutsche Welle report

Does a reporter have to be a believer to cover religion?

A simple question, but a vexing one, as there are two currents of thought at work in Western culture today.

The classical view, characterized as the Anglo-American school of journalism, would say no. For journalists working from this perspective, the highest virtue is critical disinterest. The reporter’s personal views play no part in the story. He or she writes from a distance, laying out the facts, providing context and history, with the goal of enabling the reader to make up their own mind.

There are limits. One may assume Hitler and the Nazis were evil. But few questions are as straightforward as that. For example, how do you report on religions on the margins? Do you have to believe in the religion you are covering? What if you are assigned a story on Pastafarians?

The European school of journalism sees reporting primarily as a species of ideological activism. The message the story teaches -- not the content of the story -- is where value lies. The issue for a devotee of advocacy journalism is not whether a story is worth reporting, but what cause will this serve if it is reported?

The precise components of that activism will vary depending on the nature of the politics involved. Radical feminists have their issues and controversies, which tend to differ from issues and controversies that preoccupy devotees of racial, cultural, political, sexual and the other tribal commitments of the postmodern West.

The end product of this school of advocacy journalism differs according to the political aims of the author. But all work from the premise cited by Joseph Stalin in 1932:

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The Independent somehow manages to quote zero Jews in news about Jewish school

 The Independent somehow manages to quote zero Jews in news about Jewish school

How many Jews does it take to write a newspaper story about same-sex education in private schools?

When the article is about an Orthodox Jewish school, it would be nice to have at least one.

It would be especially appropriate to quote an Orthodox Jewish scholar familiar with British laws affecting religious liberty.

The Independent ran an article on a government report that found an Orthodox Jewish girls school did not meet its standards in providing instruction to its pre-teen students on LGBT issues. The article entitled “Private Jewish school fails third Ofsted inspection for not teaching LGBT issues” is a fiasco, in terms of journalistic integrity.

It talks about and around the subject of the story, giving voice to critics, but does not speak with the subjects -- not one person who could offer an explanation why a Jewish Orthodox school might not be all that keen to conform to the cultural standards of The Independent and its left-wing readers.

The lede sets the tone for the story -- by being shown false by the second sentence of the story and setting forth The Independent’s biases.

A private, faith-based school in London has failed its third Ofsted inspection for refusing to teach its pupils about homosexuality.

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The demon of clickbait: Daily Telegraph sensationalizes UK's 'boom' in exorcisms 

The demon of clickbait: Daily Telegraph sensationalizes UK's 'boom' in exorcisms 

Which comes first? The chicken or the egg?

A hackneyed phrase, I admit. But the question it poses is relevant to several important questions in the newspaper business.

What comes first, advertising or content?

Do you tailor your content to generate the greatest number of readers (or "hits" or "clicks" on-line), or do you generate content that attracts readers seeking balanced reporting?

Do you seek advertisers first, or readers whom advertisers seek to reach?

This question loomed large in my mind as I read a recent article in The Daily Telegraph entitled “'Astonishing' rise in demand for exorcisms putting mental health at risk, report finds.” In this story, the Telegraph has chosen to sensationalize an item rather than report faithfully.

The title of the piece recycles the war between science and religion so beloved by bores. Not hirsute, feral pigs, mind you, but the dreary sort of folk one comes across in the chattering classes.

The suggestion raised in the title is softened slightly by the lede -- moving the problem from the war between science and religion to the war between science and the religion of immigrants. It states:

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Teen sex and pregnancy in UK: The Daily Mail and The Times abstain from discussing religion

Teen sex and pregnancy in UK: The Daily Mail and The Times abstain from discussing religion

“If you want more of something, subsidize it; if you want less of something, tax it,” argued Ronald Reagan.

A study released last month in Britain reports this maxim is true not only of economics, but sex. 

The Daily Mail, The Times and other outlets report that claims that cutting government spending on sexual education would lead to a rise in teen pregnancy have been shown to be untrue.

Researchers actually discovered the obverse: cutting sex-ed spending leads to a decline in the rate of teen pregnancies. The question GetReligion readers will want answered, of course, is this: Might there be a religious or moral angle to this news story?

The lede in the May 30, 2017, story in The Times entitled “Teenage pregnancies decline as funding for sex education is cut” states: 

Teenage pregnancy rates have been reduced because of government cuts to spending on sex education and birth control for young women, according to a study that challenges conventional wisdom. The state’s efforts to teach adolescents about sex and make access to contraceptives easier may have encouraged risky behavior rather than curbed it, the research suggests.

The Times story is behind their paywall, but the Daily Mail’s version, entitled “Sex education classes DON'T help to curb teenage pregnancy rates and may encourage youngsters to have unprotected intercourse” lays out the same story.

 

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The Los Angeles Times team acts like it's never seen the Holy Eucharist before

The Los Angeles Times team acts like it's never seen the Holy Eucharist before

Does The Los Angeles Times truly not know what Holy Communion is?

A reader of an article entitled “Bishop of Orange signs construction contract for renovation of Christ Cathedral” in the local news section might well wonder.  

The decline of the late Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral, one of the first mega-churches in the United States with a nationally syndicated worship service, has been discussed at GetReligion over the years. As has the subsequent purchase of the landmark property by the Roman Catholic Church for repurposing as its new cathedral. 

The article in the May 26 print edition reports the first phase of reconstruction has been completed.  

More than 10,000 panes of the cathedral’s mirrored glass already have been re-caulked and resurfaced, under budget and on schedule, Rev. Christopher Smith, rector and episcopal vicar, told guests at the signing ceremony.

So far so good.

However, the reporter’s lack of knowledge of the subject soon overtakes the story.

The contract signing is timely, as the Catholic Church has feast days ahead, Vann said, noting Pentecostal Sunday on June 4 -- often called the birth of the church -- and the feast day of Saints Peter and Paul, who built the great basilicas in Europe, on June 29. 

Perhaps “Pentecostal Sunday” was a spell-checker error, where the thought that passed from the reporter’s brain to her fingers to the page was intercepted by word processing software -- correcting Pentecost to Pentecostal.

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