Playing 'Think like a Godbeat pro': Let's look for religion hooks in big search

One of the big themes through our years of work here at GetReligion is that reporters with experience and training on the religion beat do a better job of handling stories with strong religious themes than reporters with zero experience on this complicated beat.

I know, I know. #DUH

So why, I am asked all the time, do the editors that staff major newsrooms (a) fail to see the big religion hooks (we call them "ghosts" here at GetReligion) in so many stories and (b) fail to include religion-beat professionals in the teams covering these stories? Obviously, those two questions are connected. It's a big journalism mystery.

With all of that in mind, let's look at a major national story and then play a little news-coverage game. Let's call it, "Think like a Godbeat pro." In this case, we are talking about the much-ballyhooed process to select a home for a massive new headquarters, with thousands of jobs attached.

This story is everywhere, as you would expect, since the 20 "finalist" cities are spread across much of the map of North America. To save time and space, let's look at a new report on this topic by the team at Axios, with this punchy headline, "Jeff Bezos’s brilliant PR stunt." Here is the overture:

Elected officials across the country have spent the past three months falling all over themselves to show Amazon just how much their cities love the e-commerce giant and would do just about anything to house its new headquarters.

Bottom line: The real winner is Amazon, which has created a feedback loop of positive press and fawning politicians just as the company increasingly needs both.

Big picture: Amazon, the world’s largest Internet company by revenue and the fourth-largest company by market cap, is reshaping everything from industries to main streets to homes. But this omnipotence also has put Amazon in the bullseye of a burgeoning "tech-lash," alongside gilded peers like Facebook, Google and Apple.

Now, that "tech-lash" angle is interesting and it involves all kinds of issues, from the brutal side effects of economic libertarianism (must-read book here) to religious, moral and cultural battles linked to gender and sexuality.

Now, let's keep reading. This brings us to the religion hook for this little journalism game. Read carefully:

Enter the HQ2 search sweepstakes, which 238 North American cities viewed as their bite at the West Coast wealth apple. Suddenly, Amazon wasn't being criticized for putting local retailers out of business. It was being saluted for offering to expand its economic success, including to struggling regions that may not share tech's liberal politics. Bezos the Benevolent.

So, did you spot anything in that passage that could lead to religion-beat stories?

OK, let me state the question this way: What are some of the key issues linked to "tech's liberal politics"? Care to start a list?

Yes, mass transit might play a role here. But, looking at trends over the past few years, do you think that there is any chance that moral, religious and cultural issues could be at the top of the naughty and nice list? Can you say "religious liberty" and put that First Amendment term inside scare quotes?

So, when evaluating the investigations into cities such as Dallas, Nashville and Atlanta, might it be wise to talk to religious leaders (liberals and conservatives) and culture-wars activists (liberals and conservatives) in those Bible Belt regions?

If you think that I am out of line here, then dig into this recent New York Times report: "Wary, Weary or Both, Southern Lawmakers Tone Down Culture Wars." The overture:

ATLANTA -- With elections looming and major corporations watching, the social issues that have provoked bitter fights in recent years across the conservative South — including restroom access for transgender people and so-called religious freedom measures — are gaining little legislative momentum in statehouses this year.
Democratic and Republican officials, advocacy groups and researchers say that other, less contentious subjects are taking center stage, while fewer new hot-button social bills are being introduced and pending ones are languishing.
A combination of fear, fatigue and legislative mathematics appear to be behind the shift.

Later on, there is the slam-dunk, linked to gender wars:

Steven W. Long, a South Carolina Republican who sponsored the restroom bill that is mired in the Legislature there, said that he and people who share his views know they may not see swift action.
“It’s a war of attrition,” Mr. Long said. “Politics is a long-term kind of game. We’re not going to see the results that we want to see overnight. It’s taken us years to get where are, and it’s going to take years to get us where we want to be.”
One factor that seems to loom large is that, though the bills have often been popular with conservative voters, they go down very poorly with another important constituency: big business. Officials in states hoping to attract major investments from out-of-state corporations -- like Amazon’s second headquarters -- say they drew a lesson from the boycotts and cancellations that North Carolina suffered over its bathroom bill.

So, you are the editors of newsroom staffs that include skilled religion-beat specialists. Are you going to assign them to the team that is working on the story? Why or why not? If you don't have a skilled religion-beat pro, will this hurt your coverage of many important stories?

Just asking.

FIRST IMAGE: Screenshot from CNN report.

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