Raleigh News & Observer

Friday Five: RNS turmoil, Chick-fil-A (again), where would Jesus park and a prayer for OKC Thunder

Friday Five: RNS turmoil, Chick-fil-A (again), where would Jesus park and a prayer for OKC Thunder

I'm fresh back in the United States after a reporting trip to Haiti.

I'm out of the loop on the drama that has engulfed Religion News Service in recent days. However, I'm incredibly sad to learn of respected colleagues such as Jerome Socolovsky, Lauren Markoe and Kimberly Winston Ligocki losing their jobs.

Since March 2017, I've written a number of freelance pieces for RNS. I've always found both Socolovsky, who was editor in chief, and Markoe, the managing editor, to be extremely cordial, professional and helpful in making my stories better. While I don't know enough to assess the complicated inner turmoil at RNS, I can vouch for my positive personal experience with those two talented and experienced journalists/Godbeat pros.

I haven't worked with G. Jeffrey MacDonald, the newly appointed interim editor-in-chief, but I've admired and respected his religion reporting and writing for years. I wish him and the remaining RNS staff all the best. At the same time, I can't help but wonder what the ground will look like after this earthquake in the religion news world finishes shaking.

Let's dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: Obviously, it's the RNS happenings. While GetReligion generally does analysis, not reporting, my colleague Julia Duin delved skillfully into the RNS situation in a must-read piece featuring interviews with key sources on "How America's one religion wire service melted down over a long weekend." That's Part 1 of a two-part package by Duin. Look for Part 2 as soon as later today.

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How major papers played Billy Graham's death on front pages: These bylines will be familiar to many

How major papers played Billy Graham's death on front pages: These bylines will be familiar to many

For those in Godbeat circles, many of the bylines splashed across today's front pages are extremely familiar.

I'm talking about names such as William Lobdell and Russell Chandler of the Los Angeles Times, Gayle White of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today.

All of those veteran religion writers — just to name a few — wrote their respective papers' major obituaries marking Wednesday's death of the Rev. Billy Graham at age 99.

But here's what might surprise many ordinary readers: None of them has worked for those papers in years. 

"I must have written and updated a whole suite of advance obit stories on Graham at least three times over 15 years," Grossman said. "I last polished up the package in 2013, in the week before I left the paper on a buyout. However, I stayed in touch with USAT editors (and) emailed them where fixes/changes might be needed over the years."

Welcome to the concept of the "prepared obit."

Here's what that means: News organizations put together obits in advance for certain prominent people, such as presidents, movie stars and — in the case of Graham — world-famous preachers. That way, they're prepared (at least somewhat) if the person dies 10 minutes before deadline.

A New York Times obituary writer explained it this way in a 2014 piece:

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What's happening with NCAA boycotting North Carolina? Don't bother reading Raleigh paper

What's happening with NCAA boycotting North Carolina? Don't bother reading Raleigh paper

The NCAA has decided to boycott North Carolina over its bathroom law.

Rather than pick on the Charlotte Observer again, I decided to see how the Raleigh News & Observer — the newspaper in the state capital — covered the story.

This is the front page of today's News & Observer.

As you can see, the NCAA decision is the lead story. 

My journalistic questions: Will this story offer an evenhanded reporting of facts? Will it treat both supporters and opponents of North Carolina's law fairly? Will readers be able to tell where the newspaper stands on the law? 

Let's start with the lede and see if it gives us any indication:

Since the North Carolina legislature last March passed House Bill 2, a controversial law restricting transgender bathroom access and limiting the civil rights and bathroom usage of the LGBT community, the state has lost the NBA All-Star Game, Bruce Springsteen and other concerts and conventions and millions of dollars in revenue.
Now North Carolina is losing the NCAA tournament. The NCAA announced on Monday that the seven championships scheduled in the state during this academic year, including NCAA men’s basketball tournament games in Greensboro, would be relocated because of House Bill 2, better known as HB2.

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Hey New York Times: Is North Carolina law really about 'curtailing same-sex unions,' or is religious freedom the issue?

Hey New York Times: Is North Carolina law really about 'curtailing same-sex unions,' or is religious freedom the issue?

The New York Times reports that North Carolina lawmakers passed a measure Thursday "aimed at curtailing same-sex unions."

Here's my pesky question for the Times: Can you provide any facts — any facts at all — to back up that claim?

Or is this new state law — as the supporters claim — about protecting religious freedom?

To give a little background, you'll recall that the Times previously ventured down to North Carolina and provided mediocre coverage on what it labeled "so-called religious freedom bills."

This is the lede on the latest story:

DURHAM, N.C. — Defying the governor, lawmakers on Thursday enacted a law that allows state court officials to refuse to perform a marriage if they have a “sincerely held religious objection,” a measure aimed at curtailing same-sex unions.

 

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Is a global fast for Syria a local news story?

Pope Francis made a global petition on Sept. 1 asking that everyone, regardless of religion or location, to fast and pray during the whole day of Sept. 7 for world peace, particularly in Syria.

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