Roy Peter Clark

Friday Five: SBC abuse, Mabel Grammer's faith, power of nuance, 'fourth-trimester' abortions

Friday Five: SBC abuse, Mabel Grammer's faith, power of nuance, 'fourth-trimester' abortions

You know your big investigative project has made a major splash when other news organizations immediately follow up on your original reporting.

Such is the case with the Houston Chronicle’s bombshell series on sexual abuse in Southern Baptist churches (Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3).

The Washington Post and Memphis’ Commercial Appeal were among many newspapers that responded to the Houston coverage. I mention those two newspapers because I felt like their stories offered some additional insight into the independent congregational structure of the Southern Baptist Convention that perhaps even the Chronicle didn’t fully grasp.

In any case, let’s dive into the Friday Five (where we’ll see a few more links tied to the SBC):

1. Religion story of the week: Is there any doubt which story will occupy this space?

I wrote GetReligion’s initial post on the Chronicle’s big series on Southern Baptist abuse (“'Guys, you are not my opponent,' Southern Baptist official tells reporters investigating sexual abuse”).

Editor Terry Mattingly delved deeper into the autonomous nature of congregations in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination (“Bottom line: Southern Baptist Convention's legal structure will affect fight against sexual abuse”).

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Sometimes chasing 'Why?' questions pushes scribes past motives, into evil and tragedy

Sometimes chasing 'Why?' questions pushes scribes past motives, into evil and tragedy

When it comes to the big question in Las Vegas, news consumers around the world are still waiting. And waiting. And waiting some more.

Journalists want to know what kind of label to pin on the motives of Stephen Paddock, so we can go back to wrestling with theodicy questions like, oh, why so many Democrats voted for Donald Trump instead of Hillary Clinton. Where was God on election day?

Alas, new details in Vegas (Paddock shot a security man before the massacre began?) have only complicated the timeline of this tragedy.

What are journalists supposed to do? Well, this is the rare case when I want to point readers to a think piece during the middle of the week (as opposed to our weekend slots), in part because I get to plug a Poynter.org essay while sitting in the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. I've been here for several days speaking to a circle of international journalists.

The Poynter.org essay is called "The Journalism of Why: How we struggle to answer the hardest question," and it was written by veteran journalist and educator Roy Peter Clark.

Clark starts where I started here at GetReligion, hours after the massacre: With that familiar journalism mantra Who, What, When, Where, Why and How.

Who? We got that information pretty quick (unless you're talking about Paddock having help).

What? We got that. When? The massacre timeline is evolving, but we know (or think we know) some of the basics. Where? You get the point. Then Clark notes, quoting one of the journalism scholars who most influenced my academic career:

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The second storytelling rule: Get the name of the church (click the link to learn the first)

The second storytelling rule: Get the name of the church (click the link to learn the first)

"The first storytelling rule: Get the name of the dog."

That terrific advice for journalists comes courtesy of Roy Peter Clark, the longtime writing coach best known for his work with the Poynter Institute.

The gist of Clark's idea: If the reporter remembers to ask the dog's name, then "he or she will be curious enough and attentive enough to gather all the relevant details in their epiphanic particularity."

To move that thought into the GetReligion realm, let's consider a second rule: Get the name of the church.

Adherence to that rule would have improved The Associated Press' recent coverage of an Iraqi man who helped the U.S. military but is now facing deportation:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — An Iraqi man who fled to the U.S. during the Gulf War and trained tens of thousands of American soldiers is facing deportation orders that could lead to his death in his homeland, his supporters say.
Kadhim Al-bumohammed, 64, decided to seek refuge Thursday inside a New Mexico church. He announced through his attorney that he would defy a federal immigration order to appear for a hearing where he was expected to be detained for deportation over a domestic-violence conviction in California.
"After consulting with his family, and with other members of the faith community, (Al-bumohammed) has chosen to seek sanctuary with the faith community," Rebecca Kitson, his lawyer, said to a cheering crowd outside Immigration and Customs Enforcement offices in Albuquerque.
Immigration officials typically don't make deportation arrests in churches and other "sensitive areas" such as schools and churches.

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New York Times seeks another Godbeat scribe: How would Yogi Berra parse the job listing?

New York Times seeks another Godbeat scribe: How would Yogi Berra parse the job listing?

I have some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that one of the buzz topics in religion-news circles this week was that job posting at The New York Times, the one with this headline: "Change Is Coming to the New York Times National Desk."

It appears the Times is thinking about doing something new on the religion beat, 12-plus years after the 2005 report on its newsroom culture and weaknesses, "Preserving Our Readers Trust." That was the amazing document that urged editors, when hiring staff, to seek more intellectual and cultural diversity -- to help the Gray Lady do a better job covering religion, non-New York America and other common subjects. Yes, I've written about that report a whole lot on this site.

Oh, and Times editor Dean Baquet's recent journalism confession on NPR -- that the "New York-based and Washington-based ... media powerhouses don't quite get religion" -- may have had something to do with this, as well.

The bad news? There is one chunk of language in this job posting that, for veteran Godbeat observers, could cause a kind of bad acid flashback to another religion-beat job notice in another newsroom, at another time. Hold that thought. 

So here is the Times job notice for a "Faith and values correspondent."

We’re seeking a skilled reporter and writer to tap into the beliefs and moral questions that guide Americans and affect how they live their lives, whom they vote for and how they reflect on the state of the country. You won’t need to be an expert in religious doctrine. The position is based outside of New York, and you will work alongside Laurie Goodstein and a team of other journalists who are digging deep into the nation.

Did you see the key sentence? Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher sure did:

Two cheers for them! I’m glad they’re adding this position, and I’m really glad they’re not basing this reporter in New York (I hope they don’t base him or her in any coastal city, or in Chicago, but rather someplace like Dallas or Atlanta). Why not three cheers? That line about how “you won’t need to be an expert in religious doctrine” bothers me. ... 

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When will they learn? Media cluelessness about red-state life happened in 2004 and in ...

When will they learn? Media cluelessness about red-state life happened in 2004 and in ...

I well remember the evening in 2005 when Pope Benedict XVI was elected. The news was announced at dusk in a rainy St. Peter’s Square. I was there and I well remember how so many of the Europeans –- particularly the French –- standing close by were swearing a blue streak when the new pope was proclaimed. Many newspapers talked about a climate of fear descending as the world awaited a reign of terror from the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger.

Of course, nothing of the sort happened and Benedict, it turned out, became the first pope in hundreds of years to resign. He willingly give up power. He never did turn out to be the evil genius they accused him of being. And so, when I read all the doom about the coming President Donald Trump, I wonder if the same sort of dire predictions will prove false. (Of course, Cardinal Ratzinger already had tons of Vatican administrative experience.)

I’m also seeing the same wailing and gnashing of teeth that happened in November 2004 when George W. Bush beat John Kerry. The media elites were realizing there was a lot of red-state America out there that they weren’t getting.

Roy Peter Clark’s famous Nov. 4, 2004, “Confessions of an alienated journalist” essay in Poynter.org said it all:

It seems that the Democrats are insensitive to "moral values." This puzzles me because I think that opposing a war, or working for economic justice, or making health care more available in America all derive from a moral vision. Apparently, it is not the moral vision -- the set of faith and family values -- that helped re-elect George W. Bush.
I am now taking seriously the theory that we mainstream journalists are different from mainstream America. "Different" is too pale a word. We are alienated. We may live in the same country, but we treat each other like aliens. Maybe it's worse than that because we usually see and suspect the alien in our midst. The churched people who embrace Bush, in spite of a bumbling war and a stumbling economy, are more than alien to me. They are invisible.

I pitched a piece to Poynter that ran the following month that explained the media’s cluelessness about the other –- and mainly religious -- half of America.

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