The Mirror

How not to cover a YouTube story: Seeing isn't believing in the Greek baby baptism

How not to cover a YouTube story: Seeing isn't believing in the Greek baby baptism

The Internet furore over the violent baptism of a Greek Orthodox baby has seeped into the mainstream press.

The story in itself is amusing, but it also provides a teaching moment on how not to do journalism.

The difficulty is how to report on YouTube videos. Is seeing believing? How do you report accurately and fairly on a video that cannot be authenticated?

On my Facebook and Twitter feed I received a post linking to a video of an extraordinary baptism. Within a few days the story made its way into The Sun, The Daily Mail, The MirrorNews Corp., and other television and press outlets. 

The British tabloid The Sun, which was reprinted in News Corp.’s Australian and New Zealand papers, had this story, opening like this: 

A GREEK orthodox bishop has come under fire after appearing to baptize a tiny tot a little bit too vigorously. In the footage that has appeared online the man of the cloth repeatedly dunks the naked baby into the baptismal font.

The tot is rapidly dunked three times into the water before being handed back to his unperturbed parents. According to reports the footage was taken in Ayia Napa, Cyprus, at a Greek Orthodox church.

With the church, baptisms are usually done ‘forcefully’ which is seen as a solution to the declining birth rate. Many online commentators have criticised the bishop’s rather rough approach.

The article closes with a summary of comments and criticisms of what viewers saw in the film. The Daily Mail ran a condensed version of the story, omitting the word “Greek” from the text as well as the extraordinary assertion that aggressive dunking results in a population boom. The Mirror kept the cleric Greek Orthodox and promoted him to archbishop.

What nobody appears to have done is ask the Greek Orthodox Church about this baptism.

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Note to The Independent: There's no way this MP candidate thinks that she healed a man

Note to The Independent: There's no way this MP candidate thinks that she healed a man

I've never been sure why, but the subject of prayer causes problems for many mainstream news reporters. I think part of the problem is that some reporters think they have to believe that prayer "works" in order to take prayer seriously.

Thus, I have heard mainstream journalists say that it's a "fact" that prayer does not work and that real journalists must strive to present solid facts and nothing more. After all, academic studies of the effectiveness of prayer -- linked to medical issues -- have been mixed.

Yes, from the viewpoint of a skeptical editor it's hard to prove -- as a fact -- that prayer "works" (although some academic studies of miracles are fascinating). Nevertheless, journalists need to remember that it is a fact that millions of people in many faiths around the world believe in the power of prayer and that their actions in real life, based on those beliefs, frequently affect real events and trends in the news.

I bring this up because of a revealing error in a story, and headline, that ran in The Independent about a British woman named Kristy Adams who is running for Parliament. The problem is clearly seen in the double-decker headline:

Tory MP candidate 'claims she healed deaf man through prayer '
'I don't know if he was more surprised than me,' says Kristy Adams

That's right. The journalists behind this story seem to think that Adams thinks that SHE healed someone. Here is the overture in this report:

A Conservative party candidate has reportedly claimed she healed a deaf man with her bare hands by channelling the power of prayer.

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Mangling the message: Papal Easter talk gets a warped reflection in The Mirror

Mangling the message: Papal Easter talk gets a warped reflection in The Mirror

How many gaffes can you pack into the start of a story? In its coverage of Pope Francis' Easter message yesterday, the UK-based Mirror seemed to be trying to find out.

And what a time for sloppy reporting -- the most important holiday on the calendar of the world's largest religion.

Check this out:

Pope Francis says defeat Islamic State 'with weapons of love' during Easter message
Pope Francis has urged the world in his Easter message to use the "weapons of love" to combat the evil of "blind and brutal violence" following the tragic attacks in Brussels.
The Roman Catholic church leader said an Easter Sunday Mass under tight security for tens of thousands of people in St Peter's Square.
After the service, he gave a traditional speech in which he addressed violence, injustice and threats to peace in many parts of the world.
He said: "May he [the risen Jesus] draw us closer on this Easter feast to the victims of terrorism, that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world."

Francis did decry multiple social ills: armed conflicts, "brutal crimes," ethnic and religious persecution, climate change caused by exploiting natural resources, fears of the young and the elderly alike. And yes, he denounced terrorism, "that blind and brutal form of violence which continues to shed blood in different parts of the world."

But he said nothing about the Islamic State -- or, for that matter, the acronyms of ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. Nor did he tell anyone to use the "weapons of love" in the Middle East conflict.

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Film at 11? Is it news that ISIS might crucify kidnapped Salesian priest on Good Friday?

Film at 11? Is it news that ISIS might crucify kidnapped Salesian priest on Good Friday?

One of the hardest parts of being a reporter, on any beat, is trying to figure out what to do while you are waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Let's say that a major event has taken place and that you have written that story. However, you just know that there will be other developments. Do you try to get ahead of it and write an advance story about what MIGHT happen, about the developments that you know the experts are already anticipating, if not investigating? Then again, if lots of scribes do that, it's possible that they will influence the story that they're covering.

This happens all the time in political coverage. Right now, major newsrooms are cranking out stories based on the whole "what will the candidates do next in an attempt to stop Donald Trump, etc., etc." line of thought. It's speculation mixed with blue-sky planning.

As you would imagine, I am thinking about a specific story now looming in the background, as the churches of the West move through Holy Week toward the bright liturgical grief of Good Friday. I am referring to that note that I added the other day, at the end of a post with this headline: "Did gunmen in Yemen kill the four Missionaries of Charity for any particular reason?"

The hook for the post was a comment by Pope Francis in which he wondered why journalists around the world were offering so little coverage of the deaths of these four nuns. I added:

So what's the bottom line at this point, in terms of the pope's lament about the news coverage? Have we reached the point where attacks of this kind are now normal and, well, not that big a deal? Did these news reports really need to be clear about who lived and who died in this case? Did the faith element -- the "martyr" detail -- matter in the original coverage of these killings or did it only become valid when the pope said so?
Just asking. And does anyone else fear that we may soon see the missing priest in an Islamic State video?

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With ISIS, The Mirror pays more attention to adjectives than beliefs

With ISIS, The Mirror pays more attention to adjectives than beliefs

The Mirror  interviews an ISIS jihadi -- believed to be connected to those who killed photographer James Foley -- and reminds us all of the appeal of Fleet Street newpapers. The article also shows the risks of ignoring religious statements.

First, the achievement. The Mirror  took an audacious step in publishing the interview -- apparently a text-based conversation via an "obscure messaging app" -- with an avowed jihadi inside Syria. If true -- and it would be tough for others to verify -- the story is a 1,000-plus-word look into the mind of a man who would chop off another's head.

The man is named as Abu Abduallah al-Britani, one of the so-called "Beatles," a trio of British men who left the U.K. to join the terrorist army in Iraq and Syria. And The Mirror gets max mileage out of it -- right from the headline, " 'I’m ready to behead next enemy': Chilling message from Briton willing to kill for jihad."

In true Fleet Street style, the article is peppered with sensational adjectives like "fanatic," "warped," "horrific" and ...

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Pope Francis and the 'Hand of God'

Europe’s tabloid press has added its bit to the wall-to-wall press coverage of Pope Francis. Crowding out the semi-nude girls, horse racing results, horoscopes and celebrity tattle the details of the election of Cardinal Jorge Bergoglio of Buenos Aires to the chair of St. Peter have received page 1 treatment across the continent.

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