Let's say that you are a reporter and you are going to write a feature story about an order of Catholic monastics.
If you were writing about an order that is growing -- let's say the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville -- it would be very important for your piece to mention the larger context of this story. I am, of course, referring to the overall decline of Catholic monasticism and holy orders in the United States.
For example, see the opening of this classic NPR piece:
For the most part, these are grim days for Catholic nuns. Convents are closing, nuns are aging and there are relatively few new recruits. But something startling is happening in Nashville, Tenn. The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia are seeing a boom in new young sisters: Twenty-seven joined this year and 90 entered over the past five years.
The average of new entrants here is 23. And overall, the average age of the Nashville Dominicans is 36 -- four decades younger than the average nun nationwide.
So lots of monasteries and convents are in decline -- but not all. In other words, there are two sides to this equation.
So let's flip this around. Now you are a reporter and you have been assigned to write about the decline and potential death of a Catholic monastery. That, for example, this lovely New York Times feature with this expansive double-decker headline:
The World Is Changing. This Trappist Abbey Isn’t. Can It Last?
Meet the monks of Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery in South Carolina, who are trying to maintain age-old religious traditions in a rapidly evolving world.
You can see half of the equation right there in the headline. Throughout the piece, the challenges faced at Mepkin Abbey are -- as you would expect -- spelled out in great detail.
What is missing? The story does not include the other side of the equation.