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Let's ask a few journalism questions about that Pokemon Go guy in the Russian shrine

Let's ask a few journalism questions about that Pokemon Go guy in the Russian shrine

So, did you hear about the Russian blogger who paid a small legal price for playing Pokemon Go inside a highly symbolic Russian Orthodox sanctuary?

I sure did, and I'm not just talking about the coverage from BBC, The New York Times and The Washington Post. As you would imagine, Orthodox folks such as myself have been asked if we approved of this government action against an Internet-era provocateur.

Well, that is an interesting question. However, that isn't what I want to write about here. Much like the Pussy Riot case, I am interesting in a different pair of questions: What actually happened in that shrine? And could news consumers find out what happened, just by reading the news accounts?

So let's shift the focus for a second and consider a hypothetical case. Let's say that an alt-right Holocaust denier decides to enter a highly symbolic sanctuary -- perhaps Berlin's Ryke Street synagogue -- and walks around playing some kind of smartphone game in which he hunts demons, or monsters, or whatever. He then posts an anti-semitic video online. Ultimately, he ends up in trouble with law officials.

Now, there are several questions that I think would be crucial for journalists to ask in this case: (1) What sanctuary are we talking about? (2) Did this sanctuary invasion take place during a worship service? (2) Did the rabbi, or people working with him, request that the man cease and desist? In other words, was he warned that he was disturbing the peace?

It's one thing to walk around uninvited in a holy place doing nonsense. In terms of the law, it might be more offensive -- perhaps even a legal offense -- to do this during a prayer service. What if this alt-right wacko was asked to leave, to stop distracting people in the synagogue and refused? Several times?

Now, back to Russia. Let me stress, once again, that we are not debating the appropriateness of Russian law or actions in this case. We are asking if news consumers can figure out what actually happened in this event, simply by reading the news coverage.

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Happy 13th birthday, GetReligion! My wish as we enter the teenage years

Happy 13th birthday, GetReligion! My wish as we enter the teenage years

Oh no.

GetReligion has entered its teenage years, as tmatt noted this morning.

In case you need it, here's some advice on how to survive this awkward time for your favorite journalism-focused website (we are your favorite, right?).

But seriously, folks ...

Thirteen years is a long time for blog to survive. When Terry Mattingly and Douglas LeBlanc launched GetReligion in 2004, I was covering religion for The Associated Press in Dallas. "Blog" was one of Merriam-Webster's "Words of the Year" that same year, but — as I recall — I didn't become familiar with the concept until leaving AP and joining The Christian Chronicle in 2005.

I can't recall exactly how I found GetReligion or when, but I was an avid reader of the site before joining the team of contributors in March 2010. That was — gulp! — nearly seven  years and 11,943 email conversation threads ago. At least that's how many threads my "GetReligion story possibilities" folder shows right now — I may have deleted one or two threads over the years.

At GetReligion's 10th anniversary in 2014, I shared "Five things they didn't tell me" about this gig. None has changed (see my original elaboration on this points here):

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Huffington Post losing its religion: What's up as key staffers leave and news org drops RNS?

Huffington Post losing its religion: What's up as key staffers leave and news org drops RNS?

I never know quite what to make of the Huffington Post.

Is it a news publication? An advocacy commentary site? A combination of the two? This is a topic members of the GetReligion team have been debating for years, since our focus here is on mainstream news material.

On the one hand, the online-only news organization won a 2012 Pulitzer Prize for "Beyond the Battlefield," a 10-part series on the lives of severely wounded veterans and their families. Clearly, the HuffPost runs some serious news material.

On the other hand, regardless of what I think about Donald Trump, I find it difficult to take seriously the journalism of a media outlet that appends this note to its coverage of the Republican presidential candidate:

Note to our readers: Donald Trump is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistbirther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.

I bring up the HuffPost because of recent signs the website may be losing its religion. Literally.

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Liberty University and all those Pell Grants: Is this a topic for news or opinion?

Liberty University and all those Pell Grants: Is this a topic for news or opinion?

Over the years, your GetReligionistas have developed some logos to signal to readers that there are certain types of stories that we critique over and over and over. No, we haven't created a Kellerism logo yet, but who knows?

The "Got news?" logo us used when we see a really interesting news story in alternative media and, as veteran reporters, we think to ourselves, "Why the heck isn't anyone in the mainstream press covering that interesting (and in some cases major) story?"

Then there is the logo out front on this post, which says, "What is this?" If you read news online, you know that we are in an age in which the lines between hard news and commentary are getting thinner and thinner. Frequently, I see pieces marked "analysis" that contain far more clear attributions and sources than in "hard news" stories elsewhere. We regularly see "news" features that, a decade ago, would have been featured on op-ed pages.

Then there is the whole issue of hard-news reporters writing "objective" stories and then turning around and firing away on Twitter with edgy comments that would make an editorial-page editor blush. The goal, for many reporters, is to build an online "brand" and one way you do that is by telling readers what you really think.

Then there is that other nasty equation looming in the background during these financially troubled times in the journalism. You know the one: Opinion is cheep; information is expensive.

This brings me to a really interesting "Acts of Faith" piece at The Washington Post that ran under this headline: "Liberty University, a hub of conservative politics, owes rapid growth to federal student loans."

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Concerning RNS and GetReligion: Yes, there are 'church' and 'state' debates in journalism

Concerning RNS and GetReligion: Yes, there are 'church' and 'state' debates in journalism

For weeks, I have been hearing from readers asking me when GetReligion was going to address the Catholic News Agency report about the $120,000 grant from the Arcus Foundation to the Religion Newswriters Foundation, which owns Religion News Service.

In one article, CNA noted that the grant listing said that its purpose was to "recruit and equip LGBT supportive leaders and advocates to counter rejection and antagonism within traditionally conservative Christian churches." When announcing the grant, Arcus officials said this grant would help foster a "culture of LGBT understanding through the media” by funding news reports and blogging posts “about religion and LGBT peoples of color.”

RNS Editor Kevin Eckstrom defended his wire service's editorial independence, stressing that this public relations represented "Arcus’ description of their funding, not ours.” It is also crucial to note that the funding connections between RNS and the Religion Newswriters Foundation are complex, to the degree that CNA needed to correct some fine details. Please read that whole report carefully.

In that story, Eckstrom also noted that GetReligion frequently criticizes RNS because its work does not meet our blog's "standard of theological orthodoxy.”

I did not respond, although there is much to be said on these matters. First of all, please note that GetReligion frequently praises the work of RNS and we certainly recognize its crucial role as the only mainstream news operation dedicated to covering the religion beat. Second, let me acknowledge that -- over the past decade -- RNS frequently took interns from the Washington Journalism Center (which is now being rebooted in New York City). Eckstrom and his team, frankly, did a fantastic and gracious job working with my program's students and I will always be grateful for that.

So what can I say about the "theological" issues involved in this discussion? Let's start with some background on journalism "theology."

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Shocker! Erskine College covenant affirms 2,000 years of Christian doctrine on sex

Shocker! Erskine College covenant affirms 2,000 years of Christian doctrine on sex

GetReligion readers who know a thing or two about religious colleges and universities (also private schools for younger students) know that there is nothing unusual about these institutions asking students, staff and faculty to sign a "doctrinal covenant," often called a "lifestyle covenant," which confuses matters a bit.

This is an issue that frequently comes up in GetReligion critiques of mainstream news coverage, in part because many journalists don't seem to realize that it's normal (think First Amendment, once again) for voluntary associations on both the left and right to ask those who choose to become members to affirm, or at least not to publicly oppose, the goals and teachings (think "doctrines") of these groups. Thus, there is nothing unusual about the leaders of a network that opposes global warming to insist that its members to oppose global warming. There is nothing strange about a group for vegetarians choosing not to have officers who are openly affirm eating meat. Few Jewish groups want Messianic Jews/Southern Baptists as leaders. Ditto for Muslim groups welcoming Zionists.

This brings us to the hands-down winner of the worst headline of last week, care of The Washington Post. Once again, this headline graced one of those strange, brave new journalism (What is this?) "reported blog" pieces that was, nevertheless, promoted by the Post in lists of major news stories. News? Editorial? Who knows? Oh well? Whatever? Nevermind? The headline:

South Carolina college bans homosexuality after two volleyball players come out as gay

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10 years of GetReligion: Five things they didn't tell me

Nearly four years and 500 posts ago, I became the newest GetReligionista. Now, somehow, I’m the second-longest-tenured regular contributor after the illustrious Terry Mattingly himself.

As we celebrate GetReligion’s 10th anniversary, our esteemed editor tmatt has reflected on “why we are still here” — Part 1 and Part 2 — and talked about “Labels, labels, labels, labels!” He’s even recorded a podcast. George Conger and my bride Tamie Ross have shared additional insight.

I can’t remember exactly when I started reading GetReligion or how I came across it. But in March 2010, I jumped at the opportunity to join an all-star team that included Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Brad Greenberg. As I wrote in my introductory post:

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What should be tweeted via @ThroneOfPeter?

Let’s drop the media criticism for a moment and have a bit of fun (about a topic that is actually pretty serious).

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