coal mining

Friday Five: GetReligionistas out West, In-N-Out's ghosts, #ShockingNotShocking story and more

Friday Five: GetReligionistas out West, In-N-Out's ghosts, #ShockingNotShocking story and more

Today's "Friday Five" comes to you from the Pacific Time Zone.

The GetReligion team doesn't get together often in person. But this week, the crew -- including editor Terry Mattingly and contributors Julia Duin, Richard Ostling, Ira Rifkin and me -- met on the West Coast to contemplate the future. That's the sort of thing people do when a website turns 14 years old -- as in our Feb. 2 anniversary.

Why talk about what's ahead? Well, strategic planning is always a good idea for a forward-thinking organization. Beyond that, our prolific leader -- tmatt -- isn't getting any younger (which he told me to point out). As if to prove the point, the Boss Man celebrated his 64th birthday during our gathering. Even better, we had a reason to eat cake!

As for our future plans, when there's something to announce, count on someone above my pay grade to do so! Planning and blue-skying things takes time.

Meanwhile, back to the Five:

1. Religion story of the week: tmatt highlighted this simple-but-beautiful story Thursday.

"Every now and then, you run into a story where all the journalists covering it really needed to do was round up some facts, find a few compelling voices, capture the images and then get out of the way," tmatt noted.

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BBC tells quiet story of church built on a rock and, thus, it has survived fires below

BBC tells quiet story of church built on a rock and, thus, it has survived fires below

Every now and then, you run into a story where all the journalists covering it really needed to do was round up some facts, find a few compelling voices, capture the images and then get out of the way.

Now, as someone who has covered that kind of story, I know that this task may sound easy, but it's not.

You really have to do the work, yet play it simple. Most of all you need To. Trust. The. Story.

That's exactly what happened with this BBC report -- "This church has survived a fire that started back in 1962" -- about the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary Ukrainian Catholic Church in Centralia, Pa. In this case we are not talking about a battle with the process in which ethnic believers, in the second or third generation, assimilate into normal American culture and leave a church. No, we're talking about an underground fire -- a literal one -- burning in coal country for half a century, a fire that shut down a whole town.

The fire started near the surface on May 27, 1962, and quickly spread deep into the rich seams of coal for which the Pennsylvania  hills are famous. After years of trying to put out the fire, the U.S. government paid $42 million to, basically, move everyone in the town. Thus, readers are given this simple, clear overview:

In Pennsylvania's coal-mining mountains, there's an empty grid where a town once lived.
Once, there were homes and gardens. Now there are weeds. Before Centralia started burning from below, more than a thousand people lived here. At the last count, there were six.
The roads remain -- on Google Maps, they have names like Railway Avenue and Apple Alley -- but on the ground, they are ghost streets.
Nameless. Silent. Stripped bare. Anonymous, in every sense.
On the horizon, though, a piece of Centralia survives.
A white church rises between black trees. A blue dome shines against the snow.
Its congregation has left town, but Centralia's Ukrainian Catholic Church isn't going anywhere.

Now, here is what makes it hard to do justice to this simple report. You see, I can't show you the copyrighted art -- lots of it -- that goes with the text.

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Ghosts in blue-state — er, red-state — West Virginia?

There’s a lot to digest in the Washington Post’s nearly 4,000-word political road trip to West Virginia, headlined “A blue state’s road to red.” Even at that word count — mammoth for a newspaper — it’s a definite challenge to boil down an entire state, its people and their attitudes and way of life into a single story.

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