religion

Don’t forget about the role of Catholicism in those ‘Back to School’ stories

Don’t forget about the role of Catholicism in those ‘Back to School’ stories

It’s back to school time. For much of the country, Labor Day officially signaled the end of those lazy summer beach days. Students of all ages across the country are again worried about grades and homework. For many, school began a few weeks ago.

In the Northeast, where most of the major news organizations are located, schools opens this week. That means readers are seeing lots of back-to-school stories.

These features typically range from the mundane (which notebooks are in style this year) to scary (involving enhanced security following a summer of mass shootings). There are also plenty of stories regarding the cost of books and supplies — something that seem to rise in cost each year.

In New York City, where I live, there are roughly 1.1 million students who attend public school when counting kindergarten through high school. Students who attend private schools and Charter ones make up about a quarter of the total number of the 1.24 million children who call one of the city’s five borough’s home.

That’s a significant part of the larger story. Yet Catholic schools — religious schools in general — are usually lost in the back-to-school news frenzy.

The bottom line: The Catholic church has done a lot for education in New York and indeed across the country and around the world. Catholic schools don’t get much coverage — in New York or elsewhere — unless the news involves clergy sex abuse.  

That’s unfortunate because Catholic education continues to be an important resource and major factor in the lives of so many families. As we approach the start of school, here are a few story ideas editors and education beat reporters should ponder:

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Turn your radio on, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Maybe there's a holy 'ghost' at this radio station

Turn your radio on, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Maybe there's a holy 'ghost' at this radio station

There's no denying that the media world continues to undergo changes at just about every level. And while it's rare, sometimes those stories include what we GetReligionistas call a holy "ghost" -- a nonreported (or underreported) religion angle

The reality of one such "ghost" shows up over at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where the story of a local AM radio station's pending demise caught my eye. KQV-AM, an all-news station for 42 years, will cease broadcasting at the end of the year, the paper reported.

It wasn't until a reader gets nine paragraphs into the story that some curious words emerge, phrasing from owner Robert W. Dickey, Jr., suggesting there may have been something else involved than just reading headlines and reaping profits:

As FM became the primary radio format to hear rock or other music, KQV in 1975 became one of a number of stations nationally switching to an all-news-all-the-time format. Mr. Dickey’s father, the late Robert W. Dickey Sr., was a station manager who got financial backing from billionaire Richard Mellon Scaife to form Calvary Inc. and purchase the station from Taft Broadcasting in 1982. ... 
The news format, due to the salary costs of the necessary number of reporters, editors and announcers involved, is much more costly than music programming on radio, Mr. Dickey said. At the same time, the media industry in general has been suffering from a drop in advertising by major retailers and others. Mr. Dickey said he did not consider a format change at the station because of his family’s longtime focus on delivering news as a mission.
“We perceived the world of reporting on the news as a sacred one,” he said. “What made this worthwhile is not that we were making money, but that we were doing something important.”

Having hung around radio people in New York City at around the time KQV-AM switched its format, I can tell you that few newscasters would've described their work as a "mission" or "sacred."

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No Christian fellowship for this prisoner; Washington Post parrots one side (guess which one?)

No Christian fellowship for this prisoner; Washington Post parrots one side (guess which one?)

Prison is not always a happy place for inmates, and that's probably by design. The goal of prisons, which once were called penitentiaries because the aim was for criminals to become penitent over their crimes, is to induce serious reflection and change in the attitudes of prisoners.

When reporting on conflicts over issues of faith behind bars, it might be well for editors and reports to reflect on the basics of journalism: It's best to report all sides of the story, even if official voices may be reluctant to speak because of pending litigation.

The basics: Shari Webber-Dunn, 46, convicted in 1994 of participating in the killing of her estranged husband, the presence of Christian-themed items at the Topeka Correctional Facility in Kansas is too great a burden. The inmate is suing Kansas officials with the aid of the American Humanist Association.

Over at The Washington Post, the resulting coverage presents one side of what must be a two-or-more-sided story:

Church and state are too cozy at the Topeka Correctional Facility, according to a convicted murderer who has spent the past 23 years inside Kansas’s prison system.
Shari Webber-Dunn -- who in 1994 was handed a 40-year-minimum prison sentence for her role in the murder of her estranged husband -- claims in a federal lawsuit filed last week that inmates at Kansas’s only women’s prison are subjected to an endless profusion of Christian imagery and propaganda, from the material posted on bulletin boards to the movies played in the common room.
The net effect, Webber-Dunn claims, adds up to an institutional message “imposing Christian beliefs on inmates” in a clear violation of the U.S. Constitution. The lawsuit argues the prison has created a “coercive atmosphere where inmates are pressured to spend their time in a high religious atmosphere and to participate in religious activities and prayers, thus violating the establishment clause.”

The Post report recounts many of the allegations raised in the lawsuit and summarizes a number of charges, including:

The prison also provides “free Christian literature including monthly church newsletters, daily devotional guides, Bible tracts, various magazine, prayer cards, pamphlets” for the inmates. Yet when Webber-Dunn wanted to buy a 3½-inch statue of the Hindu goddess Lakshmi, she had to hire a lawyer to compel the prison to approve the religious purchase.
The lawsuit asks the U.S. District Court to issue a permanent injunction enjoining the state from continuing to allow Christian practices inside the facility.

Apart from the obligatory official side-step -- "Samir Arif, a Department of Corrections spokesman, declined to comment on the suit, the Topeka Capital-Journal reported" -- the Post makes zero effort to help readers understand any other side of the story.

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ESPN doctrine: Politics and 'social issues' are part of sports, but what about religion?

ESPN doctrine: Politics and 'social issues' are part of sports, but what about religion?

I'm sure there are lots of GetReligion readers who are familiar with the old etiquette rule stating that there are two things people are not supposed to talk about in polite company -- religion and politics.

However, we now know that the same rule -- or half of it -- does not apply to sports talk at ESPN.

This is complicated. The other day, our own Bobby Ross Jr., followed up on a great tip from a reader about some North Caroline State football players who volunteered some of their time to do mission work in Kenya. The headline on that piece stated: "Shhhhh! Don't mention Christian faith because ESPN wants to pretend it doesn't matter."

You see, despite all kinds of social media references to the fact that this was a Christian missions trip (Do secular groups use the word "missions" in this context?), the ESPN team went way out of its way to avoid any references to religious faith. At the end, Bobby said:

Please don't misunderstand me: I think it's great that ESPN decided to report on a "life-changing experience" that made a "profound impact" and "inspired (one of [punter A.J.] Cole's teammates) so much."I just wish ESPN would go ahead and tell the rest of the story -- the one that involves those unmentioned words above.
Seriously, why is ESPN -- seemingly -- so afraid of religion?

As the video at the top of this post notes, Cole has been doing this generic missions work for quite some time now.

Anyway, we have received emails from readers claiming that ESPN has an actual policy forbidding discussions of religion on the air -- but have never been given direct evidence of this. There has also been talk (think Christmas wars) about ESPN banning adds that mention Jesus, etc.

Meanwhile, ESPN ratings have been in a dangerous spiral that some, in addition to the obvious ties to young viewers cutting cables to their screens, have linked to the sports giant airing more and more commentaries backing progressive cultural and political causes, some of which have implications for traditional religious believers.

Now, ESPN Public Editor Jim Brady has written a very interesting essay about new ESPN policies affecting political speech during news reports. The headline: "New ESPN guidelines recognize connection between sports, politics."

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