small towns

Merry Christmas to media critics: Elite German reporter visits American heartland and ....

Merry Christmas to media critics: Elite German reporter visits American heartland and ....

The following post doesn’t have anything to do with Christmas.

Well, wait. I can imagine that there are conservative critics of the mainstream press — especially in its most elite forms — who would see the following headline as a kind of Christmas present. And later on in this post, there will be a religion-and-politics angle to this scandal. So hold that thought.

But let’s start with the end of tale, care of this NBC News headline: “German reporter stripped of CNN 'Journalist of the Year' awards for fabricating stories.”

Hey fans of great journalism movies: We are talking about a kind of sequel to “Shattered Glass,” only with a reporter who was working for an elite news publication — Der Spiegel — as opposed to a liberal journal of editorial opinion, commentary and news. Here’s the top of that Associated Press, as featured by NBC News:

BERLIN — A German journalist who was found to have fabricated numerous articles is being stripped of two awards he received in 2014 from CNN International, the broadcaster said Thursday.

In a statement to The Associated Press, CNN International said the independent panel of judges who awarded Claas Relotius the Journalist of the Year and Print Journalist of the Year awards four years ago decided unanimously to remove them following revelations about his fraud.

German magazine Der Spiegel, where Relotius worked as a freelancer and later full-time, said Wednesday that he had fabricated interviews and facts in at least 14 articles.

The publication, one of Germany's leading news outlets, said the 33-year-old had committed journalistic fraud "on a grand scale" over a number of years, including fabricating elements of an article about an American woman who he said volunteered to witness the executions of death row inmates.

Now it’s time for the flashback to a feature at Medium that got lots and lots of attention — in America and, perhaps, in Germany. The headline: “Der Spiegel journalist messed with the wrong small town.”

The key is that one of the most celebrated newsrooms in Europe decided to probe the dark heart of Middle America in the age of Donald Trump. You know: How do solid, faithful, ordinary Americans in the heartland make peace with their support for a demon? That sort of thing.

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New podcast: Breaking bread, while listening for hints of Godtalk, in Waffle House America

New podcast: Breaking bread, while listening for hints of Godtalk, in Waffle House America

To put things in country-music terms, this week's Crossroads podcast (click here to listen to that) is about pain, sorrow, alcohol, divorce, blue-collar families, coffee, hard times, opioids and God.

Oh, and waffles.

If you don't live in Waffle House America, let me explain. We are talking about a chain -- in 25 states -- of old-school, Southern-style dinners that serve breakfast 24/7 and attract large numbers of workers and rural folks who don't work normal schedules.

If you want to laugh about the Waffle House world, you can listen to the country-fried tribute song by Stephen Colbert (a native of South Carolina) and alt-country star Sturgill Simpson, entitled, "No Shirt, No Shoes, No Knuckleheads."

But the podcast isn't really about laughter. It's about the complex issues that affect ministry to many hurting people in this slice of the American people.

My chat with host Todd Wilken focused on my "On Religion" column this week -- which is about a United Methodist pastor in Alabama who is doing some interesting things while trying the reach working-class people. His name is Pastor Gary Liederbach and he uses his local Waffle House as his unofficial office on weekday mornings.

This anecdote sets the tone:

One recent morning, Liederbach sat down at the diner’s middle bar, where the line of side-by-side chairs almost requires diners to chat with waitresses and each other. He didn’t see the empty coffee cup of a rough, 50-something regular whom, as a matter of pastoral discretion, he called “Chuck.”
When Chuck came back inside from smoking a cigarette, he lit into Liederbach with a loud F-bomb, blasting him for taking his seat.

 

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In a town called Faith, voters offers clues on who exactly supports Donald Trump

In a town called Faith, voters offers clues on who exactly supports Donald Trump

After chasing stories all over the United States, I found Faith — a town in South Dakota with a population of 421.

It turns out I'm not the only newspaper reporter drawn to Faith.

Tim Funk, award-winning religion writer for the Charlotte Observer, ventured there — to the Faith in North Carolina — for a front-page report over the weekend.

Funk's Faith story tackles questions perplexing many this election season: Who are the people supporting Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump? And why? (In all fairness, the exact same questions could be — and should be — raised concerning those on Democrat Hillary Clinton's bandwagon.)

Here's what I like about the Charlotte Observer's story (and regular GetReligion readers will note that I'm praising a newspaper I've criticized in the past): The reporter goes to a Republican-leaning town, paints a vivid portrait of it and actually listens to the people he meets.

Of course, I've always enjoyed these kind of small-town takeouts. In my Associated Press days, I recall writing one from Daingerfield, Texas, and another from Crawford, Texas.

But back to the Charlotte Observer piece: Funk's lede nicely sets the scene:

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Town fighting transgender bathrooms has rattlesnakes and cougars. What about religion?

Town fighting transgender bathrooms has rattlesnakes and cougars. What about religion?

Until late last month, I'd never heard of Harrold, Texas. Maybe you hadn't either.

The tiny town near the Oklahoma border burst into the headlines recently when it joined Texas and 10 other states in challenging the Obama administration's directive that public school bathrooms, locker rooms and showers must accommodate transgender students.

My GetReligion colleague Jim Davis made brief mention of Harrold when he critiqued initial media coverage of the lawsuit.

The early reports — which included brief mentions of Harrold with a quote or two from the town's superintendent — made me curious. I wanted to know more about the little community and its role in the bigger fight. 

Apparently, I wasn't alone.

The Associated Press sent a reporter to Harrold and got firsthand color such as this:

Kindergarteners and high school students in Harrold share 10 bathrooms in a single brick schoolhouse that is shorter than the football field, where the Harrold Hornets play six-man football because there are not enough players for 11. A few times a day, a train rumbles past the schoolhouse. Superintendent David Thweatt says "hobos" sometimes jump off and wander toward campus. Once, he said, a drifter holed up in a school bus and left a smell that took days to air out.

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BBC misses religious-liberty ghost in St. Francisville, La.

Through the years, your GetReligionistas have gone out of our way to note that it’s a good thing, every now and then, for journalists to end up on the other side of a reporter’s notebook or camera lens.

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