Another trip online: Can you find your favorite Godbeat specialist?

PinskyEvery weekend, I spend a large chunk of my time doing exactly what many of you would assume that I do. I surf around on the World Wide Web looking for religion news stories.

I often end up in the same cyber niches. There is a reason for that.

Some papers make it easy to find religion news. Many more do not. The ones that really tick me off are the ones that have fine religion writers and hide them and their work in dark, hard-to-find corners of their online newspapers.

Case in point: Go to the home page of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and try to find the fine work of the Godbeat veteran Ann Rodgers. Did you have any luck? Or for years, the St. Petersburg Times was known for its high-quality religion news coverage. Click here and try to find evidence of that.

There are, of course, national-level newspapers that take the beat seriously and readers can tell this simply with a click or two of a mouse. Hit the Los Angeles Times and, with a brief scan of the front-page index, one can quickly move to this crisp little site. Imagine that — religion is as important as real estate. Of course, you can make a case that real estate IS A FORM of religion in greater Los Angeles. At least, I have heard friends discuss the need to sacrifice their firstborn in order to get a house.

But I digress. Contrast Los Angeles with the digital path to religion features at the New York Times — where a little bit of hunting will yield, in the national columnist section, some of the coverage served up week by week. At the moment, “religion” is also featured in a topics search list. But there is no consistent way to find the many religion stories and columns printed in the Times. Finding the stories with religion ghosts in them is another matter.

Then there is the bizarre case of the Washington Post, which does national-level religion beat work — which can be found hidden in the Metro news section. This is particularly upsetting, since the Post has made strong efforts in recent years to improve its religion coverage, with several reporters working on the beat and offering a wide variety of coverage. Once again, the missing link is this — the Post seriously needs a page collecting the religion-angle stories that are scattered about in its sections, especially the lively and provocative Style section. This is a newspsaper that needs a master plan, a better menu, for its digital religion offerings. The coverage deserves it.

I could go on and on. But I want to single out one case that strikes close to home for me. One of my favorite writers on the beat is Mark Pinsky of the Orlando Sentinel, who is probably as well known for his work on the theological content of the Simpsons and Disney as he is for his coverage of local power centers such as Campus Crusade for Christ and the Florida Southern Baptists.

Indeed, anyone who actually wants to read this reporters work from his own newspaper had best be prepared to do some illogical clicking and, in the end, you’re still going to hit more than your share of “The page you requested was not found” form pages.

Here is how Pinsky himself told me to look for his work: “Go to main splash page. Look on the left hand topic rail, then click ‘Lifestyle.’ Then click the ‘Life and Times’ circle. If I have a recent piece, like now, it should be on the list. … I have no regular column.”

The emphasis is on the word “should.” Once again, here is a national-level journalist covering national-level stories for a newspaper that does not seem anxious to feature his work — at least in its online, national product.

Luckily for Pinksy, national-level newsrooms keep discovering his writing, or, at least, his books. Larry Stammer of the Los Angeles Times recently offered up this look into Pinsky’s new book, The Gospel According to Disney: Faith, Trust, and Pixie Dust. Here is a sample:

“The Disney canon is fairly simple,” Pinsky said in an interview. “Good is always rewarded. Evil is always punished. Faith is paramount — faith in yourself and, equally, faith in something greater than yourself. It doesn’t matter what it is that’s greater than yourself.” But don’t look for overt references to God.

Pinsky calls his book a guidebook for parents and grandparents. Much of it is a short retelling of the Disney narratives, with a chapter devoted to most of the stories. Pinsky brings his own rendering of the story lines, seasoned with a religion writer’s familiarity with belief systems, and the sensitivity that comes with being a father himself.

It is essentially a work of journalism rather than blazing paths into entirely new insights, which should not be surprising in view of Pinsky’s training as a reporter. (He formerly worked at The Times.) His task was complicated by the Disney company’s refusal to grant him a single interview, whether with a corporate executive or an animator. Pinsky was forced to rely in part on the works of other scholars and authors, who are richly quoted and credited.

Those who are not able to survive the Sentinel web site can catch up on Pinsky’s life and times at his homepage. And, should GetReligion.org readers be inspired to do so, it would not hurt to drop the Sentinel’s online editor a note to request easier access to one of the newspaper’s best journalistic assets. Click here to do that.

Come on. Just do it. And then find similar hidden Godbeat stars elsewhere in the country and try to help them, too.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Joshua Cordell

    A question. I don’t know anything about Mr. Pinsky but I followed his homepage to the information that he attends a liberal Jewish congregation.

    My question, without having read his books, is: What insight does a liberal Jew provide into the Gospel? I can’t imagine that he would believe the Gospel, so how can he show us “The Gospel According to Disney.”?

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    That is actually a solid question.

    He is saying “gospel” in this sense — he wants to know what these mass media gods (Simpsons and Disney) have to say about the essential religious questions that faith must address. So think gospel, not Gospel.

    But the man knows the content of other religious groups. He’s a very fine, solid reporter. On Christian issues, his perspective is somewhat outside the camp, but he knows most of the lingo being spoken by the generals. In other words, he is a serious, informed religion writer.

    When I was in Denver, the disciples of an ultra-Orthodox rabbi asked me, after I had spent an hour interviewing the rabbi, what synagogue I attended. That was, perhaps, the highest compliment I have ever received.

    That’s the point I am trying to make.

    Pinksy takes the views and beliefs of others very seriously. Here at GetReligion, that’s the goal.

  • Joshua Cordell

    Well said.

  • molly

    I came across Amy Sullivan on The Gadflyer – who has since left to become an editor at Washington Monthly. Does this count?


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