Hot topic, lots of voices. Amen.

flclife.gifThe purpose of this blog is, of course, to promote improved coverage of religion news in the MSM. To do this, we like to point out lots of interesting stories that we believe deserve more coverage and, from time to time, we also like to note when news organizations, well, fall a bit short of the mark.

So what are we supposed to do when a newspaper reporter does a perfectly normal, even-handed job while covering a very hot, divisive religion story?

Cheer, of course. The more difficult part of blogging on such a story is finding a way to let you see why the story was good in the first place. You need to see the whole thing and see all of the different voices that are included. You need to sense the whole tone of the thing. I can’t quote just one or two paragraphs, the way I can when noting where a story went wrong.

Thus, let me urge you to read reporter Sean Mussenden’s state capital report for the Orlando Sentinel on a very hot story, indeed. The headline punches several buttons at the same time: “State aims to counsel against abortion: Gov. Jeb Bush’s proposed hotline would tell pregnant women of alternatives.”

This is a sticky wicket. You have abortion, adoption, crisis-pregnancy centers, a church-state controversy and the Catholic brother of the president of the United States, who may someday seek higher office himself. Oh, right, and the story also involves a GOP contender for the governor’s job when it comes open.

That’s all. Here is a chunk of the story:

The governor’s office and groups on both sides of the abortion debate said the effort represented a significant turn, at least in Florida, in the battle over information given to women facing unwanted pregnancies. For years, conservatives have favored “gag rules” that would cut off federal funds to clinics that present abortion as an alternative.

Now, in addition to pushing restrictions on abortion counseling for pregnant women, they are advocating the use of tax dollars to promote a message that steers women toward adoption. Anti-abortion activists say that’s only fair.

“The abortion option is always there, with all the pro-abortion networks. It’s about time that we got more government funds to support adoption,” said Lynda Bell, spokesperson for Florida Right to Life.

Many different voices show up in this hard-news report, representing a number of different interest groups. It’s complex territory. And in the background loom the basic statistics: “Last year, 217,000 babies were born in Florida, compared with almost 92,000 abortions, according to the governor’s office. In the past four years, the number of abortions has risen 7 percent, compared with a 5.4 percent increase in newborns during that same period, the governor’s office said.”

This is what reporters are supposed to do: Let lots of voices address tough issues from a variety of viewpoints. To paraphrase James Carville: It’s journalism, stupid.

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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.

  • Peter

    I just discovered this site and have found it interesting, especially the “monitor the msm” slant. I realize, according to the “Civility in this space” rules that participants are strongly encouraged to address the immediate topic/post at hand. And I agree with Mssr. Mattingly that Sean Mussenden did what any self-respecting journalism professional should do in handling the topic.
    But I do have a general question and hope you will bend the Civility Rule just a tad in accomodating a questioning newbie here.
    In reading the blog trio bios, it struck me that all can easily be considered MS. Mattingly, for instance, with his Scripps Howard gig (SH being about as mainstream as a news service can get). And the freelance pubs that LeBlanc and Lott have written for such as Christian Science Monitor, Washington Post, are certainly mainstream.
    So, how do you see yourselves, in that from this perspective at least, you’re all thoroughly mainstream. Outsiders? Stealth Christian journalists when writing for the likes of Scripps or other secular outfits?
    Just curious. And thanks.

  • Jeremy Lott

    I’m a writer and critic, whatever venue I happen to land in. For religious publications, I tend to tackle topics that are considered more secular. For avowedly secular publications, I tend explain religion and religious issues to the audience. I’m not sure that’s how I would have designed things but I’m fairly happy with how it works out.