Reader reactions to Lobdell’s confessions

rem lmrI’ve been gone for nearly a week to the rain-drenched Texas Hill Country and, during that time, I received all kinds of email about that remarkable page-one essay by William Lobdell of the Los Angeles Times about how his work on the religion beat knocked the foundations out from under his Christian faith. Click here for the quick post I wrote about that essay during my travels.

Frankly, I do not have any new comments to add about his piece, other than to restate what I said before. This was a striking work of personal confession and reflection on the complex and painful questions linked to theodicy, but not a piece of newspaper journalism — at least, not the kind of journalism that editors place on page one in a major daily newspaper. Thus, I still wonder what the editors were thinking.

Meanwhile, legions of Times customers have offered their opinions about Lobdell’s loss of faith. It is interesting to note that, at least in the context of the online chat session that let the reporter interact with readers, people elected to ask him about the faith issues in the piece and not (sadly) the journalistic issues that it raised. This is not a surprise to the GetReligionistas, since we spend quite a bit of time trying to get our readers to focus on journalism, as opposed to doctrinal squabbles and (at times) cat fights.

There was this one exchange, however:

2007-07-24 13:34:03.0 Peggy Normandin: Bill, what do you think made your story “LA Times front page newsworthy”?

2007-07-24 13:36:22.0 Bill Lobdell: I think it’s a story that almost everyone — including the saints of the church — grapple with. Everyone identifies with a struggle over faith. Some people have criticized the paper and said it was only on the front page because I ended up without faith. If I ended up with my faith intact, it would have gotten the same play. The editors were interested in how my spiritual journey was impacted by my professional life.

Ah, yes. I would ask the same question. I think this piece would have been right at home in a Sunday magazine, the op-ed pages or some other essay-oriented section of the newspaper. I also do not think that Lobdell is right when he says that the story would have ended up on page one if it affirmed his faith. It was a story about a crisis. That was the “news” hook in the first place.

Meanwhile, the Times also received this email from a reader. In fact, this appears to be the very first email that the newspaper received — of the 1,200 and counting — in reaction to this piece:

1. I’d be interested to know if the Los Angeles Times ever printed an article of similar length on how someone came to faith and held onto it through dark times. If not, why not? Dare we imagine a bit of bias?

Submitted by: Thotful
10:15 AM PDT, July 24, 2007

Let me add that, should the Times decide to publish some kind of “how working as a journalist strengthened my faith” piece, I am not sure it should be published on page one.

The bottom line: I still have journalistic questions about all of this, as opposed to theological questions.

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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.

  • Stephen A.

    “Dare we imagine a bit of bias?” Indeed. Thotful nailed the bias angle. It’s otherwise inexplicable that this would merit front page news.

    Though I do suspect that if his religious journey had ended in Buddhism, Wicca or left-wing political protestantism, it may well have ended up on the front page too. Just call me cynical, or perhaps realistic.

    And even though I’m pleased that SOME religious coverage has made it to the front page, it dealt with the same, sordid garbage that usually makes it to the front page: sex scandals, rich huckster pastors and those who don’t live up to their own rhetoric.

  • http://god-of-small-things.blogspot.com Bob Smietana

    Terry,

    It’s on page one because LA Times runs a magazine-style, page one feature story called Column One six days a week.

    Here’s how the LA Times website describes it: “Column One is a showcase for Los Angeles Times stories that are notably original, surprising, amusing or just plain interesting. It appears every day but Sunday and gets its name from its location in the newspaper — in the far-left column of the front page.”

    Lobdell’s story fits in with the kind of feature story usually run in that section.

  • Camassia

    It would be interesting to know how the piece was generated in the first place. Did Lobdell’s colleagues talk with him about all this in the bar and then say “Hey Bill, you should write a column about this”? Did Lobdell pitch it to his editors because he wanted to get it off his chest? Was there another piece in that slot that fell through and the editors said, “Bill, can you give us something?” My experience working in a daily paper tells me that this may not have been as carefully planned as seems to be assumed.

    Bob is right that Column One is not a hard-news slot, although I don’t recall seeing another story there so completely personal. Most of them involve at least some reporting.

  • Andrew

    I have often wondered what it must be like to be a Christian and also hold a job as newspaper religion writer that requires reporting on events and persons of faith of all varieties while, I presume, maintaining a spirit of journalistic equanimity. I have wondered what kind of toll such a beat must take on one’s beliefs – to encounter true believers of other faiths and report on false adherents in our own faith. Mr. Lobdell’s reflection provided a rare glimpse of the man behind the copy, and I am grateful for having had the opportunity to read his essay.

    Questions regarding the LA Times’ placement of this excellent and heart-felt article seem to be a diversion from the need to address the very serious issues raised in the essay or at the very least, the need to pray for the peace of one reporter’s soul.

  • Bec

    Did anyone hear the NPR Day To Day interview w/Lodbell on Wednesday? It was fairly ridiculous and made me want to ask, like Tmatt on this article, whether they would have interviewed anyone whose stint as a religion reporter caused them to find faith, as opposed to losing it. Not to mention the fact that it was so fluffy, I was waiting for the book pitch somewhere in the middle. It totally sounded like a book-tour type interview.

  • http://www.michaelkrahn.com/blog Michael Krahn

    Hey,

    I have an article on Lobdell up at:

    http://tinyurl.com/2rfe93

    Enjoy!

  • P. Tolve

    Dear Mr Lobdell,
    We can appreciate your frustration and dissatisfaction with Christianity. But understand, life without the Judeo-Christian ethics would be intolerable. I’m a born -in the-cradle Catholic–77 years old–my religion in Christ–has sustained my wife and me and six children–and praise God my grandchildren.
    The Church has been around for 2000 years–A Divine instituition made up of very fallible members.. When you find a Perfect institution –it will be impossible for anyone of us to join! Instead of dwelling on the sinners in the Church–we should dwell on our Saints–millions of men and women who have changed the course of history.
    We love you and pray for you. Please pray for us.
    The Peace and love of Christ be with you.
    Patrick and Ellie Tolve

  • Daniel Meyer

    An article such as this, stained by the writer’s blood, ought to bring all of us who call ourselves Christians down in the dust as an act of humiliation. What is it about American Christianity that leads to the kind of immoral behavior that Lobdell describes? Are we really following Christ, or are we idolizing our leaders? Do we recognize that our leaders are peculiarly susceptible to such behavior, and do we fervently ask God to protect them? Do we ask what kinds of safeguards they have put in place to prevent them from yielding to such temptations?

    When Daniel knelt to pray, he didn’t say, THEY have sinned; he said, WE have sinned. Aren’t we all complicit in this tragic story? Rather than pointing fingers, shouldn’t we be on our knees?


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