Faith-based reporting

Some reporters just react to events and press releases. Others do a good job of keeping the big picture in mind.

I thought of this when I read Washington Post religion reporter Michelle Boorstein’s blog request for assistance on one of the issues she covers. She says she’s been requesting access to the faith-based offices in federal agencies for more than six months but has been shut down across the board:

Sure, we know generally that the offices help faith-based and other nonprofits that run programs on things like job training, but let’s get more specific. Which groups do they help and fund, and for what projects? Have their priorities changed since the offices were run by the Bush White House? Does the office at USAID, for example, get involved in the many millions of dollars of contracts related to sex and family planning overseas? And what does the Justice Department faith office do?

If you can help provide answers, be sure to let her know.

The Chicago Tribune actually had the opportunity to find out answers to these questions but squandered the opportunity.

But, no. Instead the newspaper published a puffy, no-news piece praising Joshua DuBois, the head of the faith-based office. You’d be hard pressed to find a reporter who dislikes DuBois as a person but many of the reporters I know who cover the faith-based office have been nothing if not frustrated with their inability to get answers to basic questions about what the office is doing. At a Religion Newswriters conference a couple of years ago, an NPR reporter asked him point blank why he was so unresponsive to reporter queries.

So next time someone gets an opportunity like the Tribune had, let’s make sure we use it well!

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  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    I see another squandered opportunity in that Tribute article. The photo shows DuBois, President Obama, Sen. Harry Reid and two other men who are just named without titles in the caption – Thomas Monson and Dallin Oaks. Monson is the President of the Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints, while Oaks (I had to Google this) is member of the LDS Quorum of the Twelve, as well as a former professor at the U. Chicago School of Law and former president of BYU.

    So, we have the President, his “man of faith” (in the Trib’s words), and three of the most important Mormon leaders in the world standing around a table together. Um, could we get some context? Seems like hardly the thing that one should let slip without even a passing reference to who Monson and Oaks are.

    Found some context: the Trib dates the photo as July 19, 2010, but this Christian Science Monitor article says that this meeting actually took place in 2009.

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com MattK

    Okay coverage of the Faith Based Initiative office sucks. But I think Mike’s digging shows the powerful way newspapers and the internet can be used together. Newspapers have deadlines and don’t have the time to find out everything, or even most things. Had it not been for the photo Mike would not have investigated. But he did. And now I want to know more. What was discussed at the meeting?

  • Jettboy

    “What was discussed at the meeting?”
    The answer in the description:
    President Obama’s family tree. The LDS Church has a meeting like this for every President I am aware of since at least Reagan. Any other discussions are probably courtesy related. The LDS Church was one of the many that said “no thank you” to the faith-based initiatives idea. Ironic considering the context of the article the photograph came from.


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