Warning: The following post is picky beyond belief and focuses on an issue in Associated Press style.
It is the kind of post that GetReligion readers are not almost certainly not going to comment on, other than a few who might drop by the comment pages to write, with a snark, “This is so, so picky, I can’t believe you care about this kind of stuff!”
That aside, I do hope that some religion-beat specialists chime in. Why? Because I sincerely want to know why they think this particular style error is becoming more and more common.
OK, have I turned enough readers off?
Right, let’s begin.
The newspaper that lands in my front yard is pretty pumped up, as you would imagine, about the Baltimore Ravens and the National Football League playoffs at the moment (Sorry ’bout that, Pittsburgh). Thus, editors at the Baltimore Sun are running just about anything that will feature the color purple in the graphics, while containing the word “Ravens” in the headline.
Thus, we have this standard-issue news feature about an interesting man who will, briefly, be front and center at this weekend’s playoff game (Sorry ’bout that Pittsburgh). Here is how it opens:
Just before the Ravens face the Houston Texans Sunday, they will hear a familiar voice — other than John Harbaugh’s, that is.
It will be the smooth, vibrant baritone of Mishael Miller, who has sung the national anthem for Ravens home games since the first one in 1996.
“It has definitely been a blessing,” Miller, 41, said. “I meet people weekly who recognize me. I never thought it would have been the anthem that people would know me for, or that I would become a staple in this area as a result of singing it.”
With an octave-and-a-half range, “The Star-Spangled Banner” has defeated many an amateur and professional singer. The Philadelphia-born Miller, who earned a degree in music at Morgan State University, brings solid vocal training to the assignment.
Like I said, pretty standard stuff — other than the word “blessing.”
Then a few paragraphs later, Sun readers are given this additional background information about Miller. You see, it seems that the man does more than sing this one particular song on demand.
“… I want people to know that I do sing more than the National Anthem,” Miller said.
For one thing, he sings gospel music, a longtime passion that he gets to demonstrate weekly as assistant pastor at the Pennsylvania Avenue A.M.E. Zion Church.
“He is a great help,” said the senior pastor, the Rev. Lester Agyei McCorn. “And we love his [Ravens work]. It’s a blessing. It’s great that the rest of the nation gets to experience what we experience every Sunday. It works out fine, especially now that we have a 10 a.m. service. He has plenty of time to get to the stadium.”
OK, copy-desk pros, did you see the problem?
The A.M.E. Zion is a thoroughly mainstream, even mainline denomination. Later on in the story we find — no surprise here — that Miller completed a master’s degree from the Howard University School of Divinity. If he is an assistant pastor, then the odds are very, very strong that he has been ordained. In fact, a few clicks of a mouse will bring a would-be journalist to the church’s home page, where Miller is identified as as an ordained clergyman.
So, why did the Sun choose to strip him of his title? Why, on first reference, doesn’t this story refer to him as the Rev. Mishael Miller? It’s in the AP stylebook, after all. Also, we know that the editors know the rule, because the senior pastor is properly identified as the Rev. Lester Agyei McCorn.
So, again, what happened to Miller?
Actually, I am seeing this error more and more often in recent years. What is going on? It seems to me that the minute an ordained clergyperson does anything that is really important — you know, something other than work in ministry — this means that they somehow graduate to a status that is more important than “the Rev.” or something like that. This is, I have noticed, particularly common in stories about women and African-Americans.
Has anyone else noticed this? Does anyone else on the Godbeat have any additional theories about this phenomenon?