What NOT to teach a metro reporting intern

In a perfect world, an internship with a major American newspaper would bolster the lessons learned in Journalism 101.

In such a setting, an intern would receive real-world experience and gain a better understanding of the importance of reporting fully and fairly on all sides of a story.

I fear that the Chicago Tribune may be teaching a different lesson — namely, that a colorfully written piece can make it on to the front page, even if it’s thinly reported and reads more like an editorial than an unbiased news report.

As Exhibit A, I present a Page 1 story from this week that ran with this main headline:

Her 9-decade dream: women as priests

The top of the story:

When Sister Vivian Ivantic was a little girl, she knew she had a calling. She came home from first grade and announced to her mother that when she grew up, she wanted to become a priest or a nun.

And it was then, more than 90 years ago, that she discovered women cannot become priests in the Roman Catholic Church.Ivantic became a sister instead and remained optimistic that priesthood would one day be an option for Catholic women to pursue.

On Sunday, after a Mass at St. Scholastica Monastery in West Rogers Park marking her 80th anniversary in the religious community, Ivantic made it clear that she hasn’t given up on the idea, even as she turns 100 on Wednesday.

With a mischievous grin on her face and a fist in the air, she called on the Catholic Church to allow female ordination, a yearning that likely won’t be fulfilled for her but an opportunity she hopes will at least be available to younger women.

“We need women in church offices. It won’t come in my lifetime, but it will come,” she said.

Read the rest of the story, and it’s an ode to the need for WomenPriests.

In a newsroom concerned about basic journalistic values, an editor would have recognized the one-sided nature of the story and sent it back to the intern for more reporting.

The editor and the intern would have talked about the need to tell the full story — to quote someone, be it a bishop or a scholar, who could explain Catholic beliefs on the priesthood and gender and respond to the sister’s comments.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Instead, the Tribune ran the one-sided story on the front page and then included the intern’s Twitter handle at the bottom, so that readers such as myself could click it and see her describe the nun as a “rockin’” role model “pushing for women priests.”

Not to overdo the whole journalism thing, but in a perfect world, the writer wouldn’t take sides on a story she reported. Nor would she retweet a post hashtagged #ordainwomen from the director of the Women’s Ordination Conference. That might give the impression of bias. Then again, the Tribune did that already by publishing a Page 1 editorial.

My concern, I should stress, is with the newspaper, not the intern. The intern deserves better from her superiors.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Kevin Spencer

    Article has been quickly paywalled. Might be for the best.

    Any journalist should be able Google “Catholic priests women ordination teaching” to find the official stance and why it will NEVER happen. It’s an American thing, I guess, in thinking that everything is up for vote.

    • Rev_Aggie_98

      It’s not quite paywalled. I read the article with a free account.

      • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

        I, too, read it with a free account.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    It isn’t that there aren’t women out there who support the Catholic Tradition on ordination who could be interviewed (as I have heard some say). One of the most active women in our parish is a former ordained Evangelical minister who concluded after years of Bible study and experience that the Catholic position is the correct position.


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