Pod people: ‘Conservative’ Baptists spark a conversation

In three and a half years, I’ve written 439 posts for GetReligion (this makes 440, I believe). That ranks me No. 5 on the all-time GetReligionista list, with tmatt the Hank Aaron of GR at 3,139 and Mollie next at 2,015.

That’s a lot of posts.

And that’s a lot of opportunity to type a quick opinion on deadline and either not express it clearly enough or — in some cases — botch it altogether.

In a post this week titled “AP embraces cliches, labels in seminary prez profile,” I questioned the repeated use of the term “conservative” in a profile of Albert Mohler, president of the Southern Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. I noted that the term appeared seven times in the 800-word story — five times as an adjective.

My criticism drew this response from one reader on Twitter: 

In the comments section of that post, GetReligion guru tmatt himself noted:

But, hey, conservative is accurate. Fundamentalist would have been inaccurate in this case. Smaller sins!

That prompted two replies from me.

The first (typed in defensive mode):

Maybe conservative is accurate.

But it’s overused and vague.

Better journalism would be to show, not tell, that someone is conservative.

The second (after a bit more reflection):

But the point — here and by a few folks on Twitter — is well taken that conservative is a term used by many Southern Baptists (such as Mohler) to describe themselves.

And in reviewing an SBC story I wrote for AP a decade or so ago, I noticed that I used the term about 11 times myself.

So …

Mea culpa.

In general, I just found it frustrating that this story used a lot of signposts (such as “conservative”) without a lot of actual insight or reporting to provide any real depth to the story or the profile subject.

On our best days, GetReligion provides a venue for open, honest dialogue about media coverage of religion news. I know the comments here often benefit me as much as the posts. So thank you for reading. And for your excellent feedback.

Host Todd Wilken and I discuss the Mohler story on this week’s episode of “Crossroads,” the GetReligion podcast.

We also spend a few minutes discussing my post on “What NOT to teach a metro reporting intern.”

Click here to listen to the podcast. As always, the Oklahoma accent is free.

Image via Shutterstock

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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.

  • MollieZHemingway

    I think it’s great that you can reflect on your post and see how you might have handled it differently. I hope to emulate that!

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

      Unlike me, you tend to get it right the first time, Mollie! :-)

  • Bob Smietana

    TMatt is right — “conservative” is the word that folks like Mohler use, as it in “the Conservative Resurgence,” where he and other leaders took control of Southern Baptist institutions. Their opponents called that the “fundamentalist takeover”

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

      Yep.

      This is how I described it in that 2004 AP story on the 25th anniversary:

      The conservative takeover – or “take back,” as the revolt’s co-leader, Paul Pressler, refers to it – came after Pressler and the Rev. Paige Patterson, then president of Criswell College, a Baptist school in Dallas, held an unprecedented series of pre-convention strategy sessions around the country.

      If only I could remember what I had for breakfast! :-)

      • Bob Smietana

        You mixed and matched there–


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