Got news? Has Kristallnacht come to the Middle East?

There was always an important, yet unstated, idea at the heart of the “On Faith” website at The Washington Post: Religion is an important and powerful force in the real world, but the reality is that religion is all about feelings, experiences and opinions, not facts about history, doctrines, laws, scriptures, traditions and governance that journalists should cover in an accurate and balanced manner.

Needless to say, your GetReligionistas have never embraced that foggy point of view.

As a result, the “On Faith” site has always been dominated by waves of low-cost opinion essays written by religious leaders, offering a mix of analysis and information about events and trends from their own perspectives. Most of this content has meshed comfortably with the interests of the agnostic, spiritual and/or Episcopal views of founding editor Sally Quinn, the legendary force of nature in DC social life and the newspaper’s Style pages.

Alas, “On Faith” never even created a format that consistently showcased the NEWS CONTENT generated by the many fine reporters on the staff of the Post, along with the resources provided by Religion News Service.

Now, as most GetReligion readers know, “On Faith” is changing homes. This PR bulletin came out on Oct. 18:

FaithStreet today announced it has hired Patton Dodd as editor-in-chief of On Faith, The Washington Post‘s popular religion website. Last summer, The Washington Post Company WPO +1.87% made an investment in FaithStreet that included the contribution of On Faith to FaithStreet. Dodd will take over the editorial direction of On Faith, while the Post‘s Sally Quinn will remain founding editor and continue to work closely with the site.

“We’re going to reimagine what covering religion can look like,” Dodd said. “I’ve read On Faith for years, and I’m thrilled about the future of this site. The partnership with FaithStreet and its deep connection to local communities of various faiths will give us an on-the-ground perspective of what’s happening with religious people in this country.”

Dodd will oversee a transition in the editorial mission of On Faith, whose content will continue to include religion news and commentary by religious leaders from across the faith traditions. The scope of the new On Faith will be announced early next year.

So, the site will continue to mix news and opinion, but there will be a “transition” in its editorial mission and its “scope” will change.

Does this mean more news or less news? More information or less?

Sigh. Opinion is cheep and information is expensive.

Truth is, “On Faith” has printed many, many articles on topics that really deserved serious coverage in the newspaper’s national and international news pages.

Take, for example, the recent “On Faith” essay by Steven B. Nasatir, president of the Jewish United Fund and Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, about the persecution of religious minorities worldwide, especially Christians.

Is this topic news? Nasatir even offers a strong news hook on the calendar.

The upcoming 75th anniversary of Kristallnacht makes this an auspicious time to raise awareness about the contemporary violence targeting religious minorities and their places of worship. Of particular concern are attacks against Christian minorities that have occurred with alarming frequency from Syria to Egypt, from Iraq to Pakistan, and from Kenya to Sudan.

November 9 marks 75 years since the pogrom against Jews committed by mobs throughout the Nazi Reich. Often called Kristallnacht, or the “Night of Broken Glass,” when rioters killed or injured hundreds of Jews; burned over 1,000 synagogues; destroyed 7,000 Jewish-owned shops and businesses; vandalized cemeteries and schools, and; sent 30,000 Jews to German concentration camps. It marked a turning point in the escalating campaign of persecution culminating in the Holocaust.

These events, seared into Jewish collective memory, make us doubly aware — and duty bound — to raise our voices when the deadly brew of religious bigotry and wanton violence are mixed.

Nasatir has collected quite a bit of factual information about the hellish recent events in Egypt, Syria, Kenya and Pakistan. He never backs down on that stirring pre-Holocaust image:

As Kristallnacht teaches, the burning of houses of worship can be a red alert that worse is yet to come. September saw the horrific Taliban bombing of Anglican worshippers in Pakistan, which took 85 lives, and, according to accounts shared by witnesses, the targeting for murder of Kenyan Christians — deliberately separated from others in a chilling reminder of Nazi “selections” — by al Shabaab terrorists in a Nairobi shopping mall.

Attacks like these have contributed to a decline in the Christian population in the Middle East and North Africa from 9.5 percent to 3.8 percent of the total population from 1910 to 2010, according to a Pew Forum report on Global Christianity.

Tellingly, Israel is the only Middle East country where the Christian population has grown in the last half century, from 34,000 to 158,000, in large measure, according to many observers, because of the religious freedoms enjoyed there.

Yes, I am curious about whether the new “On Faith” site will have the resources to offer on-the-record, factual coverage of these kinds of issues.

Yes, I also wonder if the Post will do a story on this news topic on or just before Nov. 9, quoting the views of people who agree with this comparison between events in the past and present, as well as the views of those who are angered and/or offended by the comparison.

In other words, there is news here. This little opinion essay contains hooks for two or three valid news stories.

Alas, it will take time, money and talent to cover them. Please hear me say that this analysis piece was good. But I also want to ask if the Post will also cover the news.

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.

  • ZuzanaM

    Excellent article. I ask the same questions of the major news media outlets in the US. I often listened to the BBC News on PBS to hear their take on World News and the contrast to what we get from US sources is noteworthy. I also subscribe to the internet news source ‘Jewish Express’, as the Israeli view on what’s happening in the Middle East is much more honest and broader in perspective. I think the opportunity, as the persecuted Church, to find a common identity with the suffering of our elder brothers and sisters, the Jews, in observance of Kristallnacht is one that should not be dismissed by the media… or the Church.

  • James Patton

    It will be a sad day when opinion becomes news…


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