What can we say? Boston Globe hires John L. Allen, Jr.

For several decades now, I have been telling mainstream newsroom managers that all they have to do to improve religion-news coverage is to approach the beat the same way they approach any other major news beat that they respect, such as politics, sports, politics, education, politics and, of course, entertainment gossip.

What’s the magic formula? Here is what I had to say in a 1995 lecture to the editors of Scripps Howard newspapers:

So, you’re a manager in a newsroom and you’ve decided to improve religion coverage. What can you do?

There are only three ways that editors show what they think about a subject: what kind of reporter covers it, how much coverage it receives and where the stories appear in the newspaper. Thus, the solution is obvious: hire one or more quality journalists who are committed to covering religion and give their work the kind of display that is granted to subjects editors consider important.

Religion is a stunningly complicated beat, with dozens of major and minor religious groups and institutions dotting the intellectual and emotional landscape. Buddhists don’t talk, pray or do business like Baptists. Catholics and Pentecostals have totally different concepts of what it means to be a “charismatic” leader, except, of course, for Catholics who also happen to Pentecostals. It’s impossible to navigate these waters without a working knowledge of the charts.

So with that in mind, faithful GetReligion readers will join me in celebrating this tweet:

 

In recent years, your GetReligionistas have sadly published more than a few “black flag” notices marking the closing of a religion-beat job in a major newsroom or the departure of a skilled Godbeat veteran from active duty in the news biz. Every now and then, we can cheer when a Cathy Grossman, after an exit from USA Today, is able to make a much-deserved comeback in a shop like Religion News Service.

So now we need to ask, what is the opposite of a black flag?

Obviously, a white flag represents surrender.

That’s not what people who care about solid religion-news reporting should be feeling after that tweet from Allen, who — while writing for the progressive National Catholic Reporter — has won wide respect on both sides of Catholic sanctuary aisles for his informed and accurate coverage.

Thus, the press release from The Boston Globe:

John Allen, legendary Vatican reporter, to join staff of The Boston Globe

(BOSTON, Jan. 7, 2014) John Allen, a senior correspondent for the highly respected National Catholic Reporter, will be joining the staff of The Boston Globe in early February.

Allen, widely hailed as the best-sourced and most knowledgeable English-speaking reporter on the Vatican, will help lead coverage of Catholicism and the Vatican as an associate editor of The Globe.

“There is a resurgence of global interest in the Catholic Church, inspired by the words and deeds of the newly-installed leader, Pope Francis,” said editor Brian McGrory. “There’s nobody in the nation better suited. John is basically the reporter that bishops and cardinals call to find out what’s going on within the confines of the Vatican. His inexhaustible energy, supported by extraordinary insights, is legendary.”

This is where things, in the digital age, get rather interesting:

McGrory said Allen, 48, will play “several roles of prominence. He will be a correspondent first and foremost. He will be an analyst on all things Catholic. He will also help us explore the very real possibility of launching a free-standing publication devoted to Catholicism, drawing in other correspondents and leading voices from near and far.”

Freestanding publication? Thinking big in the digital tablet age, perhaps? And how will this affect the religion beat, period?

Allen’s coverage will supplement the work of the Globe’s award-winning religion writer, Lisa Wangsness. McGrory stressed that Allen’s role “will have no impact whatsoever on how we cover other religions. We will remain as dedicated to the mission of broad coverage of all faiths.”

Now, I am sure that some readers will have a variety to some parts of this press release. But, for me, here is the key.

They. Hired. A. Pro.

Just do it, editors.

UPDATE: Here is the early New York Times report on this move in Boston.

IMAGE: John L. Allen, Jr., at work for CNN.

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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.

  • DeaconJohnMBresnahan

    At NCR William Allen has usually come across as the most competent and fairest of their writers. And he has had to do a lot of swimming against the tide since his newspaper is frequently called the Anti-Catholic Reporter even by many Catholic
    “middle-of-the-road types”.
    Here’s hoping he won’t become the Globe’s new James Carroll–regarded by many Catholics hereabouts as anti-Catholic.
    I hope he gets a chance to prove his journalistic ability and fairness., But I can hear the comments from some local people about where else would the Globe go to get a new religion writer– NPR, of course, one of the most radical, leftist religious publications in Catholic circles.

    • tmatt

      But that’s the point. Allen’s reputation for fairness and, most of all, accuracy can be found among informed conservatives as well as true progressives. A pro.

    • Mark Schenk

      His name is John Allen, but he would probably be flattered by the reference to William Allen White.

  • Thinkling

    This is big news. Allen is a great catch, and both he and the globe should benefit immensely.

    I hope this benefit trickles down to general readers rather than, say, Allen being trapped behind a paywall.

    NYT’s Laurie Goodstein pointed out that this new assignment may actually have drawbacks. Normally Allen was a go-to guy for major outlets for a snippet of analysis that could be trusted to be fair and honest. Now working for the Globe that might not float. I suggest this might be the catalyst for Rocco Palmo to hit the next level and become the nationwide go-to guy. Who knows?

  • Bob Smietana

    Good times on the Godbeat. Michael Paulson is back and now John Allen gets a big platform at the Globe.

  • MollieZHemingway

    This is just good news for everybody — The Globe, Allen, the rest of us who get to read him. I really appreciate his analysis which seems to come more from a place of being highly informed rather than highly motivated.

    • Jonenred

      Liberal reporter meets another liberal rag. A liberal rag that was recently sold for a penny on the dollar. Hopefully it will fold soon…

  • Julia B

    I’ve just been agreeing to everybody’s comments as a guest. I gotta sign in to put my name along with those who think this is great. John is the best.

  • Julia B

    The National Catholic Reporter’s announcement was classy.

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/ncr-today/john-allen-cover-catholicism-vatican-boston-globe

  • Faith Flaherty

    Oh, alright. I’ll resubscribe to the Globe.

  • Ed

    This is a huge blow for the National Catholic Reporter. John Allen was the one good reason to read NCR, now there are none.

    • Allan

      Say that again Ed. I cant believe he’s gone

  • FW Ken

    With any luck, the Globe can realize the idea of a good publication on Catholicism that avoids the cliches and grandstanding that permeates a good deal of current coverage. John Allen is a good person to get that ball rolling.

  • Julia B

    Is there a link to the Laurie Goodstein article? I couldn’t find it using Google? Thanks.

    • Thinkling

      It was a tweet.

      Only problem with @JohnAllenJr going to @BostonGlobe from @NCRonline is he can no longer be quote-machine for every other outlet.— Laurie Goodstein (@lauriegnyt) January 7, 2014

      • Julia B

        thanks. I guess we’ll be treated to even more quotes from Tom Reese – especially since he’s a Jesuit

        • Jonenred

          Modern Jesuits are a big stain on the church. Very effeminate men as well…

          • Julia B

            Not all of them.


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