Newspaper reporter critiqued by GetReligion fires back

First off, my apologies for that click bait.

Megan Finnerty, a Page 1 reporter for the Arizona Republic, didn’t really fire back at my recent negative review of her pre-Easter story on “Tips for Jesus.”

In fact, the thoughtful email that she sent me with the subject line “Read your critique of my story” was kinder than my snarky critique, titled “What would Jesus tip? Be sure to ask … secular ethicists!?”

With Megan’s permission, I thought I’d share a bit of what she had to say, in hopes of providing a behind-the-scenes perspective on GetReligion’s focus, which is the mass media’s coverage of religion news. Before reading her comments, though, be sure to peruse the original post, if you haven’t already. If you don’t, the rest of this won’t make sense.

OK, everybody back?

Here is Megan’s response (edited slightly for publication, with her approval):

I read your thoughts on my TipsForJesus story.

I’m totally not emailing you to defend my work. I’m emailing you because I want to be better and do smarter, more thorough, sensitive work. So I send this note to you in the spirit of learning from someone who does this kind of work — writes about Christianity — all the time. So below, I’m going to walk you through my logic and processes so you can see how I got where I was going. And if you see some big glaring gap in logic or mistake in processes, or just room for improvement, I am open to your ideas.

I LOVED your idea of including how Jesus responded to extravagance. When I read it in your critique, I remembered it, but sadly, none of the religious I interviewed for the story mentioned that piece of scripture.

I interviewed a religion writer (who didn’t make the quote cut because he didn’t say anything super-vital…), a pastor (who I quoted) and a deacon (who I did not quote because he didn’t say anything that hadn’t been better said by others…)

I agree with you, my story would’ve been more complete, and more interesting had I included that Scripture passage.

But I felt like the rest of your critique of my story is that A. I put the pastor at the end and B. I didn’t only interview Christians or biblical scholars. I mean, story organization is always a matter of taste, but I put the pastor at the end so as to make his ending quote land with more force. He was a wonderful interview.

As for not interviewing more Christians, or not asking if TipsForJesus is “Christian” as opposed to just “moral,” those are interesting ideas. To be honest, it NEVER occurred to me to ask if it was “Christian” behavior.

I just thought about how every faith tradition celebrates charity, so I sort of saw this behavior as Christian, sure, but also, if he had named the Instagram account TipsForAllah, or TipsForGod, it wouldn’t really impact the answer to that question — the answer would be yes, charity is positively viewed by all major world religions. So, I just didn’t think it was a compelling question because I felt like my readers would say they knew the answer is yes…

But, are you saying it was naive or wrong or not smart to take for granted that the tipping was, indeed, “Christian?”

And as for not focusing my interviews on explicitly self-identified Christians more or exclusively, I wanted to open the gist of the story up to as many people as possible — Christians and non, because I think we all have a stake in charity, in questions of morality and in how the rich practice charity. And, my readers are not all Christians, you know? I wanted to draw in as many people as possible to being thoughtful and to contending with these really hard questions — most good for most people per dollar vs. good for people I care about or who I’m connected to.

I write every once in a while about the intersection of religion and various aspects of daily life and I am open to feedback and criticism because I know that I am not an expert. So I appreciate the thought you put into analyzing my story. I don’t really think my story qualifies as a holy ghost story, though. Other than leaving out the piece of Scripture, I don’t see what key idea or deeper Christian point I left out …

I replied to Megan and thanked her for being so nice in her response. I pointed out that I wrote not long ago about the inherent difficulty that we at GetReligion face in critiquing journalism without knowing the full, behind-the-scenes story of the reporting, writing and editing involved.

And I said:

I think my major problem with your story was that it focused on the secular instead of the religious. I think you could have explored the Christian angle as well as mentioning how other faiths — such as Muslims and Jews — handle the same issue. But obviously, a media critique is like a movie review — everybody has an opinion. I appreciate your willingness to consider mine.

Your turn, friendly GetReligion readers: What’s your reaction to Megan’s thought process? What insight did you gain? What advice would you offer to help her (or yikes … me) improve?

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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.

  • Julia B

    It was called “Tips for Jesus”, right? One would expect a focus on Christian thinking about the matter.

  • http://outofthedepths.blogspot.com/ steve

    Her response was kind and thoughtful, not defensive. It helped me understand the background of her story better and see what she was up to. If I had read her story first, I don’t think I would have seen anything to critique. There is only so much one can do due to time and the limit to article length. I wonder about all the other people mentioned in the article and their religious self-identification. Some of them could be Christians of one stripe or another. Probably not Singer, but other than that, who knows?

  • stevewe

    I think the criticism was good. The story was way too long and if it had a point I missed it. Making Get Religion’s general point about the news media, here is a reporter who knows little about the Bible but is prepared to say things like: there is little in the Bible about tipping.
    But your own citation about Martha and Mary is to the contrary; so is the pastor’s; might I add the story of the laborers in the vineyard. The generous boss pays the latecomers a day’s wage the same as the earlycomers. It is a metaphor for salvation, to which some come early and some come on their deathbeds. Jesus’ sacrifice is God’s extravagant and unearned gift to humanity. All these examples reveal that Jesus is all about overtipping.


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