Dallas Morning News: Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes

dmnewsIf you have been looking for the religion section of The Dallas Morning News under the Features tab on the newspaper’s website, it isn’t there anymore. And if you live in Texas and you’ve been looking for the religion section in the dead-tree-pulp edition of the Saturday newspaper, you won’t find it anymore — at least not in its old section-front format.

As several people have noted in our comments boxes, one of the nation’s best known religion-news sections is gone, or almost.

Why did this happen? Well, here is what Dallas editor Bob Mong wrote to unhappy reader the other day. I do not think her name is actually “Ms. XXX,” but, hey, we are talking about Texas.

Dear Ms. XXX,

Thank you for writing about the format change in our Religion coverage. I can assure you the subject is not going to be an afterthought. As the person responsible for creating the section in 1994, I am quite proud of its many accomplishments. We will continue to take it seriously, as well we should. With writers such as Jeff Weiss and Sam Hodges, we will continue to take on interesting, complex and important stories as we have the last 12-plus years. Those stories … may appear on Page One and other section fronts. For reasons I don’t entirely understand, we could never build even a modest advertising base for the stand-alone section. I can assure you, no paper in the country tried harder than we did to garner such support. I would encourage you to also look at our online Religion blog and newsletter; they are both quite good and growing in popularity.

I do understand your concern, and I hope you will come to see our coverage of the subject will continue to be significant.

With regards, Bob Mong, editor

The key, for me, is that the newspaper (a) appears to know that religion is rather important in Dallas and (b) knows that this is not a one-person beat that can be put into one small niche. Here at GetReligion, we have had some good things and some bad things to say about religion coverage in the News. After all, I am a prodigal Texan. But, let’s face it — it’s a good thing that the newspaper prints so much religion news that this site has to watch it all the time just to see what it is doing.

And what about the digital future? The other day, Weiss dropped me a note asking if I had noted some of his recent coverage of an interesting story developing right now on the left side of the Baptist spectrum in North America. The key is that Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter — two old-fashioned “moderate” Baptists — are trying to rally a mess of Baptists around a covenant that clearly is meant to yank the word “Baptist” out of the exclusive territory of the religious right. Yes, this is yet another headline in the rapidly developing story of the emerging evangelical left. At least, that is one spin on what is happening.

 1181986 carterclinton ap300Weiss has been writing up a storm on this story at the News religion blog, but here is the starting point for the thread (the post contains some key URLs).

But the content of the story itself is almost beside the point. What Weiss wanted to discuss was the way the story is actually being written and handled by the News — or not handled, as the case may be, if you only care about dead trees. Here is part of his email:

… If you check out the mainpage of the blog you’ll see we’re posting pretty regularly on the topic. All without generating any stories for the Newspaper.

Which leads to the question: What with the death of the Religion section and the birth of the blog, more and more of my content is going online only. I suspect that is or will be true for some of the other religion reporters out there. It’s hard enough to keep track of the good and interesting stuff when it’s got a dead-tree hook. Add the blogs … And how does anyone — how does your blog or me — keep track of what is interesting and or significant?

For starters, Weiss & Co. have created a Listserv (within the News category) for the truly dedicated Dallas religion-news readers. It currently has 4,300-plus subscribers. Weiss also will use his blog to point toward major religion stories in the News that appeared in other sections — sports, entertainment, etc. — that readers may have missed. I suggest that he create a kind of rolling index on a sidebar of his blog to allow people to visit every week or so and catch up, chasing the religion ghosts through all the sections of the newspaper.

But what do you think of this new phase in the Dallas story? Weiss will be reading this post and commenting, and I hope to have a follow-up post or two.

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Hate in a story about embracing diversity

university of marylandThe best thing reporters can hear from editors is that they can have as much space as they need to tell the story. In an era of online publishing, this should be the case every time, but I don’t see reporters or their editors using that opportunity all that often.

In a world where column inches do not matter, reporters face a different challenge of knowing when to stop reporting and writing. In my own experience, a good editor acts as a good stop. A fast-approaching deadline also acts as a fairly reliable stopper.

In an excellent example of how to use the Internet to enhance a reporter’s ability to tell a story, The Washington Post‘s Michelle Boorstein filed two versions of her Jan. 15 article, “A Mission of Understanding: At U-Md., Evangelical Christian Teen Breaks Into the Mainstream, Out of His Comfort Zone.” One went into the morning newspaper, which I enjoyed over eggs and toast, and the other went online which I also enjoyed (sans the food).

Why aren’t newspapers doing this more often? The print version of the article, which I cannot find online, was more concise and more readable. And the online version seemed to read like the version that existed before the Post‘s inch-guardians got their grubby hands on it. The online version rambled a little bit, but it told a more complete story.

The story is about Danny Leydorf, who attended a Christian school in Annapolis since he was in kindergarten. For college he selected the University of Maryland, a secular state school, in an effort to “test his faith in a more diverse world.” This, as the article nicely outlines, is a growing trend among kids raised in Christian educational environments. For the last 30 years, kids coming out of Christian high schools were directed toward Christian colleges or the mission field, and even today there remains hesitancy about secular schools.

After reading the through the first five paragraphs of the article, one does not have to wonder why Christians are hesitating or nervous:

“I feel like I exist to be interacting,” the lanky, towheaded 19-year-old said eagerly one day last summer, shortly after his graduation, “and part of that is just getting out there.”

So he’d deliberately picked a large, secular college: the University of Maryland. But the week before he was to leave, the wider world dealt him a blow.

“I hate evangelical Christians,” read the Facebook.com profile of his roommate-to-be, who had seemed so perfect on the phone. He loved politics and “The Simpsons,” like Leydorf, and they even had the same views about how to set up the room. Could it still work?

We later learn that Leydorf decided to ignore the Facebook comment, concluding that the unnamed roommate was using “evangelical” to describe people like “Jerry Falwell whom Leydorf considers intolerant.” (I guess it just depends on how you define “evangelical,” right?)

facebookCollege kids are not exactly known for their discretion, and this is especially true for freshmen. Saying that you “hate” something on Facebook is not generally taken very seriously. For instance, there is a group on Facebook called “Abortion: Because I Hate Babies” that has 72 members. Another called “ACME employees who hate ACME” has 11 members. The “Adam Sandler Hate Club” has 46 members. You get the idea.

But that doesn’t mean the Post should simply ignore the irony that Leydorf, raised in a Christian school and seeking to learn to live in “a more diverse world,” is facing the hate of the real world before he even steps on campus. Perhaps Leydorf’s roommate will learn a thing or two from his new evangelical Christian friend who seems as willing as anyone to embrace diverse environments.

Go to the Maryland University homepage and you’ll immediately see a link on Diversity. On that page you’re told that this is “your road map to the plethora of equity and diversity undertakings on our campus.”

A huge part of the story is devoted to telling the story of why evangelicals withdrew from secular institutions. Perhaps this lack of interaction has allowed people like Leydorf’s roommate to develop a hate for Christians because they did not know any — or at least any like Leydorf, who is someone that most people would find it hard to hate.

Colleges and universities are burdened with the unenviable task for sorting through the competing values of free speech and protecting diversity and individual rights. Was this a comment that should have changed the direction of the story? I would say no because I think the writer had a better story to tell. But it’s certainly worth looking into in the future. And as I said earlier, time is the big constraint for reporters these days, not column inches.

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Roll the Jefferts Schori tape, again

schoriseatsChanging times are threatening for people who are directly affected by the changes. Thus, more than a few journalists are afraid of the World Wide Web and the digital era — with good reason. I mean, the entire news industry is shaking in its boots waiting for somebody, somewhere to create a form of digital advertising more winsome than the pop-up ad. Please.

However, one of the best things about the emerging world of “multi-platform journalism” is that it allows journalists to use, well, more than one “platform” or media form.

So it’s a tight news day and your story can only run 400 words. Perhaps your editor will let you run the full, uncut text of your article online (more from young master Daniel Pulliam on that subject in a few hours). Or perhaps the brilliant leader of the Episcopal Church insists that her complex, nuanced theology must be represented in a form in which readers can read each and every word that she says, so that she will not get in trouble when her critics are handed a blunt quote in a shallow forum such as The New York Times?

Remember the blunt quote in question, when the Rt. Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori said the following?

Episcopalians tend to be better-educated and tend to reproduce at lower rates than some other denominations. Roman Catholics and Mormons both have theological reasons for producing lots of children. . . . We encourage people to pay attention to the stewardship of the earth and not use more than their portion.

I predict that this was the quote that loomed over the advance team during the presiding bishop’s recent visit to Arkansas to preside over the consecration of the new bishop of that state.

(Time out: If a female bishop consecrates a male as a bishop, does that mean that the male she consecrated is really not a valid bishop in the eyes of the millions of Anglicans around the world who do not accept the validity of the ordination of women? Or did the Episcopal Church make sure that there were enough male bishops involved in the Arkansas rite so that this objection could not be raised? Or did Jefferts Schori “preside” instead of “consecrate”? Just asking. It could be an interesting news story.)

However, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette did a good thing during the Jefferts Schori visit. They had her sit down, with a recorder running, and had her grace answer all kinds of questions from religion reporter Laura Lynn Brown. Then, religion writer Frank Lockwood — i.e. The Bible Belt Blogger — ran the transcript online. Three cheers for more information!

Click here to read the interview. Also, I think it’s good to note that the section of the interview that is getting the most attention online has nothing to do birth rates or with news reports about sexuality, in general. It has to do with another very controversial topic in the global Anglican wars — salvation and the nature of Jesus.

ADG: I want to ask you about a couple of other things you’ve said in interviews. One of those was in the 10 questions in TIME magazine about the small box that people put God in. Could you elaborate a little bit on your take on “Jesus is the way, the truth and the life” [a paraphrase of John 14:16]?

KJS: I certainly don’t disagree with that statement that Jesus is the way and the truth and the life. But the way it’s used is as a truth serum, or a touchstone: If you cannot repeat this statement, then you’re not a faithful Christian or person of faith. I think Jesus as way — that’s certainly what it means to be on a spiritual journey. It means to be in search of relationship with God. We understand Jesus as truth in the sense of being the wholeness of human expression. What does it mean to be wholly and fully and completely a human being? Jesus as life, again, an example of abundant life. We understand him as bringer of abundant life but also as exemplar. What does it mean to be both fully human and fully divine? Here we have the evidence in human form. So I’m impatient with the narrow understanding, but certainly welcoming of the broader understanding.

ADG: What about the rest of that statement –

KJS: The small box?

ADG: Well, the rest of the verse, that no one comes to the Father except by the son.

KJS: Again in its narrow construction, it tends to eliminate other possibilities. In its broader construction, yes, human beings come to relationship with God largely through their experience of holiness in other human beings. Through seeing God at work in other people’s lives. In that sense, yes, I will affirm that statement. But not in the narrow sense, that people can only come to relationship with God through consciously believing in Jesus.

Well, that will certainly give the Anglican archbishops something to discuss during their meetings in Africa. I mean, something to talk about other than sexuality.

Again, three cheers for transcripts. Let’s hope that journalists get to post more interviews of this type in this multi-platform age.

CORRECTION: I need to offer a bit of an apology, after receiving an email from the Bible Belt Blogger himself. Lockwood wrote:

Thanks for posting excerpts from the presiding bishop interview. However, I’m not the one who deserves credit on this. Although I’ve got it on my blog, the interview was actually conducted by Laura Lynn Brown, the Democrat-Gazette‘s Little Rock religion reporter. (I recently became religion editor here.)

It sounds like this is one newspaper that is building a solid religion-beat team. May its tribe (can newspapers have tribes?) increase.

And all the people said: “Amen.”

Photo: Jefferts Schori speaks in Pine Bluff, Ark.

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Wait, that isn’t Jeremy Lott!

dougleblanc 01Faithful readers of GetReligion will remember the name Jeremy Lott, who was part of our non-Borg for quite some time in the early days.

Well, the youngster ran off to write that In Defense of Hypocrisy book and lots of other things. He also started up a blog at JeremyLott.net to help promote the book and his somewhat bizarre (at least to me) Catholic Libertarian take on the world.

However, at the moment, if you go to that site you will find another familiar face — that of the Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc. Why?

And in the role of guest blogger …
Posted by Jeremy Lott under Sermons and soda water

For the next two weeks my friend and old colleague Doug LeBlanc will be doing the honors at JeremyLott.net. LeBlanc was my editor at Christianity Today and a co-blogger at GetReligion.org. He has a keen interest in pop culture, politics, and all things Episcopalian. So he should fit right in here.

So the former GetReligion blogger is being replaced, for a fortnight, by the sometimes GetReligion blogger that we all wish we could read more often. So get over there and get your LeBlanc-ian fix. I mean, it’s worth a cyber-trip just for the post about Paris Hilton, Alexandra Pelosi, President Bush and the sex life of one of the faithful in the congregation of the former Rev. Ted Haggard. Honest.

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OK, let’s go to the recording

dr5100big1Greetings from the mountains of North Carolina, where the wonderful folks at the Dotcom Café have left their wireless working so that obsessed people can sit in the parking lot and do their email.

As you can tell, we are in the Christmas travel season. So Young Master Pulliam is in Indiana, the Divine Mrs. MZ is out of jury duty and the Mattinglys are in (let’s take this in order) North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and then home. Yesterday, the sky was so clear on the world-famous Blueridge Parkway that it took your breath away. At least, it still does that for me after all of these years.

GetReligion will stay open in the next week or so, but look for us to post only once a day, maybe twice, instead of the usual two or three times, with gusts to four. There is still news out there, including several stories from the past week or so that I will still get around to sooner or later.

And, down in Dallas, Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher (tip a glass in the GetReligion drinking game) has been hard at work giving his readers a stunning trip inside the tensions of modern newspaper work in the post-9/11 world. Dreher is a member of the editorial board at The Dallas Morning News, which has met several times with leaders of the local Muslim community. The local imams do not appreciate Dreher’s attempts — on the editorial-page blog and elsewhere — to call attention to connections between this mainstream, red-zone Muslim community and more extreme elements elsewhere.

There have been a number of tough, tense meetings. The most recent one was conducted on the record and Dreher used a digital recorder. Now, he has transcribed a 7,000-word chunk of that session and posted it on the News website. Parts of it speak for themselves. Notice that Rod simply keeps asking the leader Mohamed Elmougy very specific questions and getting very general answers. This is the essence of journalism, folks. You keep asking about the pesky facts.

Read it all. But here is a key intro.

[Rod Dreher]: … I think you had asked me why I find Sheikh [Yusuf] Qaradawi to be violent, and I said I went to his website, and he advocates that someone found guilty of homosexuality, that they could be killed. He advocates within certain limits Muslim husbands beating their wives. And I said to you I find that to be violent. And you said that actually, in the Muslim tradition, in the Koranic tradition, this is a form of Muslim society defending itself, and defending the family.

[Mohamed Elmougy]: OK, OK. We were talking about the family, and I can kind of repeat what we were talking about for a little bit of education. We were talking about where does Islam stand, and what is the purpose of some of these edicts and some of these traditions that someone like you would find, you know, to be violent. And I think I also talked about how in the Bible, you will find some of these things, the punishment for sodomy, you have stories in the same way, you can find the same thing in the Bible. It’s no different in the Koran. The way we view it, we don’t look at it as violent. We look at it as a deterrent.

. . . I think homosexuality in Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and probably in many other religions, is something that many people and the religion itself has issues with. Nothing you or I can do to change that. We don’t view it as violence. We view it as a deterrence.

The key question: Would it be good, from a Muslim point of view, to have sharia law in the United States?

Like I said, read it all and take a trip inside some important journalistic questions.

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Update on our 5Q+1 process

A Question Mark on Stained Glass Posters2Coming soon

One of the goals of GetReligion is to have a two-way conversation with journalists. We do that in the posts and comments pages, of course, but we also want to try something new.

In the near future we will begin an series of occasional posts that we will call “5Q+1.” The goal is talk to journalists whose work involves religious issues and events, whether they are assigned to the Godbeat or not. We hope to ask a few basic questions and store the answers in this pull-down archive on the masthead.

What kind of questions? Here’s what we’re thinking:

(1) Where do you like to get your news about religion?

(2) What is the most important religion story right now that you think the mainstream media just don’t get?

(3) What is the story that you’ll be watching carefully in the next year or two?

(4) Why is it important for journalists to understand the role of religion in our world today?

(5) What’s the funniest, most ironic twist that you’ve seen in a religion news story lately?

And the +1 or “fill in the blanks” question is: Do you have anything else you want to tell us about religion coverage in the mainstream news media?

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Working on 5Q+1 (Post No. 2,000)

Face of RPI   question markMay I have your attention please. According to the software we use around here, this is the 2,000th post in the nearly three years since Doug LeBlanc and I opened the cyber-doors here at GetReligion.

Actually, there have been a few posts that one of us started and never finished and it’s hard to know how those numbers figure into the count. And, back in the TypePad days, we had a little feature on the sidebar called “Short Takes” and all of those posts vanished when we went to WordPress. So who knows how many posts we have actually written.

However, this is the 2,000th post stored on the site, so I thought I’d mention this little landmark.

That’s a lot of writing and it’s been fun, interesting (at least for us) and, at times, a little frustrating. The busy journalists involved in this site wish that we could do much more than we do. And we are always trying to make improvements and we hope to make a few more around Feb. 1, our third birthday. We’re working with the folks at Pierpoint Design to try to freshen up our front page.

Also, we are going to create a semi-regular feature for the blog that we will call 5Q+1. The whole idea is that one of us will call up a journalist — either a Godbeat specialist or someone whose mainstream work frequently involves religious issues — and ask them a set of five standard questions.

Some of the people we call — or email — will be folks that we already know read GetReligion. But sometimes we’ll call people that we hope read the blog or might be willing to look it over and then talk to us. We hope that, once we get started with this, readers will suggest people for us to feature.

So what should we ask them? The Rt. Rev. LeBlanc and I had a chance to meet for lunch last week on Capitol Hill and here’s our rough draft of five basic questions.

(1) Where do you like to get your news about religion?

(2) What do you think is the most important religion story right now that you think the mainstream media just don’t get?

(3) What is the story that you’ll be watching carefully in the next year or two?

(4) Why is it important to understand the role of religion in our world today?

(5) What’s the funniest, most ironic twist that you’ve seen in a religion news story lately?

And the +1 element of the list is an opportunity for each journalist to say something to us, with a kind of “What’s going on?” wildcard question.

(6) Is there anything else that you’d like to say about religion and the news?

So there we go. Any suggestions for who we ought to talk to first? I already have a candidate, of course, and I’m trying to reach this journalist at the moment.

But what suggestions do you have for the wording on these questions? Does anyone have a totally different question you want to suggest? It goes without saying that the Divine Mrs. MZ and young master Daniel will have plenty of input, and so will the head hauncho at the Oxford Centre for Religion and Public Life, the Rev. Dr. Editor Arne Fjeldstad.

So what do you think?

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Yes, MZ has a good reason for silence

ByteStorLet me jump in here with a short personal note from your GetReligion crew.

If it seems that the Divine Mrs. MZ has been quiet for a few days, there is a good reason for that. On Friday, someone broke into the Hemingways’ apartment — along with several others in the building — and stole all kinds of things, not the least of which was Mollie’s laptop computer.

Now the key here is that not only did they steal her laptop. Whoever did this (are there anti-Lutheran hate groups?) stole all of her computer equipment. He, she or it stole the whole shooting match. Not only did she lose the laptop containing the text and reseach for her forthcoming book on how America’s public language on religion keeps changing, but the thief also took the system in which all of this was backed up.

Mollie does have a text, but this is a serious setback. On top of that, Mollie has been called for jury duty. We hope she can get back online soon, because she is missed.

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