Covering the religion angle on breaking Boston news

Yes, this has been a bad week for journalism. And many people are complaining. But it’s also been a great week for journalism. I was one of those folks listening in on the Boston police scanner last night and it was so very difficult to make sense of what was going on (though it was absolutely riveting, thrilling and horrifying).

Suddenly, in the midst of all the chaos, the New York Times published an account of the shootout between suspects and police. It’s since been updated and revised significantly so I can’t point to the original story (which is a shame, since I’d love to revisit it), but it’s just a reminder of the importance of skilled reporting in a breaking situation.

Breaking situations are also when we see problems, including with how religion angles are covered. This morning on Twitter there were reports that CNN had suggested that Islamic extremists never drink. CNN also was suggesting that the suspects were “devout.” In the case of the former, that’s simply naive or ignorant. In the case of the latter, I’d sure like a lot more information before we characterize the suspects in such a manner.

Of course, from what we know now, the suspects are Muslim, American residents, and refugees from Chechnya. They also had something of a social media footprint, which could give clues about their interests. There’s a lot of complexity even in that formulation. The best thing to do is to proceed with caution about what we know. Reuters handled it this way in a piece headlined “Boston suspect’s web page venerates Islam, Chechen independence“:

Boston bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev posted links to Islamic websites and others calling for Chechen independence on what appears to be his page on a Russian language social networking site…

His “World view” is listed as “Islam” and his “Personal priority” is “career and money”.

He has posted links to videos of fighters in the Syrian civil war and to Islamic web pages with titles like “Salamworld, my religion is Islam” and “There is no God but Allah, let that ring out in our hearts”.

He also has links to pages calling for independence for Chechnya, a region of Russia that lost its bid for secession after two wars in the 1990s.

The brief article ends with something showing Tsarnaev’s sense of humor as well. Not bad for a quick piece based on limited information.

Are you seeing religion angles handled informatively and responsibly? Send us the links. Duds? Share those, too.


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