Forgetting the kippah or crucifix (and the second why)

All-nighters and Domino’s Pizza at the student newspaper. X-acto knives and 2-point tape. The smell of chemicals processing the film. The five Ws and the H.

Good times, folks. Good times.

What journalists among us can forget our introductory class, whatever it was creatively named by the institution of our choice? One of the first quizzes I remember taking at my alma matter covered the basics of good, solid reporting. And those fundamentals included (say it with me): Who, What, Where, When, Why and How.

As our loyal followers know, one of our mantras is to stress this foundation and its importance from a religious standpoint. Of course, just as multiple Whos can be involved in a report, so can multiple Whys.

Why am I stressing the basics? Because The Associated Press didn’t. And the absence of a second Why in this AP story from earlier this month on a proposed move by the Quebec government to ban employees in the public sector from wearing religious headwear and neckwear glares at me from my computer screen.

From the top:

MONTREAL – Viewed from the outside, Quebec often seems like a place where all life orbits around the political destiny of a French-speaking province in an English-speaking country.

The latest instance centers on religious headwear. The trigger is a heatedly debated plan by the ruling party, the separatist Parti Quebecois, to make the provincial government religion-neutral.

It wants to do so by banning symbols of religious faith such as Jewish skullcaps, Sikh turbans, Muslim head scarves and large crucifixes from public workplaces. And as usual, the measure is being read also for what it says about the ruling party’s perennial goal of making Quebec independent of the rest of Canada.

The analysis is that with support for separatism weakened, and an election being predicted for December, something spectacular is needed to rally the party base. But the proposal appears to be losing support with that base, and if anyone is being mobilized, it’s the opposition.

In recent weeks Montreal has witnessed the rare spectacle of thousands of protesting Muslims, Jews and Sikhs marching together through the streets.

“I just want to be able to wear what I want; I don’t see why any one can tell me what to put on my head,” Saara Khan, a Montreal Muslim high schooler who wears a head scarf, said at a recent protest.

But why, Saara Khan? Why do you want the religious freedom to wear your head scarf at school?

AP assumes we know the importance of the religious headware. Another thing I learned in that freshman journalism class is what happens when we assume. Ahem.

The full answer is easily available. As author Shabana Mir, assistant professor in social foundations and qualitative research at Oklahoma State University, puts it: “The list … shows that the Muslim headscarf is capable of a number of meanings, many of which are rather more mundane and less dramatic than outsiders might imagine.”

And of course I can’t expect valuable ink to be spent on all 17 reasons. But how about a primer?

Another source for the story represented the Jewish faith:

[Read more...]

Excellent video journalism, or, seeing crucifixes on walls

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A journalist I greatly admire shared this video, mentioning it was from the New York Times. It immediately struck me as a riveting piece of journalism with a not-too-small religion angle.

I have no doubt that readers of this blog will find this piece remarkable. What I’d like to discuss is why this works so well.

I wondered if a written story could even begin to convey what this video journalism does. As I was thinking on that, I found the original New York Times piece that highlighted the video. It’s from The Well Blog. The piece is headlined “Laws of Physics Can’t Trump the Bonds of Love” and it basically just introduces the video. We’re told that Jeffrey Wright, the subject of the journalism, is a well-known Physics teacher in Louisville who has become known also for a lecture he gives on love:

It has become an annual event at Louisville Male Traditional High School (now coed, despite its name), and it has been captured in a short documentary, “Wright’s Law,” which recently won a gold medal in multimedia in the national College Photographer of the Year competition, run by the University of Missouri.

The filmmaker, Zack Conkle, 22, a photojournalism graduate of Western Kentucky University and a former student of Mr. Wright’s, said he made the film because he would get frustrated trying to describe Mr. Wright’s teaching style. “I wanted to show people this guy is crazy and really amazing,” Mr. Conkle said in an interview.

Zack has a future, friends. He tells a great story (and yes, finding the right subject is a big part of that, but still). Do you think it’s the case that this story lends itself to video over print, too? Are many more stories that way than I realize? Probably, and I probably miss that because of my love of print.

We’re also told that Wright decided to give this lecture when students began asking him “the big questions”:

“When you start talking about physics, you start to wonder, ‘What is the purpose of it all?’ ” he said in an interview. “Kids started coming to me and asking me those ultimate questions. I wanted them to look at their life in a little different way — as opposed to just through the laws of physics — and give themselves more purpose in life.”

As he tells the story of his love for his son and of his son’s love for him, he tells them that there’s something greater than energy, something greater than entropy. What’s the greatest thing?

“Love,” his students whisper.

But all of this is so deftly yet powerfully presented in the video journalism.

I’m just very curious what you think of it and what it teaches us about the Godbeat in general. There’s this scene in the video where the father is taking care of his son and there’s this giant crucifix — but a crucifix in the background, on the wall of a bedroom. When I think of my favorite journalists, some of whom have spent time on the religion beat, some of whom have never officially been there, they’re folks who included the crucifix in the shot, so to speak. It doesn’t mean just focusing on the crucifix, obviously, but it doesn’t mean ignoring it or, worse, never seeing it to begin with.