Pod people: There really are two sides to every story, folks

The stories we critique here at GetReligion usually fall into one of two categories. First we have the good stories: well-written pieces that are fair, balanced, properly sourced and complement the outlets they represent. The second category is comprised of the opposite kind of story, the poorly written ones. These pieces have problems such as ghosts, bias, unexplored angles, poor attribution, inadequate sourcing, vague terminology, etc. The possibilities are endless.

Which would you think would be the more difficult posts for your GetReligionistas to write? If you said the well-written ones, you get a cookie. Or a sugar-free lollipop, since that’s more politically correct.

The well-written stories take much more time and thought and energy and work (at least for this girl) to post about for the very reasons they take longer to write. When a journalist does the job correctly, the story is a veritable treasure chest of information. It features colorful writing and multiple angles. Sources are plentiful, selected thoughtfully and allowed to speak without the journalist inferring or labeling or categorizing for them. When I encounter a good story, I read it multiple times — each time I flesh out a new detail or appreciate a particular pattern of thought. Writing about these gems is an extension of reading them. (And then I have to take a timeout to Google the author, if I don’t recognize the byline. Just to give the writer a virtual high-five.)

Todd Wilken and I discussed the contrasts between good stories and incomplete ones on this week’s edition of “Crossroads,” the GetReligion podcast. In particular, we looked at my part of a three-post journalistic train wreck from The Dallas Morning News. Three stories about two elderly gay men and one maverick Methodist minister preparing to marry them — and zero quotes from anyone affiliated with the United Methodist Church who might speak to the denomination’s official stance on gay marriage. I feel like I know this couple quite well, as do I all their friends and supporters, after the trilogy. What we don’t know, as Todd astutely pointed out, is why no one bothered to walk inside one of the many, many Methodist churches that line the streets of Dallas and interview someone who felt differently about gay marriage than the journalist, the couple, the rogue minister and those who know and love them.

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JFK’s strong Catholic ties and the speech he DIDN’T give

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Ten years ago, while working in the Dallas bureau of The Associated Press, I wrote a national package of stories commemorating the 40th anniversary of President John F. Kennedy’s assassination.

As the nation paused today — the 50th anniversary — to remember Kennedy’s death on Nov. 22, 1963, I wondered if any enterprising journalist might produce a compelling religion angle.

Enter Godbeat pro Peter Smith, formerly of the Louisville Courier-Journal and a favorite of your friendly neighborhood GetReligionistas.

I say formerly because Smith recently left the Courier-Journal to take over the vacant religion writer post at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. As we noted back in September, longtime Post-Gazette journalist Ann Rodgers“Pittsburgh’s queen of religion news” — stepped down to become communications director for the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh.

Peter told me he’s still getting settled in Pittsburgh, but that would be difficult to tell based on the quality religion stories he already has produced, including the one on JFK:

They stand among the most eloquent words that John F. Kennedy never said. Instead, they exist in writing only — forming the speech Kennedy was scheduled to deliver at the Trade Mart in Dallas to influential business and research leaders early in the afternoon of Nov. 22, 1963.

Kennedy was assassinated en route to the gathering, and the words hovered in obscurity amid the panic and devastation that followed.

But over the years, people have taken a fresh look at the Trade Mart speech. The words have inspired a tribute book, choral works and a video tribute in Dallas. They’ve inspired legislation — and litigation — in Kentucky.

For those who continue to ruminate on Kennedy’s truncated legacy, the words have become something of an unintentional last will and testament — a soaring call for progress in space exploration, civil rights, national security, foreign aid and even in critical thinking.

And it quoted freely from the Bible, invoking broad religious sentiments that may seem surprising coming from Kennedy. The nation’s only Roman Catholic president is better known for proclaiming a strict separation of church and state during the 1960 presidential campaign, seeking to allay fears that he would take orders from the Vatican.

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Faith, fear and the Holocaust

Back in March, this title on a New York Times news analysis grabbed my attention:

The Holocaust Just Got More Shocking

I found the article itself fascinating, but the headline struck me as more suited for a New York tabloid than the Old Gray Lady. I mean, I’m not sure how the systematic killing of millions of Jews could be any more shocking.

While no expert on the atrocities that occurred, I was blessed in 2004 to write an in-depth Associated Press story about the children of two Holocaust survivors finding each other — and finding answers. That piece remains one of the most memorable I have had the privilege of writing, and I remain enthralled by survivors’ stories.

I want to pull one such story, published a few weeks ago, out of my GetReligion guilt file. It’s a front-page feature by one of our favorite Godbeat pros, Peter Smith of the Louisville Courier-Journal. 

This is one of those cases where I wish GetReligion had a simple template for posting links and screaming, “READ THIS!!!”

The top of the story:

As a Jew living in neutral Switzerland in October 1942, John Rothschild took the extraordinary risk of walking into an internment camp in Nazi-dominated France — unnerved but undeterred by the ominous closing of the gate behind him.

He arranged to speak to the French camp commander, part of the right-wing puppet government of France that was shipping Jews by the trainload north to death camps such as Auschwitz.

Rothschild recalls placing a package of Swiss cigars on the commander’s desk, along with the business card of a helpful local lawyer whom the commander owed a favor. As Rothschild introduced himself, the commander said, “Oh, for the Swiss I would take the moon down from the sky.”

“I told him, ‘You don’t have to do that much. Let my fiancée go,’ ” Rothschild recalled.

His fiancée, Renee, was on a list to be deported to Auschwitz. The commander told Rothschild to return in two days for his decision.

In the meantime, Rothschild sought Renee out in the camp.

“I didn’t even know he was coming,” Renee Rothschild recalled in a recent interview with the couple more than 70 years later in Louisville, where they now live.

OK, you say, but what’s the news angle?

Glad you asked:

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Ghost of Notre Dame’s modern-day ‘Rudy’

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Is the pope Catholic?

Wait. That’s not what I wanted to know. Here’s my real question: Is Grant Patton Catholic?

“Grant who?” you ask.

Patton is a Notre Dame football player featured this week in an inspirational sports column in The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky.:

If there wasn’t already a movie about an unlikely Notre Dame football walk-on, defensive lineman Grant Patton might have scripts to browse. When he was a senior at St. Xavier High School in Louisville, he did not play football. During his first two years of college, he did not even attend Notre Dame. When he was finally accepted to the university as a junior, he played for his dormitory’s intramural football team. But on Jan. 7 the senior will put on his gold helmet and run through the tunnel with the Fighting Irish as they face Alabama for the national championship. He’s “Rudy” with a cellphone and a Twitter account, and he’s as astonished by his journey as anyone.

“It’s almost unbelievable,” Patton said by phone from South Bend, Ind., perhaps while pinching himself. “To be on the field, with that jersey, with that helmet, it’s like a Disney moment.”

Keep reading, and the writer tells of Patton’s “lifelong devotion to the Fighting Irish.” But what inspires that devotion?

Later, we learn that Patton enrolled at Holy Cross College in South Bend, which often serves as a feeder school for Notre Dame.

Let’s pick up the story after Patton receives his gold helmet:

“It’s just a great story for kids to know that if you have a dream and you follow it, you can do anything,” St. X coach Mike Glaser said.

Patton picked the perfect time to become a Notre Dame football player. The No. 1 Irish blitzed through a 12-0 season, including victories over Michigan, Stanford and Oklahoma. Although Patton has not played, the experience has been indelible.

He said the first time he ran out of the locker room under the iconic, hand-painted “Play Like a Champion Today” sign, he felt numb. He knelt on the grass and gathered himself.

He knelt on the grass and gathered himself. Is that a fancy way of saying he prayed?

The story ends this way:

“It’s crazy after games when you see 200 people outside wanting his autograph,” said his mother, Alison. “He’s not Manti T’eo or the quarterback, but they don’t care. He’s someone who plays for Notre Dame, and that’s all he ever wanted.”

All he ever wanted. But why?

Is this purely a sports story? Did Patton grow up adoring the Fighting Irish simply because he loved football? Or do I sense a deeper calling? (Patton has a private Twitter account, but his public profile includes a Scriptural reference.)

I’ll ask again: Is Grant Patton Catholic? And if so, shouldn’t that important detail make its way into the story?

Gold-and-blue ghost, anyone?