What NOT to teach a metro reporting intern

In a perfect world, an internship with a major American newspaper would bolster the lessons learned in Journalism 101.

In such a setting, an intern would receive real-world experience and gain a better understanding of the importance of reporting fully and fairly on all sides of a story.

I fear that the Chicago Tribune may be teaching a different lesson — namely, that a colorfully written piece can make it on to the front page, even if it’s thinly reported and reads more like an editorial than an unbiased news report.

As Exhibit A, I present a Page 1 story from this week that ran with this main headline:

Her 9-decade dream: women as priests

The top of the story:

When Sister Vivian Ivantic was a little girl, she knew she had a calling. She came home from first grade and announced to her mother that when she grew up, she wanted to become a priest or a nun.

And it was then, more than 90 years ago, that she discovered women cannot become priests in the Roman Catholic Church.Ivantic became a sister instead and remained optimistic that priesthood would one day be an option for Catholic women to pursue.

On Sunday, after a Mass at St. Scholastica Monastery in West Rogers Park marking her 80th anniversary in the religious community, Ivantic made it clear that she hasn’t given up on the idea, even as she turns 100 on Wednesday.

With a mischievous grin on her face and a fist in the air, she called on the Catholic Church to allow female ordination, a yearning that likely won’t be fulfilled for her but an opportunity she hopes will at least be available to younger women.

“We need women in church offices. It won’t come in my lifetime, but it will come,” she said.

Read the rest of the story, and it’s an ode to the need for WomenPriests.

In a newsroom concerned about basic journalistic values, an editor would have recognized the one-sided nature of the story and sent it back to the intern for more reporting.

The editor and the intern would have talked about the need to tell the full story — to quote someone, be it a bishop or a scholar, who could explain Catholic beliefs on the priesthood and gender and respond to the sister’s comments.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Instead, the Tribune ran the one-sided story on the front page and then included the intern’s Twitter handle at the bottom, so that readers such as myself could click it and see her describe the nun as a “rockin’” role model “pushing for women priests.”

Not to overdo the whole journalism thing, but in a perfect world, the writer wouldn’t take sides on a story she reported. Nor would she retweet a post hashtagged #ordainwomen from the director of the Women’s Ordination Conference. That might give the impression of bias. Then again, the Tribune did that already by publishing a Page 1 editorial.

My concern, I should stress, is with the newspaper, not the intern. The intern deserves better from her superiors.

I’ve been named a PBS reporter!

This story came to my attention via the great, seemingly omnipresent Rocco Palmo, who tweeted out:

PBS “report” declares Womenpriests as “Catholic priests”: http://to.pbs.org/V2y2BB  On a related note, we’re all PBS reporters.

We’ve seen lesser media outlets decide that various women are “Catholic priests” (in a way that we can only assume they wouldn’t also decide that I’m a Yankees pitcher or the about-to-be inaugurated president of the United States even if groups were calling me such). But PBS? And not just PBS but the usually fantastic Religion & Ethics Newsweekly? Say it ain’t so!

The hard-hitting report begins:

SAUL GONZALEZ, correspondent: At a Los Angeles ceremony, a group of Catholic women is about to commit an act of religious faith, but because they are women it’s an act the Vatican has condemned as a grave crime against the Roman Catholic Church and what the church sees as its divine laws.

“Bishop Olivia and members of the community, I am honored to testify on behalf of Jennifer’s readiness to be ordained to the priesthood.”

GONZALEZ: In a faith that prohibits females from becoming priests, these women are rebels, gathering here this afternoon to ordain this woman, Jennifer O’Malley, as a Catholic priest.

(to Jennifer O’Malley): Do you love the Catholic Church?

JENNIFER O’MALLEY: I do. It’s who I am, so I can’t leave. You know, I’ve gone to other churches and they’re beautiful, but I’m Catholic, and I can’t separate myself from that.

Oh wait, what’s the opposite of hard-hitting?

I would not be entirely surprised if this was run as a press release, rather than a news report. It’s actually even more of an advocacy piece than I’m accustomed to from lesser media outlets. It rivals this Scientology “sponsored content” that ran in The Atlantic. But at least that was marked as sponsored content and not passed off as news.

“Do you love the Catholic Church?”

[Read more...]


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