The best journalism recognizes the importance of doing both — particularly on complicated and controversial subject matters.
On the other hand, the Austin American-Statesman embraces neither concept in a news story reporting that “critics” say students are being taught creationism in two public high schools.
Let’s start at the top:
A charter-school operator with contracts to teach at two Austin high schools has come under fire for questioning evolution in its science curriculum — the latest in a long line of clashes over Christianity in Texas classrooms.
Advocates for the separation of church and state say that Responsive Education Solutions — one of the state’s largest charter operators, which the Austin school district partners with at Lanier and Travis high schools — is pushing creationism.
For example, the biology curriculum, obtained by the Austin American-Statesman, says: “Many leading scientists are questioning the mechanisms of evolution and are disputing the long timeline required for evolutionary processes.”
Experts say that is untrue. What’s more, they say, discrediting evolution invites students to consider creationism as an alternative.
Advocates for the separation of church and state. Who are these critics making these allegations? The newspaper never names them.
Pushing creationism. In the context of this story, how would “creationism” be defined? Are we talking about “Young Earth creationism” or “Old Earth creationism?” Are we talking about intelligent design?
Experts say that is untrue. One biology professor — presumably an expert — is quoted later in the story. Would “an expert says that is untrue” be more accurate? Or are there other experts who aren’t named? And would any “experts” disagree? (Even better, maybe the story should establish named sources as “experts” rather than crown them as such?)
Later in this story, there’s this:
Some argue that Responsive Ed’s curriculum crosses into creationism territory. A section called “Origin of Life” includes a quote from the Bible: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the Earth.”
Again, do the “some” who are allegedly arguing have names?
There’s a potentially meaty, important news story here. Unfortunately, the American-Statesman chose to publish a vague, hollow report that lacks any real context, depth or insight.
To that end, there’s an easy place to start: Define terms. Name sources.