Saturday, March 18, 2006

What is a reporter?

Probably not Phil Anderson.

Phil is a good guy. He writes well enough. But he's not my idea of a reporter. He's a Christian and he's sincere about it without being a jerk. But he's got an agenda and a free hand.

He reports fine when he reports. To his credit, he covers other faiths frequently, in an informative manner and with his biases in check. But his biases are never more than a column away.

One expects any beat reporter to get a little "inside baseball" now and then. When the baseball writer becomes a booster for the home team it's not a big deal. It's just sports. A lack of objectivity can cost credibility but it's not like a blind eye to the Royals' problems will have a deleterious effect on public policy. But you don't want your cop reporter to become a cheerleader and you sure wouldn't want him or her to be writing your law enforcement columns.

Anderson seems to be C-J's all-purpose "religion writer." There's no effort to differentiate between his roles as reporter, critic and columnist. One must simply take a deep breath, start reading and figure out what sort of piece you're into as you go along.

In the typically neither-fish-nor-foul item in today's C-J, headlined "Author updates a brilliant book" (not on-line), one would expect such a value judgment to indicate an act of criticism. I suppose it is if the single comment "reads as fresh as the e-mail that just popped up on your computer screen" is a review. If it's not a review then it's just a context for Anderson to offhandedly characterize, in his words, "the inevitable suffering that is so prevalent in a fallen world."

I'm sorry, but I'm no more comfortable with the religion writer describing the state of the world as though the view through his spiritual filters were consensus reality, than I would be if the reporter covering city government was openly using his or her party affiliation as a baseline reference point.

I credit the editors at the Capital-Journal with the mental acuity to understand why this is problematic. In our region, the godly, Christian nation bias plays very well and the free hand Anderson has to promote his theological views is allowed because a craven calculus suggests it comforts more readers than it alienates.

This is right if the only measure of journalism is a contented circulation manager. By any other measure, it's not a good thing.



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