One of my favorite reads is the blog GetReligion because as the title implies, most news outlets don’t have a religion reporter any more and so frequently the field reporter assigned to a religion story doesn’t “get religion.” Well shortly after the 86th PC(USA) presbytery approved Amendment 14-F they had a nice piece on how good, or not so good, the coverage of the approval was by various news outlets.
If I had to pick a couple articles that came out later so there was more than just the breaking news aspect, I would add to the good coverage list:
Gay marriage: Is the Presbyterian Church playing catch-up – or leading? – By Jessica Mendoza of The Christian Science Monitor
Here’s why a vote on gay marriage from Presbyterians matters – by Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post
But as the headlines flew by on Tuesday night and Wednesday I was struck by how many of them did not catch the nuances of the vote. Surprising? No. And it should be noted here at the top that the articles and their headlines are usually written by different people so don’t blame the author for a bad headline. Also, headlines are a bit like tweets and they have to fit into a limited space so nuance is limited.
But here are a few that struck me as bad and good following the results. (And in fact, the headlines for the two articles I cite above both suffer from one of the issues I have with many of the headlines.)
From some outlet called newser
OK, let’s start with “Presbyterian Church” – While the PC(USA) likes to think of itself as “The Presbyterian Church” (exempli gratia: Their Twitter feed is @Presbyterian and the new hymnal is subtitled “The Presbyterian Hymnal”) and while it is home to slightly more than two thirds of the US Presbyterians, it is only the largest of more than a dozen Presbyterian branches in the U.S. The news that the PC(USA) approved a change to their constitution sent other branches scrambling to clarify that it was not them. There were statements from the PCA and the EPC among others. And yes, my two preferred articles above use the blanket term Presbyterian in their headlines.
Moving on to “Redefines Marriage.” OK, technically correct for ourselves but is that a bit too broad or generalized statement to be used in this situation?
OK, here is another headline, this one from the Arkansas Times, but I can point you to a dozen more like it:
Well of course there is the word Presbyterian. “You keep using that word…” But the other point that caught my attention in this, and some other headlines, was the use of the word “embrace.” Did the PC(USA) embrace marriage equality? Clearly some individuals, churches and maybe even presbyteries did. But did the church? While the presbytery count shows about 2/3 favor the change, the bulk count of those who have voted show it is closer overall with 59% of presbyters voting yes. It strikes me at the least to be a bit of a subjective word to use for this news.
How about one from World Magazine:
Got to give a lot of credit for that “Majority of PCUSA presbyteries” phrase – that nails it. But what did they vote to do? Did they vote to endorse gay marriage, or simply to add it to the wording in the Book of Order to permit the option? Whether or not to preform the marriage service is up to the teaching elder or the session as to whether it may happen at the church. Fine line here – that is probably too much nuance so maybe I am being too picky.
Here is a headline from the Religious News Service that does a pretty good job – at least it implicitly labels the Presbyterians as the mainline branch:
So how about some good examples. Here are a few that strike me as properly clarifying the denomination, the action taken and the nature of the change:
Presbyterian Church (USA) Approves Same-Sex Marriage, Will Amend Constitution – from International Business Times
Largest Presbyterian Denomination Gives Final Approval for Same-Sex Marriage – from The New York Times
Presbyterian Church USA Expands Marriage Definition – from TWC News
So there is a selection of how the news was headlined this past week. While the less precise headlines are the ones that jumped out at me, with the exception of far too many simply using the generic title Presbyterian, most headlines were pretty good. I would note that in the examples given I used recognized news outlets. (Granted, you could argue with a couple of them.) There are advocacy groups that obviously put their spin into the headlines and I did not include those. (If you want examples: Example 1, Example 2)
There is now a second wave of articles that are a follow up to the decision now that reporters have had the time to talk with local leaders and some of the people in the pews to get reaction and response to the vote. I have read a few of those and they generally have very balanced and sensitive coverage from the local area.
So, there are a few of my thoughts about the headlines this past week. Your mileage may vary.