Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Sun-Times Freeps Itself on Wheaton College Story

In Leslie Baldacci's story* about a former Wheaton College professor who was fired because he converted to Catholicism, your Chicago Sun-Times inserted a sidebar entitled "What They Said" that features six "comments posted on the Freerepublic blog" -- and no comments from any other source.

I am not a professional journalist -- much less a big-city newspaper editor -- but it seems to me that the column inches turned over to the Freepers could have been better used to explain the cryptic opening sentence of the story:
A former Wheaton College professor who was fired because he converted to Catholicism found himself this week at the center of a debate about diversity and theological perspectives in private, faith-based schools.
The article never explains where the debate over the professor's firing took place. Did the debate happen at Wheaton College? Did it take place on the internet? Just on the FreeRepublic site?

The article never explains who participated in the debate. Was it a group of Wheaton College professors? All Wheaton students and faculty? More than one college? Fundamentalists and evangelicals on the internets?

The article never explains the curious timing. Why is this debate -- and the ST article -- occurring nearly a year after the professor's conversion and subsequent firing?

Well, we can answer some of those questions -- but not because of anything contained in the ST article.

It seems that on Saturday, the Wall Street Journal (sub) published a front-page article entitled "A Test of Faith" about the Wheaton firing. Since then, excerpts of the WSJ article and commentary have been posted on various blogs including this message board on the Freepers' site. So apparently, the "debate" in question was triggered by a Journal article and took place exclusively on the internet.

But if the ST article had included a paragraph telling you that, there might not have been room to publish the deep thoughts of "Senator Bedfellow" and "Dumb_Ox".

*Although the story has Leslie Baldacci's byline, I don't blame the reporter for this article's shortcomings.

As likely as not, Baldacci turned in a story that included the history of the controversy and it was cut by an editor, e.g. "We'll drop the reference to the 'Journal' and put in some of that high-spirited 'blogging' that the kids are all talking about."

And if the original story didn't answer the questions raised above, then an editor should have demanded those answers.

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