Jim Pumarlo, Community Newspaper Training

Critiquing the article as editor, parishioner

By Jim Pumarlo

A reader challenged the R-E on its front-page story Saturday about Regina Nicolosi, a Red Wing woman who says it’s time the Catholic Church permits women into priesthood.

The story should not have been published during Holy Week, the reader said. And, among other things, the article was not balanced.

The call was not the first – nor will it be the last – criticism that will cross this desk. This telephone call also struck a personal chord, as I am a member of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. I accepted and evaluated the criticism both as editor and parishioner.

The short answer is that the R-E believes the quest of Nicolosi to change the church’s policy is a valid social issue that should be raised in a community newspaper and a worthwhile human interest feature story. But the reader also raised points that we reviewed at our weekly news meeting.

As for the timing, the publication of the story on Easter weekend was coincidental. It ran in conjunction with the Women’s Ordination Conference event this week in Bloomington, Minn., of which the Red Wing chapter is a sponsor.

We don’t deny that the conference may have been deliberately scheduled to coincide with Easter. For us, however, the conference provided a news peg to write a feature story about a local woman with an uncommon goal.

Was the story fair? The question strikes at the credibility of this newspaper, and provided a lesson for our news team. A frequent shortfall among journalists is relying on a single source. Reporters are reminded to look at issues from all angles and perspectives. That’s especially important for “hard news” stories.

But the reader’s criticism prompted us to review that same policy of using multiple sources when writing feature stories – particularly those that revolve around social issues.

The short answer is yes … and no. The R-E frequently interviews individuals and organizations with specific causes; their opinions may represent a handful or hundreds of others. But we did not view this particular story as a treatise on the pros and cons of women priests, nor did we intend it to be that type of report.

Lastly, the fact that the story generated discussion reflects the important role of churches in our communities. Broadening our reporting on religion is among our goals.

Criticism of this article did not deter us in that mission. In fact, we hope to write stories regularly about topics that have more than one point of view. But we will continue to keep in mind that readers’ perceptions as well as the facts of those stories must be anticipated, especially when writing about sensitive subjects.

Pumarlo.com • Jim Pumarlo • Community Newsroom Success Strategies • 1327 W. Sixth St. • Red Wing, MN • 55066 • (651) 380-4295