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The art of what does and doesn't get "printed"

JournalismFictionAnderson CooperHanukkahThe Washington Post

A funny thing often happens when I'm doing an interview that inadvertently turns "religious."

The person I'm talking to will mention God or Jesus or something else religious, and then quickly add: "But you won't print that, will you?" or "I'm sure you won't publish that…"

I tell them that actually, yes, I will include that in the article, after which they generally look pleased.

The "I'm sure you won't publish that" comment usually happens if the interview has nothing obvious to do with religion, but not always.

I once got it while talking with some women on the Havre de Grace church tour, which surprised me since I was writing about a TOUR OF CHURCHES.

So I have to conclude, after having this happen to me a bunch of times, that people suspect - or believe - that unless it's for a straight-up Easter or Hanukkah story, a journalist simply won't publish comments of a personal, religious nature.

I get sad about this mentality because I, personally, am really interested in religion. I could listen to people make random comments about God all day! I could certainly WRITE them all day.

My point, though, is that people make certain conclusions based on what they do or don't see in the media.

Journalists sometimes act like they are talking to people who have never opened a newspaper or watched news on TV, but I think most people are pretty aware of how major events play out in the media, how news is covered and how it all affects society.

For example, after a mass shooting like the one in Columbine (I'm not even going to bring up Newtown right now), there is inevitably a rash of people making bomb threats or even carrying out similar violence.

They're called "copycat crimes," and how do people on the opposite side of the country know there's a crime to be copied? They hear about it on the news.

During the Bath School bombing of 1927 that killed 38 children in Bath, Mich. (read about it if you're in the mood to be depressed), the media was apparently only interested in the story for a couple of days.

Nowadays, every detail of such an incident is analyzed for weeks and there is plenty of video footage and live coverage. Everyone knows about it, usually even if they try to avoid it.

Of course I'm not saying the media is responsible for the copycat crimes. But it clearly plays a role in their creation - even as it also plays a role in helping prevent similar events in the future. And people know that.

I was reminded of how people perceive media coverage while watching CNN after the Aurora, Colo., theater shooting.

The parent of one of the victims movingly told anchor Anderson Cooper that he did not want to hear the name of the alleged shooter. He said, in essence, that the victims of the shooting deserve to be remembered and their killer deserves to be forgotten.

I was impressed to see Cooper agree and pledge not to refer to the alleged shooter by name, at least for the remainder of that broadcast.

The families of those victims knew journalism is the "rough draft of history," as Washington Post publisher Philip Graham reportedly said, and they knew that those who commit mass crimes tend to go down in history.

The victims wanted to change how that history gets written, to be part of a different account, which I think is really powerful.

I would hope that people who make random religious comments (that I personally enjoy) can also find themselves reflected in the media, as can others who may have felt marginalized in the past.

You can be part of history, and part of a change in media coverage! Just keep saying what you really think, and yes, I will "print that."

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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