Monday, June 20, 2011

Reporter's "3 Mormons" Joke Insensitive, Irrelevant

Let's try a little word substitution:
Baptist snags gator, gets cited.
Jew snags gator, gets cited.
Confucian snags gator, gets cited.
Catholic snags gator, gets cited.

If religious affiliation is irrelevant in a the news story, then it's irrelevant to the headline writer. When religious affiliation has nothing to do with how or why events came to pass, then religion shouldn't be the lede, especially a lede loosely constructed on a tired category of iffy jokes predicated on stereotypes. The writer's opening snicker is never again mentioned in the story in a way that helps readers understand why they or the reporter should think Mormons are funny.

Alligators are pretty common in these parts. Catching one is neighborhood news but to make the local front, something more is needed. For the We-Don't-Get-Out-Much types at Sun Coast Media Group, that extra something would be Mormons.

Writer and editors apparently left news judgment on the dock when they found out that the people who snagged an alligator belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

The newsroom grew the story to four columns and a jump. Editors made room for the 10-letter "Missionary" in the headline, worked "Mormon missionary" into the four-column the jump, and squeezed in at least one attribution styled as "... said the missionary." And, just in case readers don't know that this reporter and the kids they call editors think Mormon funny, the lede isn't news, but a genre joke: "Did you hear the one ... about the three Mormon missionaries and the gator?

The answer is, "No, we haven't heard that one. Maybe you'll share?" Oops. No sharing because there's no joke, no relevance, no connection. But that doesn't matter.

It's not enough that three California teenagers tossed a fishing line in a backyard canal, hooked an alligator that one said was 4 feet long, another said was 5 feet long, and the wildlife officer said warranted a ticket. Not enough news, so editors toss in the sectarian angle. Let's go back to the top of this bark: Muslim snags gator ... Presbyterian snags gator ...

If the reporter rightly wants to work in why three teenagers were fishing in a canal, she has every opportunity to report the boys are visitors on a two-year church mission and name the church. She could report they said they'd never had a close encounter with an alligator before and didn't know Floridians don't recommend using one's hands to hold shut the jaws of a large reptile and locals advise against carrying it into the rental apartment for a photograph before dumping the carnivore back into the canal, where neighborhood cockapoodles lap at the water's edge.


  1. There's not much to do about ignorance and insensitivity like that, except not encourage them to be reporters.

  2. lol I know said missonaries and said news person and i agree it is pure ignorance and this article is used as a bash against a church more then a article showing boys will be boys.

  3. Old Newsroom HackThu Jun 23, 07:11:00 PM

    You're dead on here. There's a way to be humorous without being tasteless and disrespectful. This story strays far of the first and wades deeply into the second two. I think the issue here is two kids not having the sense to leave a sharp-toothed animal alone. Who cares what religion they are?