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Journalism 101

Get off the phone and go to confession...
by Jim Fair | Source:

I have lost count of the number of news stories and opinion pieces I have read that describe a new iPhone app that allows Catholics to go to confession over the phone.

What surprises me about the number of articles is that the application doesn’t exist.  Yes, there is a new app that helps you to prepare for confession.  It is a high-tech version of confession guides that have been around for many years.

How do reporters get from a confession guide on the iPhone to going to confession over the phone?  I think it is bad case of jumping to conclusions combined with sloppy journalism.  After all, if you just look at the download site for the app and read a couple paragraphs about it, you’ll realize that you don’t use the app to actually go to confession.  You don’t have to download the app to figure that out, you don’t have to buy anything – and you don’t have to be Catholic.

Perhaps somewhere out there in journalism land there is the first sloppy reporter who started the story that the app let’s you confess over the phone.  So all the other reporter lemmings just followed him over the cliff.

But that isn’t how journalism is supposed to work.  It is supposed to be based on a bit of research and investigation.

Let’s say my friend who sells Ford cars calls me up and said they have a new model that is supposed to get 100 miles to a gallon of gas.  Unless I’m one of the reporters who thinks
Catholics can confess over the phone (and I’m not), I would not immediately write an article about the 100-mile-per-gallon Ford.

No.  I would call up the folks at Ford headquarters and ask if they really have such a car.  If they gave any indication there was truth to the story, I would ask for proof – like testing results.  And I would ask to talk to someone who had actually driven the car and kept track of the mileage.  I would ask to see the car and drive it myself.

That’s what a journalist does.  And just to be safe, if I were driving the new Ford I would not be on the phone going to confession at the same time – even if I really could.

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