Friday, February 17, 2006

Kudos to the Pioneer Press

Posted by Craig Westover | 8:46 AM |  

As those of you that follow the Pioneer Press know, the paper is consciously making an effort to move toward more coverage of local news. Given the numerous competing sources for national and international news, the Pioneer Press makes sense for a medium that publishes once a day -- it has to provide news and content that isn’t available elsewhere.

I’ve been critical of some of its efforts in the past. Sometimes the paper, IMHO, puts too much emphasis on local and not enough on significance. Some local pieces it's run I envision taped to the refrigerator in some family’s home, but they have little other relevance other than they are local -- there was a reason they probably didn’t appear anywhere else.

But today, the Pioneer Press runs a front page story on how a local charter school is dealing with Islamic religious belief, the teaching of art and meeting state art requirements.
As violent protests over caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad continue around the world, a St. Paul charter school is quietly negotiating the delicate question of how to teach art to Muslims.
The story is outstanding for several reasons. First, although it is local, it's pegged to the larger Danish cartoon controversy. Without the editorializing of my column of Wednesday, the story makes the same point -- If the school had simply “tolerated” its Muslim students, it would have made some minor schedule accommodation for them, which would have resulted in many Muslim students not participating in art. As it is, they showed “respect” and created a third alternative that worked for everyone. Read the article here.

What I especially like about this news article is that the story has a clear point of view -- that what is happening at this school is a good thing. The story didn’t try to inject a false sense of “balance” into the piece with an obligatory quote from someone opposed to making a “concession” to Muslims. Nor did it take the editorial tack that I would take -- could such action have happened in a traditional public school without someone yelling “church and state”? The writer, Doug Belden, supports the story’s point of view by reporting and not by opinionated statements. Really well done.

There’s always a lot of talk about newspapers being biased, but what’s wrong with a reporter being “biased” by what he sees right in front of him and reporting it as he sees it, without editorial comment?

Doug’s story recognizes that local need not be trivial. It elevates something that could be trivial -- a local art class -- to a much larger issue of working out of respect with people that take their religious belief’s seriously.

Just a final note. Those of you that read the Pioneer Press online will miss some of the impact of Craig Borck’s photography and the way it is intertwined with the layout of the story. The lead picture -- two girls intently working on the art piece is outstanding -- right down to the one girl’s tongue sticking out in concentration is posted, but loses some of its front page impact by reduction. On the story jump page, a photo of a Muslim student walking past a student drawing of a human figure adds significantly to the content of the story.

Enough gushing. Just a great job all around by the Pioneer Press.