The Independent Newsweekly
Issue Date: December 26, 2003
From the Editor's Desk
For the inside story
In recent weeks, John Allens impressive contribution to the world of Vatican reporting has gained the notice of two of the more distinguished journalism outlets in the United States.
On Nov. 22, Peter Steinfels, in his Beliefs column in The New York Times, praised Allen for breaking beyond worn out categories such as liberal and conservative in describing papabili, or cardinals who might contend for the papacy.
Now and then, writes Steinfels, alternatives to such two-part schemata emerge. Allen recently provided an example in writing about the various currents among the Roman Catholic cardinals who will elect the next pope. That in itself is one of the big religion stories of the moment, but Mr. Allens categories may be suggestive for writing other articles as well.
More recently, Kenneth L. Woodward, former religion editor for Newsweek who still occasionally writes for the magazine, wrote in the Dec. 22 issue: Outside of the North Korean government in Pyongyang, no bureaucracy is harder for a journalist to crack than the Vaticans. And no one does it better than John L. Allen Jr. In just three years, Allen, 38, has become the journalist other reporters -- and not a few cardinals -- look to for the inside story on how all the popes men direct the worlds largest church.
The pieces are flattering for Allen and, certainly, for NCR. Its not easy for little publications to keep reporters in the field. But Allens distinguished contribution to religion reporting in general and Vatican reporting in particular are more than payoff for the effort.
My first contact with John occurred when he called in the fall of 1996 to pitch a story about Catholic high school newspapers. I didnt want to bother with it, envisioning that I would end up spending hours coaching someone with almost no practical journalism experience through a story that I felt had little potential. I tried to let him down easy by saying that I would give him the courtesy of reading whatever he put together, but that I wouldnt count on it ever seeing the light of day on our pages.
Some weeks later he sent me the story, and it was better than anything I had expected -- complete, national in scope, wonderfully sourced and crafted. And so began NCRs relationship with a young man who is widely viewed as an unusually gifted religion reporter and Vatican correspondent.
He really does work 18-hour days, as Woodward reports; he goes to everything, talks to everyone and then spends the time necessary to fashion explanations of extremely complex issues in engaging and understandable ways. Theres no greater example of his abilities in that regard than the story this week about language as a primary battleground for one of the mega-debates in global Catholicism.
The Clergy Sex Abuse Tracker, a Web log that tracks stories nationally and worldwide about clergy sex abuse and that currently appears on the Poynter Institute Web site, will move to NCRs Web site beginning Jan. 1. The log is updated daily. Those who sign up can receive e-mail reminders of the updates.
-- Tom Roberts
National Catholic Reporter, December 26, 2003
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