Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Scientology inspires good journalism

Greater voices than mine have spoken out about the St. Petersburg Times’ three-part series on the current leadership in the religion – cult? – of Scientology. Still, I have a few thoughts on what’s in the stories and about the stories.

All these “ethics files” smack of paranoia and control. I was a manager long enough to know that documenting employees and their misdeeds is all about an entity surviving and the employee failing.

Leaders and spokespeople that scream their responses seem perilously close to appearing out of control in a kind of “thou protests too much” guilt persona. And, most congregants want their leaders to live the teachings of their church, and most teachings don’t promote yelling as a way to get to a higher place.
It’s up to others to decide what this series means to Scientology, but allow me to make a few comments on what it means to journalism.

The dogged, intelligent work of Joe Childs and Thomas C. Tobin shows boldness, compassion, and a commitment to verifiable facts and a responsibility to report both sides. That David Miscavige tried to pull an end run in a campaign of no comment by a last-ditch effort to quell the series – really, he wouldn’t have been available until to July? Is that what he tells his followers when they have questions? – in no way undermines the series.

These reporters didn’t rush to print, but nor were they going to be cowered by suppressive tactics. It was time to tell the tale after months of good, solid reporting.

That the stories are nicely written on top of everything else shows the power of good journalism to tell a good story. A relevant story that touches peoples’ core.
Stories like these are why this profession has Constitutional protection. And this type of work lives up to that protection during a time when too many newspapers are abdicating their nobility. Kudos to the St. Petersburg Times for lighting the way back to good journalism.

That the newspaper series has exploded into all parts of the Internet only goes to show the power of the two to join and give readers of all kinds something worthy to talk about.

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