published Sunday, July 1st, 2012

Gerber: Flood of response on 'Tempest'

More than 50,000 page views.

Upwards of 300 emails.

Nearly 20 letters to the editor.

More than a dozen tearful phone calls.

We weren't sure how readers would react to the newspaper's front-page centerpiece last Sunday, "Tempest in My Soul," a story about the clash between faith and homosexuality.

Truth be told, we were a little nervous about how the story would be received in this town, where more than few people can name all the books of the Bible and grocery stores are empty on Sunday morning.

But starting Sunday morning, the day the story ran, the emails started rolling in. They came from Red Bank and Hixson and Ringgold, from Atlanta and Knoxville and Nashville.

Then from Oklahoma and Wisconsin, San Diego and Palo Alto in California. And from places like Nicaragua and Kenya.

A handful -- fewer than a dozen -- were angry, disappointed, even disgusted. But most people wrote to thank reporter Joan Garrett for a beautiful story, to tell her they read all the way to the end, to say they found her storytelling to be dispassionate and fair.

Many said they empathized with Matt Nevels, the Southern Baptist minister who lost his son to AIDS, and respected the position of Dr. Fred Steelman, former pastor of Red Bank Baptist Church, who never wavered from the stance of his church but in the end extended a hand of friendship to Nevels.

Some thanked the newspaper for having the courage to publish the story.

The letters came from members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community and from parents of gay children. From numerous ministers, a rabbi and one monk. From those who think homosexuality is a sin and those who think church teachings on homosexuality cause division and pain. From believers and nonbelievers.

And some came from people who haven't decided where they stand on homosexuality, but said the story prompted them to think about their beliefs.

Many email writers and callers said they had never before contacted a reporter, but felt compelled to do so. One caller told me he picked the paper up early Sunday morning and read the whole story standing in his driveway in his pajamas.

The story went viral. Fast. Some teachers used it to spur discussion in their classes Monday morning. Pastors forwarded the link to their church members, children to their parents.

MSNBC.com picked up the story and novelist Anne Rice posted it on her Facebook page. Blogs and aggregator websites picked it up. Even Baptists Today magazine linked to it.

The reaction reaffirms my faith in the power of newspapers.

It offers a loud-and-clear statement: Readers want stories about how the issues we struggle with as a society really impact individual lives. With complex topics, they want storytelling and not talking points.

They desire to understand the community they live in and don't just want to read journalism that validates their opinions. They want stories that help them make sense of the walls that divide us but are still respectful and fair.

They will read long stories, if they're compelling, even in a day of quick-hit Web stories, tweets and Facebook posts.

There are a lot of topics that cause friction between people. Maybe some people think it best not to risk writing about them. But we don't shy away from these stories because we believe in their impact.

On Saturday night, the staff that put this story together felt like they had done good journalism, but they didn't know what to expect. Every day since then, we have been humbled by the response.

There is nothing that an editor or reporter wants to hear more than this: I wasn't bored. I read to the end. It was fair. It was accurate. I was moved. I will look at my neighbors differently now.

Thank you for reading.

Alison Gerber is the managing editor of the Chattanooga Times Free Press. Reach her at agerber@timesfreepress.com. To read "Tempest in My Soul," go to timesfreepress.com/tempest.

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Which Bible?

July 1, 2012 at 12:24 a.m.
ldurham said...

So: no mention of the gaping holes in this story?

No mention of the lack of actual news reporting during a "four-month investigation?"

No reason why the new pastor wasn't interviewed on his views?

No explanation as to why young Mr. Nevels' siblings were only mentioned briefly as being opposed to his lifestyle, then and now?

Incredibly, no elaboration on the stunning charge that young Mr. Nevels was "sexually molested many times by an authority figure" and it was never reported?

No insight as to how the elder Mr. Nevels could just suddenly forgive and forget a church that had allegedly insulted his family in the worst possible way?

Oh well, TFP. Try to not to pull a muscle patting yourselves on the back for a shallow, crowd-pleasing award-bait happy-ending morality tale. But for God's sake, don't call this journalism. Most of the "news" in this story did not get reported.

July 1, 2012 at 9:20 a.m.
potcat said...

The story was compelling and Joan Garrett is the best. It tugged at the heart strings for this family and hopefully it will open people's hearts and minds. I saved it in my special file and also called people to pick up a papper and read it.

July 1, 2012 at 6:11 p.m.
dao1980 said...

Ken, so you can't cope with your own reality, fine.

That doesn't mean those around you must hang out within range of, and endure your own mental and emotional anguish.

Believe it or not, many people are capable of dealing with traumatic events without opiating their mints into atrophy.

There are indeed a large majority of folks that lead happy, healthy, and fulfilling lives outside of any debilitating escapist dogma.

July 2, 2012 at 7:59 a.m.
ebenji87 said...

Can someone block JAHCHILD? He just keeps copying and pasting the same ridiculous message on all the boards. I hope you find a better way to waste you time, sir. Ever thought of taking up a hobby?

July 2, 2012 at 12:36 p.m.
dao1980 said...

Ken has a hobby, it consists of pleading with his dissociative sub-ego to help him forget it ever happened.

I have a hunch that the character he assembles in these spaces of his mind to embody this reflection, looks like an elderly human male, with a deep voice, a strong brow, and a white flowing beard... kinda like santa clause, but with universe creating powers, and an emotionally unstable interest in trivial daily life on one planet.

July 2, 2012 at 12:59 p.m.
manandcat said...

Your "A Tempest in my Soul" article is beautifully written. You have a gift for speaking to the reader from both sides of this issue with utter respect and dignity. There is no need to shout when you can craft words that are so poetic, while still calling out those that do not or even cannot see the injustice in the stories of Matt and Stephen Nevels broadened lives. You did that incredibly well Joan Garrett.

Your story helps detach the stigma of being gay or even being HIV positive and takes the reader on an incredible journey of healing. The love of a true Christ-like believer like Matt Nevels shines brightly through your writing.

You can read many of my stories on my blog at www.thedecoratedtree.blogspot.com. I can only strive to write stories as poetic and poignant as yours. You are a beautiful soul for giving this story the attention it deserves.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Darryl Moland, www.thedecoratedtree.blogspot.com>

chatt_man said...

ldurham - sorry to be late to the thread, but which God's sake are you concerned with, in your July 1, 2012 at 9:20 a.m. post?

July 3, 2012 at 5:13 p.m.
ldurham said...

Just looking for basic facts that were overlooked in the article. Got any?

July 3, 2012 at 10:06 p.m.
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