Cranking it out during the papapalooza

Pope Benedict XVI’s trip to the U.S. was a short one compared to the lengthier jaunts of his globe-trotting predecessor, but this 81-year-old pope packed in a lot during the six days of his Great American Papapalooza.

As journalists, we at CNS throw ourselves into such events and come up for air after the last note of the last tune is played. In this case, once Shepherd One left JFK and the last photos and stories were filed. After that, you realize just how much reporting a short papal trip can take when you’re a wire service with global clients.

For Catholic News Service, here are six days by the numbers:

English language stories filed, including updates and texts: 182

Spanish language stories: 25

Photos and graphics: 570

Texts published in this week’s 36-page issue of Origins, CNS documentary service: 18

Blog entries: 61

Photographers fielded: 9

Reporters fielded: 15

Editors and researchers working the desks: 9

Help from friends and colleagues: much and appreciated

It takes a lot of teamwork to pull off this level of coverage, especially for a wire service that is dwarfed by the likes of AP and Reuters. But it was a great trip reported by a great team.

We’d do it again in a heartbeat. I bet the pope wouldn’t mind coming back either.

Things critics forget to mention

Here at CNS, we don’t mind criticism (it comes with the territory), but it always helps if the criticism is well informed. Unfortunately, our critics sometimes choose to ignore or are totally unaware of other stories that balance out the one story that they didn’t like. Here’s just one example (of many) of a story the critics forget to mention.

Kids say the darndest things

My daughter’s pre-K teacher offered an opportunity for parents to talk about what they do during the day while their children attend school. Given the distaste in which some people hold journalists, I didn’t know whether my job would qualify. But qualify it did. When offered a choice of dates, I had to pass on all dates the week of April 14. But when the 9 a.m. slot came open for April 21 — the date after Pope Benedict’s U.S. visit — I eagerly applied for it.

I got a cheat sheet of questions that students have tended to ask at these 15-minute sessions. But I came prepared with a reporter’s notebook, since children this age are just starting to put words together, so writing letters and words clearly is a big plus in my line of work. I also showed them a copy of the April 17 Nationals Park Mass program (and told them I got to sit in the press box), a copy of the April 16 White House welcoming program, a big picture of Pope Benedict and an even larger placard with the Catholic News Service logo. And I draped my many papal-trip ID lanyards over my neck for effect.

I was introduced by the teacher’s aide as “the pope’s right-hand man.” I told two dozen 4- and 5-year-olds as best as I could about what I usually do as well as what I had done in the past week. They asked me, among other things, the type of work that I do, how long I had been at my job, what equipment I use for my job, where my office is, how many people I work with, and what kind of clothing I wear on the job.

Someone asked if I had met the pope. “The pope isn’t that interested in meeting me,” I replied — my job was to write about people who wanted to see and meet the pope — although I did tell them that I was as close to Pope Benedict as I was to their teacher at one point during the Washington leg of the visit. I also told them of how the pope got to meet a young boy who was losing his sight and had wanted to meet the pontiff.

One boy said when he was watching the pope on TV that he noticed a lot of police. I told the class how the police want to protect a very important man, and what it was about Pope Benedict that made him important.

But that was the jumping-off point for the class to ask questions about the police. Another child asked me if I “touched dogs” in my job. I replied in the affirmative (well, you never know what kind of assignment you’ll get from day to day), but then some other kid asked if I caught cats and dogs for a living. Well, no, I had to say. Then someone asked if my daughter and I “fit in the same bed.” Again, I had to say no, my daughter has her own bed. “How many of you have your very own bed that you sleep in?” I asked them. A big show of hands — which led to descriptions of what their beds look like. “Mine has birds on it.” “I have a bed with butterfilies.” And so on.

After that line of questioning, I had to ask the class my own question: How many of you know what a blog is? A few hands went up, more tentatively than with my who-has-their-own-bed question. I explained in very broad terms what a blog was and, before I gave a description of the popemobile, told the youngsters, “Something tells me I’ll be writing a blog about our conversation right here.” The teacher and teacher’s aide sure knew what I was talking about!