Religious groups coalesce in time of need.
Coatesville’s past and present.
Who will pay for the fires?
This Inquirer article, written by Kristin Holmes, spotlights the work being done by clergy in response to the arson fires in Coatesville. She provides background information on how, prior to the fires, the religious community was largely divided, even in the small town of 11,000. She writes that there were racial divides among the ministers, and ideological differences within denominations, that have kept clergy from working together. Despite the large divides that exist, the religious community has continued to expand beyond traditionally black and white congregations to now include a mosque, Masjid Ar-Rahman, and several Latino churches.
The fires in Coatesville have made national headlines as the arson fires continue to plague the small town. Holmes chooses to report on the deeper context of the situation in Coatesville, the dynamic between the citizens of the town. In this article, she is able to give depth to the serial arson attacks by writing more about the people than the fires and the damage they have caused. She writes, “Coatesville has struggled with the social problems that faith groups would typically help address. But their efforts have remained largely fragmented, local clergy say. The fires have forced them to look inward.” Her focus on the different members of clergy supports her decision to make a story about fires about people and the effect of the fires. My only point of negative criticism is that she did not provide any comments from citizens of Coatesville.
The cover story in this week’s City Paper is poignant and well written. Co-authored, the article brings together the current and immediate crisis in Coatesville with the history of the town and its ongoing crisis. Mike Newall and Doron Taussig interviewed many people, from Coatesville’s previous arsonist-yes, the town’s known arsonist is living with his father-to a firefighter to many residents, some who have been burned out of their houses and some who are terrified that their turn is tonight.
The article weaves together information with people’s accounts and opinions in an engaging way. The lede is compelling: “The city of Coatesville, Pa., is burning down.” Plain and simple. It gets the point across-and it made me ask the same questions that the writers tried to answer. Who is doing this and when will it stop? I found out that street gangs are suspected, but no one knows. Perhaps there are several culprits-but the police won’t reveal anything for fear that the arsonist(s) will catch on.
The photographs that accompany the article package the feature nicely. Michael T. Regan, a regular photographer for City Paper, does an amazing job portraying the feeling of Coatesville itself as well as its residents. This is incredibly complementary to the story.
While at the end of the story I still didn’t have answers to my questions, I do know a lot more about Coatesville and its history. And I feel closer to the residents there than I did before reading the article. This, therefore, is a successful article.
-Victoria M. Indivero
This week’s shout-out goes to The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Kathleen Brady Shea for her February 18th article.
First and foremost this is a good piece because it takes an important story that under typical-albeit unfortunate-journalism practices might have died off by now.
As of this week, the Coatesville area has witnessed the longest stint without a fire-related incident, but Shea doesn’t allow that to stand in the way of reporting on current developments surrounding the events.
Shea reports on the rising costs associated with the fires and what avenues the city has available to alleviate those expenses. She leaves very few, if any, holes in the story. The reader gains an understanding of the amount of possible funding involved, where the funds can potentially come from, what is holding up the funding, and some of the expenses incurred from the fires, such as the $100,000 in overtime for police and fire personnel.
The article fulfills the watchdog role by questioning city officials on their progress toward relieving the financial stress associated with the fires. It is a story with context and purpose for its readers, particularly those living in Coatesville and those affected by the fires.