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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 21, 2006

Our code of 'Da Vinci' coverage

By Anne Harpham
Advertiser Senior Editor

Writing about the blockbuster novel "The Da Vinci Code" and the newly released movie based on the book has become a mini-industry of its own.

The book and its premise have stirred talk, controversy, condemnation and lawsuits and an outpouring of stories about all of that and more.

The long-anticipated movie opened Friday, but there has been a crescendo of coverage in recent days.

Is it media frenzy or responsible reporting on a topic readers are genuinely interested in? How do you balance coverage of an issue that has sparked religious controversies and calls for a boycott?

Conspiracies, even when they are fiction, spark interest. Media coverage, in the view of the Rev. Jim Miller, associate pastor of First Presbyterian Church, is "tapping into what provokes people." We know that, too, and have made a conscious effort to balance what has become a pop-culture phenomenon with reactions in the religious community.

Within newsrooms, story planning usually reflects local interest and sensibilities.

So, discussions in The Advertiser's Island Life section, which handled most of our "Da Vinci" stories, in the past few weeks, have focused both on how much coverage to give the book and movie, and what angles to pursue.

Some papers on the Mainland have covered the movie more extensively than we have, focusing on pop-culture aspects of the phenomenon.

Advertiser features editor Elizabeth Kieszkowski said her department decided to take what they considered a "measured approach" after seeing that the book and the movie, while of interest to local readers, were not sparking as much controversy as in some areas of the Mainland.

"We found that locally, the two prongs of discussion around 'Da Vinci' revolved around the theological arguments and the pop-culture aspects," said Kieszkowski.

As a result, we chose to run wire stories about both those aspects and aimed for a range of topics, including a Travel section story on "Da Vinci" locales and a story on the different versions of the Holy Grail story.

For its local "Da Vinci" story, the Island Life section decided to pursue one of the theological points sparked by the book.

In some parts of the Mainland, there have been calls for a boycott and denunciations of the book.

Bulletins from local churches and listings submitted for our weekly church calendar on the Faith page told us that the response here was lower-key. What we read and heard from clergy was that rather than going after the premise behind the "Da Vinci" plot, several churches were making an attempt to be part of the discussion sparked by the book and movie.

As a result, the Island Life section focused on the reaction of clergy, from evangelical to mainline Protestant to Roman Catholic, for its primary local story.

Reach Anne Harpham at aharpham@honoluluadvertiser.com.