God and Darwin: The York Daily Record and the Intelligent Design Trial


CSJ-09-0020.0 This case examines the challenge of providing balanced coverage of a court case when the trial is about science, and the reporter believes the science on one side is flawed. In September 2005, York Daily Record reporter Lauri Lebo was assigned to cover a nationally watched local trial, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District . It pitted the School Board against a group of 11 parents, who had sued because the board had required that 9 th graders be read a statement asserting that evolution was just one of several theories—another being “intelligent design”—explaining the origin and development of life on earth. The case examines Lebo’s doubts about her ability to judge the credibility of competing scientific theories, her efforts to educate herself, and the fine line she had to walk in accommodating her own principles with those of her editors, who were mindful of the conservative community the paper served.

The class will examine the exacting art of science reporting—what words to choose, what context to provide, and what constitutes fair and balanced coverage. Students will come to grips with the difficulties of describing dispassionately a scientific theory which has been widely discredited, although it continues to attract some passionate adherents. The science reporting dilemma is only enhanced by the fact that the science is the subject of a trial; ordinarily, reporters give equal weight to both parties to a trial. Students can also discuss what a reporter can do when her approach to a story differs from that of her editors. Finally, they can debate the proper role of a newspaper serving its local community—to reflect local mores and values, or to challenge them?

The case can be used in a course or class on science reporting; on court reporting; or on local media.


This case was written by Kathleen Gilsinan for the Knight Case Studies Initiative, Graduate School of Journalism, Columbia University . The faculty sponsor was Assistant Professor Marguerite Holloway. Funding was provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. (0609)

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