Atheist PR Crisis Averted

Yesterday, I mentioned that Amanda Metskas, the president of Camp Quest, was interviewed on NPR.

The headline on the NPR webpage reads:

Children’s Summer Camp Teaches ‘Free Thinking’

That wasn’t originally the case.

Duncan Crary explains in the latest Humanist Network News:

… The interview itself went well, and it would have been a public relations coup for Camp Quest and for freethought in general except for one thing, the headline: “Summer Camp Teaches Anti-Christian Beliefs.”

When Amanda first showed me the headline for the radio interview on the NPR website, she was dismayed. Camp Quest is not “anti-Christian.” It’s a summer camp where children learn about freethought while also participating in traditional summer camp activities.

I agreed with Amanda that it was an unfair headline that could even damage the reputation of Camp Quest.

Amanda contacted the producer and kindly explained the situation — that Camp Quest was not Anti-Christian. The producer apologized, explained that the website’s headline writers don’t always get it right, and had the headline changed to its more accurate current version.

Duncan ends the piece with this advice:

The lesson I’d like readers to take from this story is that sometimes the media makes mistakes that could hurt the image of humanists and other freethinkers. But before you get angry (or decide that there’s a media conspiracy against atheists), try to think of a way to solve the problem. Reporters, editors, copy editors and webmasters are people, too. They make mistakes, but most are eager to correct them. You can usually accomplish your goal by being respectful and offering helpful solutions.

Nicely said.


[tags]atheist, atheism, Amanda Metskas, Camp Quest, NPR, Duncan Crary, Humanist Network News, Christian, freethinker[/tags]

  • http://www.blueshifted.org Andy

    Whew!

  • Aj

    I find it highly unlikely this was an honest mistake. It didn’t have to be a Christian, the motivation might not have been to defame Camp Quest, perhaps it was just media sensationalism.

    It’s hard to argue that Camp Quest is not in conflict with Christian beliefs, the title is true in that respect. Freethought is against a lot of the teachings of the Bible, it’s against some of the teachings of Jesus, it’s against most Churches and that’s just the beginning.

    It’s just too ambiguous, freethought is not a response to Christianity. The headline relies on a Christian perspective, is NPR serving only Christians now?

    The lesson I recieved from this article is that humanism is turning into the religion apologist wing of the secular movement. Any paragraph that mentions that people are people, and people make mistakes is going to be a lame attempt at an excuse. It doesn’t take a conspiracy for someone to write a headline like that, perhaps us silly atheists won’t realise this and get angry.

    There’s people working in the news media that are likely arseholes that one way or another are going to hurt secular movements, for Jesus or profit. If you can, get them to start being journalists. In most cases, you won’t be able to.

  • http://humaniststudies.org HumanistPR

    The lesson I recieved from this article is that humanism is turning into the religion apologist wing of the secular movement. Any paragraph that mentions that people are people, and people make mistakes is going to be a lame attempt at an excuse. It doesn’t take a conspiracy for someone to write a headline like that, perhaps us silly atheists won’t realise this and get angry.

    I wholeheartedly disagree. I’m the author of that column, and I’m also a former newspaper reporter.

    You may not know that newspaper reporters do not write the headlines for their articles. A copy editor writes the headline. And what headline goes on the article actually depends on how many columns the article takes up in the newspaper. And how many columns the article takes up in the newspaper depends on how many ads, photos and articles there are in the paper that particular day.

    When I was a reporter I got several calls complaining that the story was great but the headline was wrong. Sometimes even I would get mad at the copy editors for a bum headline. But here’s the deal: There are a million things occurring in a newsroom that the average person has no idea about. The copy editor may get a last minute ad thrown in the mix. He/she might have arrived to work late. Maybe s/he is dealing with personal problems. The reporter might have submitted the story late and the pressure is ratcheted up to get the edition to the press. You have no idea what was going on in the newsroom when the copy editors wrote their headlines.

    It doesn’t make sense to blame a bad headline or a bad article on prejudice or anything else until you respectfully contact the newsroom and find out what happened.

    If atheists value free inquiry so much, why not inquire at the newsroom first before coming up with your own theory as to why something went wrong?

    Anybody who has a job working with the public has dealt with an angry customer. When someone lashes out at you when you’ve made a mistake — or more often the case, when it wasn’t even YOUR mistake — it makes most people feel defensive.

    And when you feel defensive, you are less inclined help someone…even when you know it’s the right thing to do.

    That’s humanity.

  • Aj

    It doesn’t make sense to blame a bad headline or a bad article on prejudice or anything else until you respectfully contact the newsroom and find out what happened.

    Would it make sense to respectfully contact the newsroom and not get an explanation, or at least not repeat the explanation in an article about the incident?

    I have an opinion, it makes sense to me to have an opinion. “Anti-Christian” was not an accident. An innocent explanation seems unlikely. Intentionally, or not, it seems to have come from a Christian perspective. A non-Christian using such a phrase? Unlikely, unless in the business of selling fear.

  • PrimateIR

    I have an opinion, it makes sense to me to have an opinion. “Anti-Christian” was not an accident. An innocent explanation seems unlikely. Intentionally, or not, it seems to have come from a Christian perspective. A non-Christian using such a phrase? Unlikely, unless in the business of selling fear.

    I agree with AJ on this. If this sort of thing was a random occurrence “Non-Fanatical” would pop up with same degree of frequency.

  • http://lfab-uvm.blogspot.com/ C. L. Hanson

    It’s nice that it was fixed, but honestly I think the bias in the headline was blatant enough to inspire middle-of-the-road people to be curious to see what’s up and learn more…

  • Siamang

    Hi humanist… former newspaper reporter myself.

    But of course, this wasn’t a headline in a newspaper. It cannot be explained by the idea that the editor got a 2 column ad at the last minute and had to write a headline that fit.

    This is a headline on the internet, where column-inches mean nothing.

    It may or may not have been written by anyone in the editorial chain.. who knows how these public radio networks who run websites do things today (high-tech whippersnappers!)?

    Glad you got them to fix it… and being a PR person, I’m sure you’re more used to catching more flies with honey than we are here.

    You’re probably aware of the Paula Zahn CNN spot recently about how atheists should “shut up” and why we “inspire hatred.”

    All by way of letting you know that these events don’t happen in a vaccuum. There seems to be quite a large number of these “oopsies” recently.

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