GetReligion’s friend David Crumm sent email this week with the news that he will take a months-long leave of absence from the Detroit Free Press to develop a project called Read the Spirit. To call Read the Spirit a blog focused on religion news would be an understatement.
Here’s how David described it:
In August, we hosted a national conference in Ann Arbor for a network of writers, editors, artists, web gurus, scholars, clergy who’ll be working with us over the next year or two on a whole new approach to religion in media.
The tip of our iceberg is up online already — the “daily voice” of our new project. Over the coming year, we’ve got online projects lined up, some innovative publishing projects, etc. Even a new documentary film unit that’s formed.
. . . This week, we’re running a 5-part multimedia series on A Pilgrimage to Iona, based on reporting I’ve just done with a photographer and videographer.
To gain a further sense of what David and his many friends have in store, read their Ten 21st-Century Principles of Religious Publishing.
I’ll miss David’s sharp insights in the Free Press, but with that loss comes the gift of an important new voice on the Web.
Terry took the opportunity to invite David’s participation in our 5Q+1 feature, and David jumped right in.
(1) Where do you get your news about religion?
I listen to National Public Radio, BBC especially, because they’ve got the biggest global reporting network these days. I read Atlantic, New Yorker, New York Times every day, Vanity Fair, Weavings, National Catholic Reporter, PC Gamer. Most importantly, I walk through the magazine, book, music and DVD aisles of Target stores once a week. I walk through Borders’ religion-spirituality sections at least once a week plus their DVD and magazine sections. I cruise comic book racks, graphic novel shelves — and I try to walk through mystery novels sections at least a couple of times a month. If you check New York Times Book Review sections weekly, you’ll find that Americans read more murder mysteries than any other single category of books — so discerning themes that show up in mystery novels says a lot about Americans’ spiritual imagination.
(2) What is the most important religion story right now that you think the mainstream media just do not get?
There are many. But the Goliath story that we don’t get — and that will affect all of us — is understanding the aging process. Just admitting that we are aging — and that this is not a disease — is a huge transformation that’s starting. We’re just on the leading edge of this story — and those voices who explore aging in terms of its spiritual gifts — not merely its diseases to be cured — will be the beloved prophets in media who we’ll look back to as pioneers in the years to come.
I’m working on that right now myself — and welcome others.
Think of how Dr. Spock saw the Goliath of child care after World War II.
(3) What is the story that you will be watching carefully in the next year or two?
I’ve already said that I’ll be watching the aging story. Also, I’ll be watching closely the way that American media covers what we seem to call Third World peoples. Not just big-picture stories in which a reporter parachutes into some corner of the world or analysis pieces by scholars — but I want to see how the voices of real people emerge from these communities in our media. Can we even see or hear them over here in the States? This, to me, is an enormous challenge in an era when much of American media is going through a historic transformation — and we’re pulling back many of our outpost reporting bureaus.
(4) Why is it important for journalists to understand the role of religion in our world today?
Religions — and, more broadly, spiritual aspirations — are key components in the fuel that drives individuals, communities, nations.
(5) What is the funniest, most ironic twist that you have seen in a religion news story lately?
I’m amazed by all of the stories of “change” — folks like Anthony Flew and Frank Schaeffer who’ve made changes in their spiritual lives — and this seems to be an occasion for milestone media coverage — when the irony is that most of us do change over time, don’t we? I think it’s ironic that news of someone changing their spiritual stance is considered something momentous.
BONUS: Do you have anything else you want to tell us about religion coverage in the mainstream news media?
The Good News for those who cover religion is that, while media forms and firms are transforming themselves and some types of media may be imploding in this new age — accurate, balanced and insightful coverage of religion and spirituality remains profoundly important — and the World Values Survey data examining countries around the world with objective, scientific measuring tools says that Americans remain overwhelmingly interested in these themes.
There’s a very bright future for us out there in media that focuses on religion and spirituality.