Click here. Click here. Smile.

Winter solstice LW2First, you click here.

Then you click here, where you will read the following by Michael Landauer of the Dallas Morning News.

Happy Solstice!

10:05 AM Fri, Dec 21, 2007

I think it’s swell that we had a story today on the Solstice event that is expected to draw 700 people tonight. I mean that. It was well done and very interesting.

But I just wonder why our newspaper never even mentioned Prestonwood’s Christmas program this year. Biggest church in the area, at least in terms of Christmas celebrations, and I can’t find a single word about their mammoth Christmas program in our library. Their Gloria program, by the way, was attended by 20,000.

I just can’t imagine why people think journalists don’t “get” religious people.

OK, go ahead. Click here, too. It’s not that hard to cover these kinds of stories.

You know, I am almost certain that there are quite a few Baptists and other evangelicals in the Dallas Morning News circulation zone.

Print Friendly

About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • Stephen A.

    As with many headlines, “Tonight’s Dallas solstice celebration fills a void for the nonreligious” missed the mark a bit, since practicing Pagans are clearly “religious” as are the others participating in the event, who are influenced by “pagan, Taoist, Buddhist and Christian elements.” These are all religious influences.

    The story does note that the participants “are mostly people who refuse to be pigeonholed by any one religion — but who long for the sense of community that an organized faith supplies.” but that also isn’t “non-religious,” per se. It’s just non-organized religion.

    I think “non-religious” an overly broad statement, though one perhaps Christians would use to describe it, from the outside looking in.

  • Brian Walden

    “They are mostly people who refuse to be pigeonholed by any one religion — but who long for the sense of community that an organized faith supplies.”

    I realize it was outside the scope of article, but I would love for this idea to be expanded and explained more. This is not a concept that only exists outside of organized religion. Many people who belong to organized religions are there for the community inspite of the doctrines they might personally disagree with.

    I was raised in this type of parish and it’s one of the big reasons why I was faithless for most of my life. I could get community from my family and friends, from the local bar, and from fans of my college’s hockey team – but it was only when I discovered that my Church offered me truth that I found my faith.

    While I realize that religion requires a balance of both doctrine and community, I’ve never been able to understand the type of people who put a very strong emphasis on community even at the expense of doctrine. It seems Ms. Martin has found a way to make this work in a radical way that is nearly completely focused on building a sense of community with nearly no doctrine. I’d love to get a better understanding of how this works and why it appeals to people. It would help me to relate to my family and friends better.

  • Jerry

    This to me is a question of what constitutes news. Is it news that millions/billions of Christians celebrate Christmas? I’d say it’s not usually news unless there is something special about the observance. So I wonder how much of the unhappiness is from the majority thinking that a minority is getting too much coverage.

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog.html Jason Pitzl-Waters

    This to me is a question of what constitutes news. Is it news that millions/billions of Christians celebrate Christmas? I’d say it’s not usually news unless there is something special about the observance. So I wonder how much of the unhappiness is from the majority thinking that a minority is getting too much coverage.

    Exactly! Lots of people showing up to a popular Christmas program isn’t “news”, but a sizable crowd of religious outsiders showing up to celebrate the Solstice is something that can often draw attention.

  • http://www.church-transfiguration.org Winnie Blair

    From today’s FoxNews.com

    Article entitled “Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments on Nativity ” December 21, 2007

    There were several references to the Immaculate Conception which were incorrectly assumed to be the conception of Jesus. It was a Roman Catholic Doctrine introduced by Pope Pius IX in 1854 concerning the conception of the Virgin Mary.

    The journalist might be excused for not knowing this but the religious leeaders who were quoted should be ashamed.

  • Stephen A.

    To pick up on what Winnie was pointing out, there were several articles a couple of days ago in which the Archbishop, during a radio interview, called the Nativity story as we know it “a legend,” admitted that the Dec 25 date of Christ’s birth was swiped from more popular pagan festivals (something all scholars know, but few Christian leaders admit) and implied that the Virgin Birth was kind of an optional belief.

    http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/main.jhtml?xml=/news/2007/12/20/nwise120.xml

    and a follow up of evangelicals a bit disturbed/confused by the comments:
    http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,317885,00.html

    One article focused in on his comments about the Virgin Birth:

    And Dr Williams says it is not important for Christians to truly believe in the virgin birth.

    “I don’t want to set it up as a kind of hurdle people have to get over before they, you know, be signed up,” he said.

    “But I think a few people, as time goes on, they get a sense, a deeper sense of what the virgin birth is about. I would say that of myself. About 30 years ago I might have said I wasn’t too fussed about it.

    “Now I see it much more as dovetailing with the rest of what I believe about the story.”

    The timing of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s comments has surprised some.

    No kidding.

    Link: http://www.abc.net.au/news/stories/2007/12/21/2124967.htm?section=world

    Full radio interview transcript: http://tinyurl.com/yteya6

    Money/funny quote: “Pass on the oxes and asses; they don’t figure very strongly in the gospels, so I can live without the ox and asses.” – Williams

    I’ve passed these articles along to the site owners (dpulliam, tmatt, etc) but I guess they are having a bit of Episcopal Wars burnout and didn’t think it was ready for posting, yet.

  • Michael

    Search on the DMN website and you get

    Your search for “Christmas” returned about 4530 results.

    and

    Your search for “Solstice” returned about 72 results.

    I doubt there’s a single person in the DMN readership who doesn’t realize it is Christmas or hasn’t read about it on the pages of the DMN.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Jerry and Jason, let’s apply your reasoning to the sports world. If millions of Americans watch the Colts win the Super Bowl, then I guess that’s not “news”, and so newspapers shouldn’t report it or should bury it. But if some locals stage an alternative to the Super Bowl and a few hundred people attend it, then it’s Page 1. Give me a break.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Clearly, the Solstice story is valid — flaws and all.

    But there is also news value in the fine points of large, successful, mainstream displays of religion, too. There is news in there — but you have to be willing to talk to these people.

    Honestly, there are not enough Mark Pinskeys to go around in the
    MSM!

    http://www.amazon.com/Jew-Among-Evangelicals-Guide-Perplexed/dp/0664230121/ref=sr_1_7?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1198274891&sr=1-7

    Right Michael?

  • http://rub-a-dub.blogspot.com Mattk

    Nice picture, but a little late for St. Lcy’s Day.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Mattk:

    Happy to be corrected. I missed the reference, in a Winter Solstice page….

  • http://www.HogwartsProfessor.com John Granger

    “[Williams] admitted that the Dec 25 date of Christ’s birth was swiped from more popular pagan festivals (something all scholars know, but few Christian leaders admit)…”

    All scholars would have to go back to school, then. That’s one of the oldest old wives tales out there.

    Merry Christmas, Archbishop!

  • Stephen A.

    And a Happy Mithras-mas/Saturnalia to you, John Granger! ;-)

    Obviously, the devil went back in time (before Christ) and founded these festivals to MOCK Christianity when it finally adopted 12/25 as the date, right?

    Of course that was some very old reasoning for other, less clear cut “borrowings.”

  • http://www.msu.edu/~chasech5 Christopher W. Chase

    Chris Bolinger wrote:

    Jerry and Jason, let’s apply your reasoning to the sports world. If millions of Americans watch the Colts win the Super Bowl, then I guess that’s not “news”, and so newspapers shouldn’t report it or should bury it.

    That’s not a correct extension of the analogy at all. The reason millions of Americans watch the Super Bowl is precisely to observe and be a part of an indeterminate eliminative process with different teams from year to year. We all know how the Christmas story proceeds and ends, the main characters don’t change, and we don’t all gather collectively in front of the television to witness it. The Super Bowl is big news precisely because it isn’t like Christmas celebrations at all. Now 20,000 people engaged in collective action in a single place may certainly be journalistically worthy, but not because those people are celebrating Christmas.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Right. And the solstice celebration is newsworthy because we don’t know what’s going to happen there, either.

    If you don’t like the sports analogy, then switch to music, or theater, or any other area where some events draw people by the thousands and others draw much smaller numbers. The fact that the latter are non-traditional does not make them inherently more newsworthy.

  • Michael

    The fact that the latter are non-traditional does not make them inherently more newsworthy.

    Actually it does. A ballet company slogging through the Nutrcracker for the 100th time isn’t newsworthy. A company doing the Nutcracker using performers in wheelchairs is inherently more newsworthy and interesting precisely because it is not the same Nutcracker slog.

    In a town so thoroughly Evangelical–as TMatt insists–people putting on an overblown Christmas pagent isn’t newsworthy because it is ultimately like the Nutcracker. Evangelical churches have been doing similar things for decades. I see potentially interesting stories about such a tradition, of course, and there are obviously good stories to write–just as there are great stories to write about all sorts of things–but that doesn’t mean the news hole insists that they be written.

    But if Dallas really is an Evangelical ground zero, as TMatt insists, then people having a Solstice celebration or honoring a Muslim holiday or even an Orthodox tradition are NEWS because they don’t happen every day on every corner of Plano.

    So to have a single story about a Solstice celebration on the Solstice is a community thoroughly saturated by Living Nativities and other Christmas pagents is a logical news decision.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Michael:

    So the goal is for the local newspaper to cover events that matter to as few readers as possible, making sure that they know that their lives are boring to the editors of their local newspapers. No way.

    The answer, as I said above, is that the solstice story IS NEWS. But there are also news stories in the events that touch the lives of the larger community, too. You simply have to know how to cover them. It takes skill and training and a willingness to do so.

    So, Michael, you are saying that newspapers should not cover Black Friday after Thanksgiving, too? No, wait, that’s business. That’s dollars and cents. That’s real life.

    A suggestion: How has the advent of the megachurch pageant affected the traditions in smaller churches? How as the massive show affected what used to happen in churches of all sizes, Christmas after Christmas?

    Next thing you know, Michael is going to tell us why the DMNs should not actually cover at least one Midnight Mass this year….

  • Michael

    So the goal is for the local newspaper to cover events that matter to as few readers as possible, making sure that they know that their lives are boring to the editors of their local newspapers. No way.

    The goal of a local newspaper is to cover events that are newsworthy and interesting. The goal is to get readers to consider things they’ve never considered before, open a door to something they don’t know much about, to tell the untold stories. It is not to always just hold up a mirror for the reader so that they can gaze at themselves, although clearly there is a role for that.

    The question is how you achieve that balance. On the Solstice, writing about the Solstice is a reasonable news decision. Just as on Christmas, there will be the inevitable story from Midnight Mass because that is a reasonable news decision.

    But if I had to choose between a story about a Solstice celebration in the buckle of the Bible belt or a story about Bible Belt Megachurch doing their 17th annual Living Nativity, it’s a reasonable news decision to cover the news because it is going to be “new” and “news” to many readers. There’s a reason we don’t call it “olds.”

    There is quite certainly an important place for covering the “every day” and “around the corner” and newspapers have to worry about failing to cover segments of their potential readership. Which means balancing coverage of the majority–suburban Evangelicals in Plano and McKinney, according to Tmatt–with coverage of those whose stories are rarely told–like those who celebrate the Solstice.

    So, Michael, you are saying that newspapers should not cover Black Friday after Thanksgiving, too?

    I’d argue it isn’t newsworthy and thousands of journalists in American would be thrilled not have to cover this cliche’d event. That challenge is making the story interesting or new, but Black Friday–as an event–isn’t newsworthy.

    How has the advent of the megachurch pageant affected the traditions in smaller churches? How as the massive show affected what used to happen in churches of all sizes, Christmas after Christmas?

    As I said, there are surely plenty of interesting stories about such a pagent. But the pagent, itself, isn’t newsworthy on its own. A solstice celebration is newsworthy on its own. That doesn’t mean that we should enourage creative reporting and writing, which would uncover the great untold stories in a megachurch Living Nativity beyond what they do with the camels.

    But on a day-to-day deadline story level, the Sostice celebration is an interesting story that can be covered as an event and on deadline while uncovering an untold story. The Megachurch Living Nativity–which will take place in 30 other place in the Dallas region that night–isn’t the same kind of story.

    Michael is going to tell us why the DMNs should not actually cover at least one Midnight Mass this year. . ..

    Quite certainly, that story will be written. As it should. Because it is Christmas.

  • Stephen A.

    First, I love the fact that the Solstice was covered.

    That said, I do think we’ve hit on something important in the news business here: that the news seeks out, and celebrates, Difference, sometimes simply for the sake of different-ness and frequently, for shock value.

    Whether it’s healthy to celebrate ONLY that which divides us, or focus solely on the “unique” and sometimes bizarre, is a great question, though admittedly it’s a question of overarching philosophy, above and beyond this one article. Still, it obviously affects story choices every day.

    Focusing solely on a small segment of a newspaper’s readership is a dangerous proposition, financially. It’s great that papers want to ensure that minorities, including minority religions, are represented – and I’m guessing that’s the motivation, in part, for this story and many others like it. But to ignore the majority to the point of absurdity (hypothetically, by not covering Christmas celebrations, or giving scant attention to them) is risky, and I expect it’s had a role to play in the crashing readership figures for newspapers.

  • MarkAA

    I am a newspaper editor, and reader.

    Even in a time of shrinking newsroom resources, there’s enough newshole and available reporter time, especially in the holiday doldrums, to write all the stories mentioned here. What ticks newspaper readers — and newspaper buyers — off is seeing oddball, quirky stories get major play and prominent placement, while events they care about or attend get back pages or nothing. It tells readers the newspaper doesn’t care about them and that the newspaper has an agenda — promoting the niche practices at the expense of tradition or widely held beliefs. Many millions of people are Christian in this country, and they want to see their beliefs and traditions and practices reflected in publications in a smart and engaging way. Too many reporters approach traditional, annual event reporting in a boring way, too. It is just no mystery whatever why readership drops and drops and drops; just ignore people’s real lives and what’s important to them — and often enough remind them that it’s boring/old/unnecessary, and they’ll find something else to do with their time than read your publication.

    This probably goes double for the major newsmagazines, with their twice-annual stick-in-the-eye religion stories around Christmas and Easter trotting out whatever “new” heresy or weird ideas (“scholarship”) they can find to undermine traditional Christianity on the cover. Most of my very large family is traditionally Christian and just abhors the Time/Newsweek weirdo articles that appear at religious high holiday time … the damage those pubs do to their reputations in our households because of those few issues lasts a very, very long time. Insult our Savior and our beliefs over and over, and we definitely find other things to do with our time and money. And we’re not mouth-breathing cretins; we’re exactly the kind of readers the advertisers of news publications want.

    End of rant.

  • Chris Bolinger

    The goal of a local newspaper is to cover events that are newsworthy and interesting. The goal is to get readers to consider things they’ve never considered before, open a door to something they don’t know much about, to tell the untold stories.

    The primary goal of a local newspaper is to sell papers and sell advertising. It’s a business. Adopting an elitist attitude about what is newsworthy, especially in the Dallas area, is a good way to alienate many potential readers and hurt the business.

    It is not to always just hold up a mirror for the reader so that they can gaze at themselves, although clearly there is a role for that.

    I never said that it was. But a local newspaper — or any newspaper, for that matter — has to understand its prospective customers. The failure to do so is bad business. Period. Want to educate readers on something offbeat or non-traditional? That’s cool. Want to do that to the exclusion of covering the traditional because you deem that the traditional isn’t newsworthy? That’s a bad business decision.

  • Chris Bolinger

    I guess I should have read #19 before posting. :-)

  • Christopher W. Chase

    Chris Bolinger wrote:

    Right. And the solstice celebration is newsworthy because we don’t know what’s going to happen there, either.

    No one I saw here argued that it was inherently newsworthy for that reason. The Solstice celebrations are newsworthy if they are fairly new events that have been designed to appeal to either a new audience or one that had been previously underserved and found to exist. And in fact, since Solstice celebrations of this kind are fairly new and differ markedly in how they are ritually designed, we actually don’t know how its going to proceed. That is part of the newsworthiness as well–how do people decide to mark an event that has been constantly recurring but not in such a way that duplicates other celebrations such as Hanukkah, Christmas, Kwannza, or other such celebrations? These are important questions that intelligent readers will find interesting.

    As for selling papers and reaching their target audiences, it is a recurrent complaint that older media are losing their grip on audiences because they focus on “niche” practices, as if the practices of the “silent majority” (as if such a chimerical thing actually exists) are somehow not a “niche” of their own. And without such data this is really just a psuedo-facade for conservative political frustration at changes in culture and demographics in this country. With growing numbers and types of people having access to media in ways they have not traditionally have, it is understandable why newspapers might try to reach a wide variety of demographics. The Lansing State Journal, as Get Religion has pointed out, has already learned this lesson about “Baby Boomers” (an eternally lucrative advertising demographic) and what religion scholar Wade Clark Roof calles “spiritual seekers.”

  • http://religion.beloblog.com/ Jeffrey Weiss

    I’m the guy who wrote the Solstice story. Here’s the comment I left on Michael Landauer’s post:

    Michael, with all due respect, this is a newspaper (or newspaper website) and not a church bulletin. And that means we write about things that are news. The Prestonwood celebration — which has been mentioned many times in our pages, btw — is going to be about the same this year as the year before and the year before and the year before. It is a service that most of our readers would find utterly familiar, whether or not they attend that particular church. Yeah, it’s a major pageant, which is why (check the library again) we have noted it many times.

    OTOH, the solstice celebration is both relatively unfamiliar to most of our readers and part of a larger religious/spiritual context that is also probably not familiar to our readers. It’s different this year than in years past.In short, it’s news. And that’s why it belongs in a newspaper.

    And frankly, I expect better from my own peers than the canard that journalists don’t “get” religion. I would ask in turn whether you “get” news?

  • Chris Bolinger

    Newspapers are failing, Christopher, because they don’t understand or respect their prospective customers. Most businesses live by the motto “the customer is always right” and cherish their customers. Not newspapers, which are bastions of arrogant elitists who look down their noses at prospective customers and make conscious decisions to alienate the majority in the name of “educating” them.

  • Chris Bolinger

    A ballet company slogging through the Nutrcracker for the 100th time isn’t newsworthy.

    I’ve never witnessed a ballet company “slog” through any performance. Your comment shows an utter lack of appreciation for what it takes to perform a challenging piece, even if you have performed that piece many times. Good performers know that many in the audience are seeing the piece for the first and possibly only time.

    …people putting on an overblown Christmas pagent isn’t newsworthy because it is ultimately like the Nutcracker.

    I love the arrogant “overblown”.

    Evangelical churches have been doing similar things for decades.

    Clearly, it’s beneath you, Michael, to write about such a thing. And you deem that it is not newsworthy because it is common and trite and has been done a thousand times. So what if it is attended by hundreds or thousands of people? So what if the performers spent months preparing? So what if there are some interesting human interest stories among the performers? Nah, there’s nothing newsworthy there. That’s what I mean about writers and editors being completely out of touch with most of their potential readers.

    Do you feel the same way about the many, many performances of “Messiah” every December? Been there, done that, right? Nothing newsworthy there. Ah, but if someone performs something unusual, then we need to cover that. That’s news.

    I was in a group of singers and dancers who performed a choreographed “Messiah” in D.C.’s Constitution Hall twice every December. Our two performances drew 6,000-7,000 people every year. Soloists from the NY Met volunteered to join us. That same all-volunteer group did an opera on the life of Christ in the Bolshoi Theater — yes, the one in Moscow, folks — in 1993. And how much coverage did that wonderful hometown newspaper, The Washington Post, give us? Take a wild guess.

    Nothing newsworthy there. Just a group slogging through “Messiah” for the 100th time.

  • Michael

    Do you feel the same way about the many, many performances of “Messiah” every December? Been there, done that, right? Nothing newsworthy there.

    Having sung the Messiah easily 40 times in performance, I’d say there’s nothing terribly newsworhty about another performance of this important work. That’s why reviewers write reviews of noteworthy performance, but don’t treat them as news stories.

    A good writer can craft a great feature story about 2000 people performing the Messiah or really any performance, but a feature story is different from a deadline-driven, news story.

    As Jeffrey Weiss so strongly points out, newspapers are about news and are not church bulletins or art league newsletters. If a stretched newspaper staff is going to spend time writing about an event, it should be something newsworthy and not something that has been done 50 times before.

    Bravo to Jeffrey for pointing that out to the non-news side of his own paper.

  • Chris Bolinger

    If newspapers are about “news” only, then they should not contain any feature stories. If there is room for feature stories — and, clearly, there is — then the newspaper should consider the value of a feature story on a group that performs a traditional Christmas event that attracts thousands of attendees, or on a traditional event with a twist (such as the only choreographed production of “Messiah” in the metropolitan area), or on an event that attracts participants or attendees from a thousand miles away.

    The value of such a feature story then should be compared to the value of a news story such as the one on the Solstice celebration. If there is space for both, then both can run. If there is space only for one, then the one that provides the most value to readers should be run.

    I understand the argument that every performance of “Messiah”, every Christmas pageant, and every other traditional Christmas event is not a “news” item. But that is not a sufficient argument for ignoring the event altogether…unless you want to ban all feature stories from newspapers.

    Bottom line: Many times, writers and editors select the stories that appeal to them.

  • suzan

    “If there is space only for one, then the one that provides the most value to readers should be run.”

    Because it appeals to the majority? The article was one out of many others through out the season.

  • Chris Bolinger

    Yes, Suzan, priority should be given to the story that appeals to the most readers. Readers are, after all, a newspaper’s customers.


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X