Much praise should be given to Amanda Greene of The Star-News in Wilmington, N.C., for turning what could have been a few boring press release re-writes into an interesting feature story. The key to the story is that it gives readers a sense for how religion has influenced the area’s history.
How many reporters would get excited about a local church’s sesquicentennial celebration? What if there were four of them? Greene took the time to find out that this was anything but a coincidence:
The short answer: the Revival of 1858.
“The Panic of 1857 sent everyone into a tailspin of economic downturn and a national depression, and everyone went back to church,” said Walt Conser, professor of philosophy and religion at the University of North Carolina Wilmington. He devoted part of a chapter in his book, Coat of Many Colors, to the Revival. “By 1858, there was an economic upturn where building churches was possible again,” he said. (Churches weren’t the only major structures being built in Wilmington in 1858. Thlian Hall is celebrating its 150th anniversary this year as well.)
But the answer to the 1858 church building boom also involved socioeconomic and political pressures from the impending racial divisions in the country. And many times, churches split as a result of those conflicts, Conser said.
In this era of the 30-minute news cycle and instant world-wide communication, it seems odd that local news could be explained by events that occurred 150 years ago. However, most local news stories have an angle that goes back at least a generation. This can be particularly true in religion. Part of the challenge in finding these angles is that the reporter must know who to talk to, which is the case here, or the reporter is experienced enough in the beat to simply have the institutional knowledge.
Congratulations to Greene for successfully educating the newspaper’s readers on how history has influenced their lives today.