The media get religion . . . literally?

cov_109357The aim of this web site is to help media professionals “get religion.” Well, journalism professor Stephen Bates, writing in Slate, also thinks media professionals need to get religion. But he means something else entirely.

He notes that media experts have suggested that newspapers become non-profits or that they should start charging fees for online content. But Bates has a different idea:

If the press really wants to secure its future, here’s a modest proposal: It ought to declare itself a religion. The tax benefits, as the accountants say, would be substantial–and there would be other advantages, too.

Bates wonders if declaring as a religion would help keep reporters out of jail. He says the newspaper business has religious discipline (kicking out plagiarists and fabulists), rituals (editorial-board meetings), mottos (“All the News That’s Fit To Print”), and tenets to guide one’s daily existence (ethics codes that bar reporters from wearing campaign buttons or seeking public office). He says that if they became a religion, newspapers could simply instruct readers to tithe:

More broadly, as New York University’s Jay Rosen points out (and noted earlier), American journalism itself constitutes a sort of religion, “a belief system and meaning-making kit that is shared across editorial cultures in mainstream newsrooms.” What qualifies as news reflects an idealized notion of democracy. Public corruption brings forth righteous wrath from the press’s pulpit. Reporters strive to “evoke indignation at the violation of social values,” media scholars James S. Ettema and Theodore L. Glasser observe in their book “Custodians of Conscience“–as, they add, the prophet Jeremiah did.

Just as the Puritans vowed to purify the Church of England, journalists seek to purify the country’s institutions of self-government. “Democracy,” Philadelphia Evening Bulletin editor Fred Fuller Shedd declared in 1931, “functions largely through the efficient service of the newspaper”–no great leap from “No one comes to the Father except through me.” The Scripps Newspapers’ motto admonishes, “Give Light and the People Will Find Their Own Way.” See also John 8:12: “I am the light of the world.”

It shouldn’t be that hard to reposition the press as a church. It’s already halfway there.

Not quite what Terry & Co. had in mind when they named the site.

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  • Mike Hickerson

    A key caveat, though: if a newspaper declared itself a religion, current U.S. law would not allow it to endorse political candidates.

  • Jerry

    To steal a sentence from a notable TV show:

    No one ever expects the GetReligion inquisition.

  • Dave

    A rich man looks around and says, “Is this all there is?”

    A poor man looks around and says, “Is there anything for me?”

    Religion provides answers to both questions. No newspaper can.

  • Will Sharp

    Hey Mollie,

    I was wondering if you could be so kind as to redirect my next comment to the now-closed comment section of your 12/08/08 post, “Sola scriptura minus the scriptura.” I am posting my comment for That post under This specific post because I feel enough time has passed since This specific post was posted that I am not getting in the way of a normal comment flow; if there is any way possible that the following comment (the 400 word one I’m about to post after this one) could be posted on that 12/08/08 comment page, I would be greatly indebted to you and would gladly take you and your loved ones out to a steak dinner if you ever find yourself in Los Angeles.

    Thanks for any help you can give,

    Will Sharp

  • Will Sharp


    No matter how universal a concept seems – in this case, the heads of familial union need to be gender-opposite – there will always be fringes of society who do not fit the definition, and to make one absolute law that marginalizes these people because of a widely-applicable conception of humanity is unfair. The Christian argument that “marriage is built on the biological differences between men and women” is specific to a long-passed time; how sure can we be, at this point in human evolution, what those biological differences are? Reader Paul (comment #16) argues that men and women are hardwired for different things, but take a look at the large groups of people, men and women, who do not in any way fit a description of those hard wirings: the women who have never felt an inkling of child-rearing instincts, the men who have never felt the need to instinctually protect their territory. I believe that we have evolved, or are evolving, past these natures that bound our concepts of what each gender is “supposed” to do or accomplish simply because of gender assignment. Given that there are humans that exist whose psychologies and biologies differ from the whole “penis goes into vagina” idea, one cannot use the argument, “Men are meant for this, women are meant for something else.” The fact that this other human psyche exists makes it, by definition, completely natural. That is the only prerequisite for something to be deemed “Natural”: it exists! Existence equals naturalness. And because it is completely natural, at this point in human history, for a man to not be brutally strong and for a woman to not be compassionately mother-like, but for those two people to switch intuitions and roles, one cannot say that marriage must be between “a man” and “a woman,” because there is no such thing.

    Saying that marriage must be a heterosexual union in order for it to be a strong societal foundation also ignores the millions of cases of poorly-matched heterosexual marriages in the United States, the ones that result in societal ills like household violence or maladjusted children. To argue that two thoughtful, compassionate men or two wise, loving women could not raise children in a better way than a thoughtless, terrible man and his irresponsible wife, simply because of sexual preferences, is a blind and ignorant way to analyze human relationships.