The 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.
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.