So, does LA need a ‘conservative’ newspaper or not?

Time for a quick trip into tmatt’s infamous GetReligion file of guilt.

You just know that plenty of GetReligion readers are going to send us emails about an essay — in this case, from The Week — that runs with the following headline:

Why newspapers need to hire more Christians

For starters, it would help rebut conservative concerns about media bias

This essay by Matt K. Lewis opened with a reference to the recent death of one of the most talented Christians who has ever worked in the hallowed environment of The New York Times — the great John McCandlish Phillips (click here for my recent Scripps Howard column on this reporter-turned-preacher). Here’s the key transition material in the Lewis essay:

Conservatives have long lamented our East Coast secular media, charging that its worldview bias (even more than its overt political bias) skews America’s information supply. Too often, Christians feel like they’re cast as the type of fringe characters one might associate with the bar scene from Star Wars. …

This longstanding lack of diversity in the newsroom is confirmed by the Times’ McCandlish Phillips obituary, which noted that “there were [no other evangelical Christians working at the Times] when he joined the paper.”

That was unfortunate. Media outlets who want to understand America should at least have a few journalists hanging around who share — or at least, aren’t hostile to — the Christian faith.

Lewis later deals with the fact that many newsrooms do contain their share of believers, often professionals whose religious views are quite progressive/liberal who work on the opinion side of the newspaper business. That’s good, but it almost misses the point.

The key issue being discussed here is actually the need for intellectual and cultural diversity and, quite frankly, tolerance in many major newsrooms when it comes to traditional forms of major religions such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Here, once again, is a key passage from the highly symbolic — especially in light of future events (hello Bill Keller) — 2005 self-study at The New York Times entitled “Preserving Our Readers’ Trust.”

Our paper’s commitment to a diversity of gender, race and ethnicity is nonnegotiable. We should pursue the same diversity in other dimensions of life, and for the same reason — to ensure that a broad range of viewpoints is at the table when we decide what to write about and how to present it. The executive editor should assign this goal to everyone who has a hand in recruiting.

We should take pains to create a climate in which staff members feel free to propose or criticize coverage from vantage points that lie outside the perceived newsroom consensus (liberal/conservative, religious/secular, urban/suburban/rural, elitist/white collar/blue collar). …

Too often we label whole groups from a perspective that uncritically accepts a stereotype or unfairly marginalizes them. As one reporter put it, words like moderate or centrist “inevitably incorporate a judgment about which views are sensible and which are extreme.” We often apply “religious fundamentalists,” another loaded term, to political activists who would describe themselves as Christian conservatives.

Now, let me stress that longtime GetReligion readers will know that I think, based on my experiences in mainstream newsrooms, that there are fine reporters doing accurate, balanced reporting on religious and cultural issues who are not believers of any kind. That’s not the point of the Times review material. The point is that culturally and intellectually diverse newsrooms do a better job covering modern America than newsrooms that are not as diverse.

At the same time, on the issue of Christians in the newsroom, my position is the same as that of Phillips. Bias issues exist, but it would also help if there were more religious believers who had the skills and the guts to work in elite newsrooms, which are not environments that embrace those with thin skins. We are dealing, as I have said many times, with a blind spot that has two sides. All too often, mainstream journalists do not respect the valid, First Amendment role that religious liberty plays in American life. At the same time, far too many religious believers do not respect the valid, First Amendment role played by the press.

Now, I said all of that to note this recent article at The Daily Beast about the potential sale of The Los Angeles Times to everybody’s favorite billionaire libertarian brothers, David and Charles Koch. I’m talking about the one that ran under the headline, “Could There Be A Conservative LA Times?

Megan McArdle opens by noting:

David and Charles Koch, the billionaire brothers who fund a number of libertarian causes, are rumored to be interested in buying the Tribune Group, which includes the LA Times. (Full disclosure: my husband received a one-year fellowship from the Charles Koch Foundation, and works for Reason Magazine, which I believe receives some funding from David Koch.) As you can imagine, this has stirred up quite a bit of anxiety in some quarters. Steve Pearlstein, the Washington Post’s liberal business columnist, has suggested that perhaps the LA Times staff should threaten to quit if the Kochs buy the paper.

But regardless of labor action, my former colleague, Garance Franke-Ruta, writes that the Kochs effort is doomed. Newspapers are liberal because their audience is liberal, she says. And they’re staffed by the people who live in cities, who are also liberal.

A friend who is (1) not liberal and (2) not in the news business asks me what I think of this. Is it really impossible to imagine a conservative newspaper?

Of course, there are conservative newspapers, she adds. At least, there are newspapers that have conservative editorial pages.

But even then — as the liberal writer Eric Alterman noted in his classic “What Liberal Media? The Truth About Bias and the News” — the most divisive issues in news coverage are often not linked to politics, strictly defined. The hot-button issues in newsrooms are linked to culture and, yes, religion. That’s where the vast majority of journalists skew hard left.

And the Koch brothers? McArdle adds:

… While the urban demographic does skew liberal, the bright red line for most of that demographic is social conservatism, not free-marketeers. And the Kochs are not, as far as I know, much interested in social conservatism. You certainly don’t fund a magazine like Reason if you’re against gay marriage and for the War on Drugs.

Don’t get me wrong: most urbanites are liberalish on government spending, too. But they’re not offended by it, the way they are by, say, vocal pro-lifers.

Now, GetReligion readers, isn’t this the theme that emerges over and over in controversies about journalism these days? When discussing whether today’s mainstream press is capable of providing accurate, fair, balanced coverage, don’t the debates usually center on precisely these kinds of issues?

The bottom line, for me, is that traditional religious views on doctrine and morality are not, in an of themselves, beliefs that can easily be labeled — in POLITICAL terms — “liberal” and “conservative.” Once upon a time, there were plenty of pro-life Democrats, even politically liberal ones, in American life and in Congress. Is it possible to pin an accurate political label on the views of the Catholic Church? Of Global South Anglicans? Of Orthodox Jews? Of African-American Baptists? Of Latino Pentecostals?

The issue isn’t whether American needs “conservative” newspapers. The issue is whether America needs, yea deserves, newspapers that are committed to attempting accurate, fair, balanced coverage of life in this very diverse nation.

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.

  • Steve Bauer

    You certainly don’t fund a magazine like Reason if you’re against gay marriage and for the War on Drugs.
    This, it seems to me says it all about the media’s blind spot. McArdle cannot conceive of a “conservative” stance in social issues that can be considered “reasonable”.

  • Jerry

    That newspaper train has left the station. We would not get a newspaper except that my wife does not like to use a tablet to get her comics and news at breakfast.

    The question is to find and support a news delivery mechanism that instantiates virtues for good reporting.

  • dalea

    There already is a conservative daily paper in LA, the Daily News. It appears outside my place every morningwith its right of center coverage and editorials. The focus is more on local news, with a number of edition tied to areas: San Fernando Valley, South Bay, Central LA etc. The paper has become very thin over the last few years, but still is a conservative (in California terms) paper.

  • Jay2

    Mmmmm… If you want more diversity in the workplace, you don’t just need to change the work place, you need to change journalism at the educational level. What makes it so that there appear to be so few socially conservative reporters and so many socially liberal reporters? I believe that people tend to gravitate towards places that they feel welcome and accepted. If a socially conservative student feels belittled because they hold to certain religious views, then that student may very well decide to look elsewhere for a degree. Why work in a field where you believe you’re often going to be viewed as, welll… Foolish? I think that’s one of a couple of reasons why u see such a high percentage of people within the sciences that don’t believe in God. The attitude of professors/teachers makes religious believers turn away because they feel rejected and draws in skeptics because they feel more welcome and accepted than in other fields. Just my hypothesis. U have to address first why there just aren’t as many conservatives journalists as their are liberals. Maybe I’m wrong, but those are my thoughts on diversity within journalism as far as the workplace is concerned. I believe you’ve said u teach journalism Tmatt. Don’t know what your thoughts are on whether or not the atmosphere within the educational setting might scare away some more socially conservative individuals.

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  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    Jay2 strikes me as hitting the nail on the head. Many journalism schools I have read about– like the influential Columbia School of Journalism–are hot houses for creating liberal propagandists. And if one survives college with one’s own religious beliefs and values intact, then one has to face being employed in a place where many of your co-workers and bosses will be treating you as some sort of weird creation right out of Jurassic Park. Who needs that??? Better to find a job in some other sort of venue–like public relations spokesperson for some prominent person you respect.

  • James Kabala

    Steve Bauer: Reason is an explicitly libertarian magazine. McArdle is referring to their known stances (especially on drugs), not their name (granted, they chose that name for a reason, but that is not her fault).

  • Steve Bauer

    My bad. I read “like Reason” as “named Reason”. I apologize for not paying closer attention.


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