Close to home: Those Godbeat changes hit tmatt

What he said:

“I’m glad to hear that Scripps Howard still as a religion writer on its staff. Seriously, I mean it’s a nice thing that, you know, that still exists in the media.”

– Tom Hanks, at a press conference in 2009

For those who have not heard the news elsewhere, out in the Twitter-verse for example, there was a rather stunning announcement made yesterday that the Scripps Howard News Service is shutting down.

That was the first domino.

In my case, the second domino to fall was that the editors at the McClatchy-Tribune wire, which inherited the Scripps costumer list, did not pick up my “On Religion” column for syndication. This should lead to a third domino. If the weekly “On Religion” no longer exists, then it cannot be picked up by the 600 or so small- and medium-sized newspapers in the Newspaper Enterprise Association.

Here’s a clip from the all-to-familiar news obit, care of Bloomberg:

Scripps Howard News Service, which fed syndicated stories to papers across the U.S. since World War I, plans to shut down, becoming the latest symbol of readers’ shift away from print media. …

The Scripps Howard News Service, founded in 1917, supplied newspaper clients with Washington coverage and news from around the world, as well as photos, commentary and editorial cartoons. The operation was a remnant of a once-thriving era of wire services and news agencies, when an insatiable newspaper industry had numerous publications in every city and multiple editions per day. In an age when Internet news is typically free, newspaper consolidation, declining advertising sales and shrinking circulation have crimped demand for wire copy.

Internet news is free, sort of. However, it still costs money to produce real, live news and information.

If you follow the advertising crisis and its side effects, you know that there is great irony in all of this.

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Grossman’s blog is back: Faith & Reason 2.0 at RNS

One of the first signs that the religion beat was in trouble at USA Today was the decision to shutter veteran scribe Cathy Grossman’s “Faith & Reason” weblog.

Using a question-and-answer format — Grossman asked a news-related questions and readers would chime in — it allowed her to put quite a bit of interesting material into play for people who wanted more than a few religion headlines in the regular news pages. Day after day, Grossman used the blog to point readers toward interesting links and information sources.

Then it vanished.

Then Grossman left USA Today, one of many veterans on the beat who have been on the move in the past year or two.

Now the blog is back, as part of her duties at Religion News Service. I saw a link on Twitter, commented on one of her early posts, and Grossman dropped me a line or two, adding this background.

When I accepted the USA TODAY buyout offer in May, RNS folks and I began discussing the right role for me at Religion News Service. High on all our lists was to revive Faith & Reason — my news-based blog designed to build a community of thoughtful, civil (mostly) readers.

I joined RNS in mid-September and took six weeks to get my footing as senior national correspondent. Covering news is my first love. But if you know me, you know I love questions — particularly those with more than one answer. The timing was right to reboot.

I hope you, the GR staff, and, of course, your readers, will subscribe, comment, react, club me now and then (what¹s life without a smart critique from peers?!)

For more info, check out the post that announced the Faith & Reason 2.0 project.

The first question?

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Hey journalists: Please look up ‘fetus’ in a dictionary

Once again, let us return to the dictionary and ponder why some journalists in our age are having trouble using a basic scientific term that has become all too common in our news.

The word of the day is “fetus.” Look it up and you’ll find the following information or something close to it:

fe·tus … pl. fe·tus·es

… 2. In humans, the unborn young from the end of the eighth week after conception to the moment of birth, as distinguished from the earlier embryo.

Now, GetReligion readers may recall that the word “fetus” became rather controversial during the trial of the infamous Dr. Kermit Gosnell. At the heart of that trial were debates about the accuracy of allegations made by Gosnell’s coworkers that he regularly delivered late-term “fetuses” (as many news reports said) alive and then killed them.

Of course, there’s the journalism issue — clear as day. Gosnell was not killing “fetuses,” because these children had already been delivered. With the snip of his scissors, he was killing, one after another, newborn babies. What part of “to the moment of birth” is so hard for some editors and reporters to grasp?

Clearly, language used in press reports was being shaped by larger debates about law, abortion, morality, religion and science. Religion? Yes. More on that in a minute.

I thought this mainstream-media argument ended with the Gosnell trial, when The New York Times tweaked its published reports on the trial.

Apparently not, as the still Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway recently tweeted:

And what did that language look like in the Associated Press report?

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Is it time for the old Mainline churches to shed that label?

BOBBY ASKS:

Who are the “Mainline” Protestants today?

DOUGLAS LIKEWISE ASKS:

(Paraphrasing) What do we make of proposals for “Mainline” Protestants to drop that label for themselves? And where does that leave me, an “evangelical” who remains in the Episcopal Church “as a grain of sand in the oyster”?

THE GUY ANSWERS:

The dictionary definition of “mainline” signals mainstream prestige, so “Mainline” Protestantism’s decline over recent decades could mean this designation has long since outlived its usefulness. In his email, Douglas considers it “adjectival mayhem.”

The discussion has been renewed by the Christian Century magazine, often considered the bible of the Mainline or at least of the Mainline Left, such that Elesha Coffman’s new history is titled “The Christian Century and the Rise of Mainline Protestantism” (from the excellent Oxford University Press). The book provoked a piece for the “Century” by Carol Howard Merritt urging fellow “progressives” to rebrand: “It’s time to discard that tired label that ties us too closely with a particular race and class. It’s time to call forth another name.” Gary Dorrien of Union Theological Seminary agreed via the First Things journal that the Mainline was “unfortunately named” and “liberal” or “ecumenical” would be “slightly better” adjectives.

Some context: The inexorable shrinkage among Mainline Protestant churches since the 1960s — and simultaneous growth among non-Mainliners, though lately plateauing in some cases — is a sweeping trend that has reshaped American religion. It ranks in significance with the large influx of immigrant Asians and Hispanics. The origins of the commonly used Mainline label are obscure (anyone have information on that?). But it certainly raises thoughts of suburban Philadelphia and “Establishment” standing.

The Guy’s definition: The predominantly white, long-existing, and relatively affluent U.S. Protestant denominations with pluralistic theology, which are easily categorized by ecumenical affiliations with the National Council of Churches and World Council of Churches (alongside major African-American and Orthodox denominations).

We’re talking about (in order of size) the United Methodist Church, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, Presbyterian Church (USA), Episcopal Church, American Baptist Churches, United Church of Christ, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and several smaller bodies often called the “Seven Sisters.” Together they remain an important bloc with 20 million adherents, but that compares with 30 million at the end of the 1960s, an unprecedented slump as memberships both declined and aged.

Meanwhile, these groups generally floated leftward, in doctrine, politics and culture.

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Readers get hot and bothered about ‘Sin Burger’ reports

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GetReligion is almost a decade old and, from the very beginning, many readers have struggled to understand a very basic fact about this blog. To state the matter bluntly, many readers think this is a religion blog.

Sorry, but this isn’t a religion blog and it isn’t a religion-news blog, either. GetReligion is what it is. This is a blog about the mainstream news media’s efforts — good and bad — to cover religion news.

Because of this misunderstanding, readers often send us stories and they want to know what we think about the news event or trend described in the story. Most of the time, this happens when a news story describes something that readers find outrageous, heretical, stupid or all of the above.

Thus, it didn’t take long for your GetReligionistas to receive emails asking us to comment about a particular hamburger being served at an edgy or outrageous joint up in Chicago.

A news story about a hamburger?

Sigh. This Forbes story was one of the better examples of the coverage, and here is how it starts off:

In Chicago, Kuma’s Corner, a heavy metal-themed beers-and-burgers restaurant, has ignited a debate over a burger that unites beef and the Eucharist.

The hamburger of the month is the Ghost, named for a Swedish metal band known as Ghost or Ghost B.C., the lead singer of which wears a Roman Catholic cardinal’s robe on stage. The burger features a 10-ounce beef patty accompanied by slow-braised goat, a “Ghost chile aioli,” white cheddar cheese, a pretzel bun, a red wine reduction, and an unconsecrated communion wafer.

Yes, you read that right. And the management claims that this hamburger is some kind of act of devotion:

The restaurant’s Facebook announcement deems the burger in “the spirit of our undying reverence for the lord and all things holy” and “a fitting tribute to the supreme blasphemous activities carried out by the band itself,” describing the red wine reduction as “(the blood of christ)” and the communion wafer as “(the body of christ).” The call to action: “Come pay your respects!” The cost: $17.

Now, as you would imagine, some readers seemed anxious for your GetReligionistas to be outraged and to strongly condemn this rather stupid PR stunt.

The problem, of course, was that most of the coverage of this alleged news event was rather pedestrian. The MEDIA COVERAGE was rather ordinary — not too hot, not too cold. Reporters described the restaurant. Reporters described people being outraged by this product. It was pretty clear that this stunt was meant to outrageous. Surf around in this Google News search file and you’ll see what I mean.

Now, here is the journalistic key to this situation.

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WWROD? Hang out with the GetReligionistas team

Ask any religion-news professional to list the top reporters on the beat in the late 20th Century and Richard Ostling will be right near the top.

That’s why, very early in the history of this blog, your GetReligionistas started suggesting that — when facing tough issues about how to cover religion in an accurate and balanced manner — journalists should ask this not-so-simple question: What Would Richard Ostling Do?

For newcomers to this terrain, Ostling was the religion-beat pro at Time magaizne, back in the days when it was a gold standard in weekly hard-news reporting at the national and especially global levels. From there, he went to the top religion slot at the Associated Press. He is retired now, but still active in religion-news circles as a writer and consultant.

Last fall, Ostling started writing a Patheos blog called “Religion Q and A” and he explained his goals like this:

Most features on Patheos are opinionated, faith-specific (Buddhist, Catholic, Pagan) … whereas mine will be non-partisan and journalistic in approach and cover wide-ranging topics.

We’ll be asking folks in cyberspace to send in questions regarding any and all faiths, any Scriptures, current church-state and religion-politics issues, moral quandaries and other such puzzlements and curiosities. If I’m able, I’ll post an answer with others then welcome others to add comments.

From the beginning, there has been quite a bit of GetReligion-esque material at Ostling’s blog — a trend that he welcomed and we welcomed.

Stop and think about it. It’s understandable that lots of people have lots of questions about topics they keep seeing in religion-news coverage. Thus, we have linked to quite a few Ostling posts here at GetReligion.

And now there will be more.

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So long, GetReligion

It was about eight years ago exactly when I surprised Terry Mattingly by shouting his name as I encountered him on the street. His visage was familiar to me because I’d grown up reading him in “the Rocky” — the Rocky Mountain News of Denver, Colorado. My parents had always encouraged my siblings and me to read the newspapers and I devoured both the Denver Post and the Rocky Mountain News every day. Front page to last page. I was interested in journalism from a young age, starting a newspaper at my elementary school and eventually editing the Yearbook at my high school in my junior and my senior year.

But for some odd reason, I never thought of journalism as an actual way to earn a living. I studied economics and headed into a different career field. But all of my journalist friends were having so much fun, even if they didn’t make a lot of money. I asked for advice and then took the plunge, somehow faking good enough Spanish-language skills to get a job at Radio & Records (and its sister publication Radio y Musica). One job led to another and I was living the dream — covering the federal bureaucracy on the waste, fraud and mismanagement beat for a Gannett publication.

I wanted to be writing about things that really mattered, though. Mostly that meant baseball, but also economics. And religion. Like most people, I’m religious. And while I loved reading a good news story about religion, I couldn’t believe how poorly much of the media covered religion news. The laughable mistakes, the complete distortion of doctrine, the hostility. So when GetReligion launched in 2004 or so, I was an early reader. I learned so much. It helped me develop a critical eye — an important first step to becoming a good writer.

By the time I chased Terry Mattingly down the street in 2005, I had begun writing about religion in my freelance time. I found that editors were actually quite anxious to pay people to write reported pieces on news and responded well to informed writers.

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#RNA2013: Best in religion reporting honored

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As I mentioned in a recent post, I planned to attend last week’s Religion Newswriters Association national conference in Austin, Texas.

Alas, some family circumstances (to which my bride and fellow GetReligionista Tamie Ross alluded in her introductory post) prompted me to cancel at the last minute.

I hated to miss the conference but followed it from afar via the Twitter hashtag #RNA2013. Just a few of the interesting tweets:

 

 

 

 


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