So what we have here is a video of New York Times columnist Ross Douthat speaking to a gathering at the Annenberg School for Communciation & Journalism. The remarks are part of a conversation about coverage of religion news in the mainstream press with scholar, and former Godbeat professional, Diane Winston who now holds an endowed chair of media and religion at that academic center of power.
The message for that day can be summed up with that famous quotation from the movie “Cool Hand Luke.” In other words, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”
Personally, I like to say that we are dealing with a blind spot that has two sides. Basically, the two sides of the First Amendment — religion and the press — simply do not respect one another. That lack of respect flows both ways.
In other words, far too many journalists do not “get religion.”
However, one could also have a website for religious leaders with the URL, “GetJournalism.org.”
Trust me on that. I briefly taught in a seminary and I have been around religious leaders of various kinds all of my life. The tension is real, real, real. There are plenty of religious people who simply do not respect journalism and there are some who, well, hate mainstream journalism and, for the most part, sort of hate journalists.
Obviously, there I wouldn’t have started a website called GetReligion.org if I didn’t think the press has problems in this area, as well. However, I agree with Douthat that the religious establishment has its own share of problems that contribute to this often bitter standoff.
This is a blind spot with two sides. Here’s part of what Douthat had to say, in the text that introduces the video:
Journalists are more skeptical — and often less religious — than the average American, Douthat said. … That skepticism helps reporters cover politics, business and local government. But that same skepticism hinders them from understanding, let alone covering, the religion beat.
“It would be odd for business reporters to think that balance sheets are silly, or to not believe in Wall Street,” Douthat said. “But in religion, you get that all the time.”
Religion is belief in a faith; theology is the study of religion. Journalists who shy away from religion should should focus less on the faith aspect and instead on the mechanics of the organizations themselves, Douthat said.
Journalistic ignorance about religion is only matched by religious institutions’ distrust of the American media, he said. And the result is a gaping divide between two main American institutions. Douthat’s suggestion: get educated. Treat the beat the same you would any other. Pick up a book or five, read different viewpoints, learn about religious organizations and how they work. Come prepared.
I would argue that some journalists are totally skeptical and that many are more skeptical of some religions — or types of religion, such as those that proclaim what they believe are eternal, absolute truths — than others.
But watch the video. Comment. Keep it constructive. Deal?