How many Orthodox does it take to get a correction?

picftvcolbert01Here is another one of those situations in which I’ve read something in column A and that connected with something in column B and then that produced questions about some hard-to-define issue over in column C.

Stay with me for a minute.

Did you see Richard Cohen’s “Digital Lynch Mob” column in the Washington Post? In a column on May 4, Cohen wrote that Stephen “Truthiness” Colbert’s routine at the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner wasn’t very funny.

Cohen isn’t a big President Bush fan, but he thought the comic was a bit out of line. Before Cohen knew it, he had 3,506 emails lined up in his computer telling him that he was a brain-dead GOP lapdog, and lots of things worse that than. All of this made Cohen worry that the wacko far left in the Democratic Party was going to scream so loud in the months ahead that it might freak out Middle America and save the GOP’s Congressional neck.

But that is not the point of this post. Here is what got my attention, as a journalist and professor who now spends many hours a day in cyberspace. Cohen writes:

What to make of all this? First, it’s not about Colbert. His show has an audience of about 1 million — not exactly “American Idol” numbers. Second, it marks the end of a silly pretense about interactive media: We give you our e-mail addresses and then, in theory, we have this nice chat. Forget about it. Not only is e-mail too often a kind of epistolary spitball, but there’s no way I can even read the 3,506 e-mails now backed up in my queue — seven more since I started writing this column.

But the message in this case truly is the medium.

Now stop right there. I truly believe that the blogosphere has a role to play in helping the MSM learn more about what its customers — they can also be called “citizens” — think about the news and what it all means. I wouldn’t be sitting at a keyboard typing these words into blog software if I didn’t think that. This blog would not exist if I didn’t think it had a small chance to make some difference.

Which brings me back to that Neela Banerjee story in the New York Times about the election to pick a new bishop for the Episcopal Diocese of California. To refresh your memory, this is the report in which she wrote:

The Episcopal Church is a small but rich and powerful member of the Anglican Communion, which has 77 million members, the second-largest church body in the world, and is presided over by the archbishop of Canterbury.

Too Much MailYes, ’lil ’ole Orthodox me is still a bit miffed about that.

You see, there are 1 billion or so Roman Catholics in the world, with one pope, and there are 70 million or so Anglicans in the Anglican Communion, which has many patriarchs and bishops and is led — symbolically — by the first-among-equals Archbishop of Canterbury. The problem is that there are 250 million believers in the global communion of Eastern Orthdox Christianity, which has many patriarchs and bishops and is led — symbolically — by the first-among-equals Ecumenical Patriarch in the city once known as Constantinople. Facts are such pesky things.

Now, I am sure that the Times has not received 3,528 emails from Orthodox believers (“How many Orthodox people does it take to change a lightbulb? Lightbulb? What is this lightbulb?”) complaining about this error and requesting a correction in the world’s most important newspaper. However, I did go through the Times process — see this page for Banerjee’s work and contact info — and sent email noting the error. I have heard from several other GetReligion readers who have done the same thing.

So what’s the point? People were screaming at Cohen because they disagreed with his opinions and his beliefs. The blogosphere has allowed lots of people to channel their rage in this manner. And, let’s face it, many if not most of the comments deep inside the GetReligion site are full of people arguing with each other about their religious and political beliefs.

That’s OK, I guess, but that is not the purpose of this blog. Our goal is to seek examples of ways in which journalists “get” the religion angle of stories wrong or “get” it right.

If you choose, you may join me in my mini-crusade to see if the Times will correct this error. However, if you do so, please do so because you think this is a fact that needs to be corrected and journalists are supposed to care about things like that. The blogosphere can provide heat and light. We are more interested in the latter.

P.S. I just left a telephone message at the Times national desk.

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Stalking the blogosphere choir

atlanteWhat do you know? It appears that the people who are most dedicated to reading blogs are very similar to the people who are most dedicated to reading newspapers and, now that you mention it, highly dedicated to reading — period.

Here’s the lead, from a short piece in the Washington Post by reporters Zachary A. Goldfarb and Chris Cillizza (what a scintillating byline).

Think the people who while away their hours reading and commenting on political blogs are slovenly twenty-somethings with nothing better to do? Think again, said a survey last week by Blogads, a company that many leading political blogs have used for ad placements.

In an unscientific Web survey of 36,000 people, Blogads reported that political blog readers tend to be age 41 to 50, male (72 percent), and earn $60,000 to $90,000 per year. Two in five have college degrees, while just a tad less have graduate degrees.

“These are not people who are politically idealistic and born yesterday,” said Markos Moulitsas Zuniga, who runs the popular liberal site DailyKos.

This survey, which was posted on 110 websites, leaned to the political left because several major conservatives sites elected not to take part. So what we have here, according to Blogads President Henry Copeland, is a look at “the choir” of online geeks who are most interested in arguing about politics. Goldfarb and Cillizza indicate that Republican blog readers “tend to be older, more often male, have higher incomes and less education,” but only by a matter of small degrees. Dedicated blog readers tend to click their favorite URLs and read for about 10 hours a week.

You would be right if you predicted that I wish the survey had included at least one or two questions linked to religious beliefs and practices. Do bloggers go to church more than ordinary Americans?

I ask this for a reason. Ever since the late 1970s I have been watching for survey numbers that show that a high percentage of newspaper readers are also people who are active in their local communities. That makes sense, doesn’t it? Well, it also seems that people who are highly involved in their local communities as activists and volunteers are more likely to be involved in religious organizations of various kinds than people who are not all that involved in civic life. (Of course, there are many folks who are not religious who make civic involvement a major part of their lives.)

Can these points be connected?

When I speak to newspaper editors, I urge them to think about that. If their religion coverage — due to a basic lack of quality, quantity or accuracy — is consistently offending readers, are they running off core, committed newspaper readers? As we go into the future with digital media, I hope that professionals at Blogads and elsewhere will probe that a bit and include some questions asking if readers in the blogosphere want to get religion.

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GetReligion is “emerging”?

solo candleWho knew?

The creators of the National Council of Churches’ 2006 Yearbook of American and Canadian Churches have decided that the two hot trends at the beginning of the 21st century are blogging and the “Emerging Church” and that one of the places that postmodern, hip, emerging church leaders do that dialogue thing they do is at GetReligion (honest).

I don’t think we need to define what a “blog” is for those who visit this site, but it is interesting to see how editors at Church Executive define that vague (yet very news-media-friendly) term “Emerging Church”:

The Emergent Church is defined by Yearbook Editor, the Rev. Dr. Eileen W. Lindner, as a “conversation” (some would say movement) birthed in 20th century Protestantism and “characterized by a robust, energetic and growing online and hardcopy literature” that attempts to shape responses to contemporary culture.

Common attributes of the EC, Lindner believes, are an emulation of the person and ministry of Jesus, a fondness for anecdotes and stories as means of discovering truth, a focus on mission, and a stress on the centrality of worship, even in experimental forms. … Emergent Church has become so popular among evangelicals that an EC track appears on the agenda of the National Pastors Conference sponsored by Zondervan and InterVarsity.

If you want to compare that with the Wikipedia materials on this movement (or anti-movement), then click here.

The NCC yearbook listed 25 blogs and websites as being crucial to the Emerging Church era and its emphasis on communicating ideas — old and new — and probing the roots of Christian worship (on the way to creating highly individualistic new forms that are ultimately very modern and “free church”). Here’s that link again to see the emerging blog list — check it out.

I have been writing about some of these trends for a long time, back to the days when people referred to “post-contemporary worship.” Here is a chunk of an interview I did in 1999 with one thoughtful observer of these trends, the Rev. Daniel Harrell at Park Street Church in Boston:

If the Baby Boomers shunned churches that they thought were pompous and boring, then their pierced, tattooed and media-numbed children appear ready to shun churches that feel fake and frivolous. The key, according to Harrell, is that worship services must feel real. Services are judged to be authentic when they feel authentic. …

“(People) are borrowing things from all of these traditions, often without realizing that some of these symbols and rites may even clash with each other,” he said. “It’s easy to be cynical about this, but they really are searching for something. They are borrowing other people’s images and rites and experiences, as part of their own search for something that feels authentic. They are trying to step into the experiences of others.”

So who is the closet emerging-church mole at GetReligion?

It goes without saying that Eastern Orthodoxy is about as premodern as one can get. The Divine Ms. M is a very traditional Lutheran and young master Daniel Pulliam is an old-fashioned Presbyterian. Ah, but does his church sanctuary have giant video screens that can show icons as well as Matrix clips?

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The Post’s error

Balance and ProportionI wanted to share a thought that’s been bugging me amid the furor surrounding the resignation of former Washingtonpost.com blogger Ben Domenech due to evidence that he plagiarized material in his younger years.

In hiring Domenech, Washingtonpost.com was clearly looking for an alternative to Dan Froomkin, who many see as a liberal. Problem: Domenech does not have any journalism in his background and never claimed or wanted to be a journalist. At best he was a commentator who is now going to have to rebuild his career from scratch thanks to what seems to be fairly obvious and egregious cases of ripping other people’s work. But why was it that Washingtonpost.com felt it needed to go outside journalistic circles to find a conservative to counterbalance what was a fairly obvious leftward tilt of Froomkin?

The assumption that mainstream journalism could not have a conservative blogger spills into the religion arena because I believe most decision makers at the major news organizations assume that their reporters are non-religious in the same way they assume that reporters in general could not be conservative.

Ideological balance at a newspaper — particularly on opinion columns and, now that newspapers are catching up with the digital age, blogs — is critical for a media organization that wants to maintain its claim to objectivity. But if Washingtonpost.com feels it needs to go outside journalism for political balance, I wonder where the editors think they need to go if they ever feel the need for more than a handful of staffers of one religious persuasion or another. I have it on good account that it does not represent America, or the demographics of the Washington metropolitan area.

I wonder where the New York Times is looking and, most important, are religious educational institutions ready to step up and support solid journalism programs?

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To Apple: File this for next Jobs keynote

nano blackSo Pope Benedict XVI has an iPod. The only controversy to me is that Vatican Rado bought the white Nano model — which will go well with those white-and-gold vestments — rather than the black that would look so cool with clericals. But when is the pope a man in black?

As you would expect, Carol Glatz at the Catholic News Service bureau at the Vatican does know what many MSM journalists would not know, which is that the pianist pope has a serious Mozart habit. The Vatican Radio staffers who helped the pope go digital knew that, too.

The pope’s new 2-gigabyte digital audio player already was loaded with a sampling of the radio’s programming in English, Italian and German and musical compositions by Ludwig van Beethoven, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Frederic Chopin, Peter Ilich Tchaikovsky and Igor Stravinsky. The stainless steel back was engraved with the words “To His Holiness, Benedict XVI” in Italian.

Once the pope, who is also a pianist, gets the hang of the device’s trademark click wheel, he will be able to listen to a special 20-minute feature produced by the radio’s English program that highlights Mozart’s life and music to commemorate the 250th anniversary of his birth.

So, GetReligion readers, any other nominations for musical works to go on this particular iPod? What non-Vatican podcasts would you recommend, for starters? Have some fun with this, folks.

If stranded on a desert island, one of the CDs (those ancient round shiny things that replaced LPs) at the top of my list would be the Robert Shaw Festival Singers’ recording of the glorious Vespers by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

Then again, if the odd tidbit of news reported in the new National Catholic Reporter column by the omnipresent John L. “Word from Rome” Allen Jr. is true, the pontiff previously known as the “Patriarch of the West” might not be as open to listening to Eastern Orthodox concert music as many thought he would be.

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WashingtonPost.com catches a ghost

wikipedia2Every morning, my email includes a news digest from the Washington Post. The nice thing about WashingtonPost.com is that the administrative tools allow me to set up a decently nuanced set of filters beyond the usual “national,” “politics,” “sports” and other topics that MSM leaders think are important.

It will not shock you that one of my topics is “religion.” Lately, it seems — three cheers — that the filter has been getting better. Obviously, the system has been pointing me toward the obvious Godbeat stories that you know a major newspaper will cover, such as terrorists blowing up shrines, Vatican officials naming new cardinals and oldline Protestant leaders struggling with lifestyle issues. Sometimes, this net yields a truly unusual catch, like this look at a very different set of shrines, or Shriners.

Earlier this week, the following China story by Philip P. Pan showed up in my WashingtonPost.com “religion” offerings. As a mass media professor, I was hooked by the technology-shapes-content thesis captured in the double-deck headline: “Reference Tool On Web Finds Fans, Censors — After Flowering as Forum, Wikipedia Is Blocked Again.”

I dug in, assuming I would eventually hit the religion angle that the filters caught. Sure enough, there was a good one. What amazed me was how deep into the story I found what I was looking for. After all, free-speech fights always lead to matters of the soul and, thus, various offensive and “divisive” topics.

In early 2004, state-run newspapers began writing positive articles about the Chinese Wikipedia, and the coverage fueled further growth. By February, more than 3,000 people had registered as users and there were more than 5,000 entries. By April, the site was getting nearly 100,000 page requests per day. By May, the number of definitions on the site had climbed past 10,000.

Then, on June 3, 2004, people in China who tried to visit Wikipedia saw an error page instead. The government had blocked the site on the eve of the 15th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre.

8884 CHINA INTERNET XGB109You can see how that would lead to problems.

Instead of backing down, the site attracted more users, and the debates intensified as people tried to hammer out their differences on subjects such as the banned Falun Gong spiritual movement, the one-child policy and even the Chinese Communist Party.

I assume that “Falun Gong” or “spiritual” was the trip point. I, for one, would have liked to have seen some reporting on how the open-forum Wikipedia site was handling Roman Catholicism in China or the gigantic evangelical house-church movement. But progress is progress. Amen.

Still, all of this reminded me of an evening back in June of 1997, when I attended a small conference in Hong Kong a few days before the handover of the province from Great Britain to China. Speaking off the record, a powerful newspaper executive in the region stressed that there were only two men in the world who truly threatened the Chinese authorities.

Of course, one of the visiting journalists immediately asked, “Who?”

He said, “Pope John Paul II and Bill Gates.”

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New round of GetReligion ch-ch-ch-changes

printingpress 01We are creeping up on an interesting landmark here at GetReligion — Feb. 1 is the second anniversary of the birth of this blog. On one level this is not all that surprising, seeing as how we have already hit 1200-plus posts and more than 8,000 comments (and that’s just counting Michael, Stephen A. and Avram).

GetReligion started out with Doug LeBlanc and myself, and we were soon joined by young master Jeremy Lott. That honorary title was eventually handed over to Daniel Pulliam.

In the beginning, Doug was the guru of technology and did almost all of our start-up work. Over time, his work load has increased elsewhere and he has been writing less for the blog. Now he needs to take another step back, in part due to loads of international travel in the near future. Doug is not leaving the blog and will try, in particular, to keep sending us missives every now and then about the state of religion news in major magazines.

Thus, we face another round of changes as we approach that Feb. 1 signpost. We hope, for example, to rearrange and consolidate a few of the features on our left sidebar to help readers navigate more quickly within the growing contents of the blog. We’ll be asking readers for some feedback on that in the near future.

And with Doug writing less, we are excited to be adding the voice of another mainstream journalist to GetReligion.

Mollie Ziegler is a reporter in Washington, D.C., for the Federal Times, a Gannett newspaper that covers the ins and outs of the federal government. A second-career journalist, she began her reporting career in 2002 with a stint at Radio & Records. She began venturing into religion writing came a few months later with her first Houses of Worship column in the Wall Street Journal.

In 2004 she won a year-long Phillips Foundation Journalism Fellowship which enabled her to write a book about religion and politics in America, with a special emphasis on the changing language of faith in the public square. She stresses that GetReligion readers will be expected to buy multiple copies when it is published. Her work also has appeared in The New York Sun, Confessio Augustana, Higher Things and Doublethink.

Mollie’s undergraduate degree in economics was obtained at the University of Colorado, located in the alternative universe known as Boulder, Colo. She is a member of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Alexandria, Va., and serves on the Board for Communication Services of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.

Mollie — who lacks a GetReligion nickname at this time — will begin writing on or about Dec. 1st, but I hope she will write her own “what you need to know about me” post in the next few days. We all roam around the Godbeat a bit, but Mollie will pay special attention to religion writing outside the axis of the elite East and West Coast newspapers. Believe me, we know that we need to do more in this area.

Is is, at times, hard to find the work of religion reporters at newspapers that do not provide logical links and specialty pages on their websites. I have barked about this in the past and urged GetReligion readers to help us find more stories to praise and dissect. Mollie will be trying to crack some of these tough cyber-cases. We will also create, in the left sidebar index, an “All-Stars” category to salute fine religion writing wherever we find it, in markets large and small.

So welcome Mollie to the blog. She’s a live wire.

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Latest CT bucket o’ links

We have not done much — spread out as we are traveling — with coverage of several important and ongoing stories. But the new edition of the Christianity Today weblog has lots of update links on the U.S. Supreme Court story, the Intelligent Design wars, the U.S. Senate and military prayers and oodles of other stuff. Check it out. Am I the only one who sees some early signs that skilled MSM reporters are growing weary of locking everyone who does not believe that creation was “random” and “impersonal” inside the same “creationism” style box?

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