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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Malcolm Gladwell on Intelligent Design

TimeOct24This week’s issue of Time features a wide-ranging discussion that links to its cover theme of “What’s Next?” The participants, identified by Time as “some of the smartest people we know,” include author Malcolm Gladwell, techie lecturer Clay Shirky, New York Times columnist David Brooks and author Esther Dyson.

On the opening page of this discussion, above a photo of Gladwell, comes this teasing callout: “In the future, we’re not going to have the kinds of arguments about religion that we have today.” Well, that certainly grabs the attention of people who enjoy arguing about religion (and I happily count myself among them).

Gladwell’s broader context appears on the final page of the feature, under the subtitle — wait for it — “Getting Religion.” (OK, folks, we enjoyed the phrase enough to choose it as the name of our blog, but please don’t overdo it.)

Gladwell gets the segment rolling with a reference to how evangelicals are adapting to the surrounding culture, and suddenly the panel is discussing Intelligent Design, creationism, designer babies, Down syndrome babies, abortion — in short, many of this blog’s hobby horses.

Here is the spirited exchange:

GLADWELL: One of the big trends in American society is the transformation of the evangelical movement and the rise of a more mature, sophisticated, culturally open evangelical church. Ten years from now, I don’t think we’re going to have the kinds of arguments about religion that we have today. Even the fight over intelligent design, to me, is a harbinger of a trend, which is that the religious world is increasingly willing to put its issues on the table and discuss them in the context of the secular world. Let’s argue about evolution vs. creation, using the framework that secular science has given us.

SHIRKY: That’s wrong. Intelligent design is a stalking horse for creationism against a particular enemy, evolution.

GLADWELL: I disagree. This is part of an ongoing transformation. We will not continue to have this kind of divide between Evangelicals and the rest of society. I just went to an interesting evangelical conference, and throughout, rock bands were playing. The rock-’n’-roll culture within the evangelical world is indistinguishable in terms of the sound of the music from the rock culture that came out of a very different, irreligious secular tradition, except that the words are about Jesus — love and all that. They’re not resisting outside culture, they’re embracing it and kind of making it their own. I think intelligent design and Christian rock are similar. It’s about taking up form from the outside and trying to Christianize it. Does the debate over evolution matter? Isn’t it really a nondebate?

SHIRKY: No. It matters a lot because medicine is starting to become evolutionary, and we want to continue to have doctors who understand that.

GLADWELL: But that’s not being threatened. The intelligent-design debate is about what you teach 7-year-olds.

DYSON: What you teach 7-year-olds matters because they grow up.

GLADWELL: But we’ve already been talking about how great Google is. They can just Google evolution.

BROOKS: I think the debate is unimportant for a different reason, which is that 40% of people in the country don’t believe in the theory of evolution, and yet we seem to march on regardless.

GLADWELL: None of this affects the way science is conducted in this century. Does it change you as a software salesman whether you believe in evolution or not? No — no more than it changes you whether you believe in Einstein physics.

DYSON: You can’t limit your concern to short-term economic impact. This attitude closes off inquiry. It creates an approach to science that I think is dangerous.

GLADWELL: But keep in mind the idea we’ve discussed of the multiplication of identity. We will have more debates and disputes, like the one over creationism. When you’re having 100 arguments at once, no one of them matters the way it used to. It’s important not to use a 19th century moral lens to evaluate the kind of debates we’re going to have in the 21st century. We have to accept that the general noise level will increase, but that doesn’t matter. You can be a creationist at night and go to work in the morning as a pediatrician and save lives.

DYSON: The real challenge is going to be for the next generation of pediatricians who have to design your baby. It’s in the field of genetics and genetic engineering where faith and morality questions will play out. Is it immoral now to abort a Down syndrome baby? In the future, should you use technology to create a perfect baby, finding the right genes? And then you’ll be responsible for what you have created in a way that you never were before. No more “will of God . . .”

The group also includes the musician Moby, who contributes — this will shock you — the roundtable’s first reference to sex. Moby pronounces himself disconcerted about what he describes:

I have a friend whose Swedish mother — she’s in her mid-60s — goes online to meet men. I was with my friend as he drove her to the Hilton to meet a Canadian doctor she’d encountered online, and I thought, How disconcerting. Because it was 10 at night and most likely she was going to meet this guy and stay in his hotel room. Go back 50 years, and she would have been in her Swedish village, depressed, a bit lonely and sad. Instead she’s in midtown Manhattan, preparing to spend the night with a doctor, and her son is driving her to the hotel!

If only someone had thought to ask what Moby found disconcerting about this, because he sounds more impressed than troubled. Was it the horrifying thought of two elderly people who want to <Grandpa Simpson’s voice>have sex? Or that her son serves as the chauffeur for this frisky encounter?

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