Does GetReligion want to “go there”?

dieties. . . (The) Christian worldview’s truth claims include an admonition for Christians to be “salt, light, and leaven,” individually and collectively, on their spheres of influence. That truth claim presupposes that their spheres of influence would benefit from a collective and intentional Christian influence, and also presupposes such intentional and collective influence is possible.

My perception is that the “Get Religion” blog does not want “to go there” — whether/to what degree Christian journalists should collectively and intentionally influence their profession. I suggest Jay Rosen’s most thoughtful insights, linked to the blog item, on the “religion of journalism,” allude to this — they do not mention how, if at all, Christian journalists (or journalists of other faiths) should collectively and intentionally influence their profession, as an appropriate outworking of that faith and its truth claims.

Posted by Joe at 9:56 am on August 17, 2005

This topic is linked to questions that we hear, from time to time, about the role of religious faith in journalism and, thus, in the work at this blog. This is natural, since faith tends to give journalists sweaty palms and journalism has the same effect on far too many religious leaders. I’ve been working in this particular minefield for decades.

So let me very briefly respond to Joe’s comment that GetReligion does not “want to go there” on the God and journalism issue.

If Christians in the field of journalism influence our field, I hope it is in the same way that religious believers influence the fields of law, art, sports, academia, etc. In other words, that influence is expressed through the quality of their work and in open debates about ethical issues that affect everyone on the job.

In other words, GetReligion is not a site about “Christian journalism.” We are pretty open about our faith around here, but the purpose of the blog is to talk about how to improve MSM coverage of religion news. The goal is diversity. We are pro-journalism. Click here and here for some of foundational essays about that.

Now, I freely admit that any study of media-bias literature tends to point toward conflicts between the press and traditional forms of religion. There’s no way to avoid that. But I am convinced there is more to that topic than some simplistic left vs. right divide. Religious conservatives who claim the MSM is “liberal,” in some traditional meaning of that word, and is out to nail them are not seeing the whole picture. That’s another topic that keeps coming up in this space, from time to time.

The Christians I know who thrive in mainstream journalism (I am active in Gegrapha, for example) are those who want to work in journalism — period. To get theological about it, they see journalism as a part of God’s (glorious and fallen) creation. No more, no less.

To paraphrase that noted theologian James Carville: It’s journalism, stupid.

Print Friendly

iPod, therefore iAm (what iAm)

I had one of those moments of techno-transcendence this morning on the MARC train as I rolled into Washington, D.C.

So the mass-media side of me is looking around the train, noticing that about half of the people are wearing iPods or iPod wannabees. The older iPod people are listening and reading — books or newspapers. The younger people are just plugged in.

Then the journalist in me notes a Jose Antonio Vargas story that someone is reading in The Washington Post. You can guess the topic, and the headline sort of says half the equation in a blunt, materialist fashion: “The iPod: A Love Story Between Man, Machine.”

I, of course, start thinking again about the role music plays in self-identity and, thus, in religious faith. GetReligion has visited this topic before, of course.

Please understand that I am interested in some of the openly religious commercial applications of this new form of personal technology. I am even interested in the religious leaders who have started thinking about the implications of the iPod for religious expression in this age (check this out, on a slightly different topic). I am not even talking about the neo-cult status of Steve Jobs and Apple, although the last Windows machine in my personal life should leave the house within a matter of days.

No, I am talking about the spiritual implications of people — supposedly secular people, even — making statements such as this:

“If a song represents a memory in your head, then you listen to your life’s memories — faster than a mixed CD, definitely faster than a mixed tape — as you listen to your iPod,” says the affable, fast-talking Berkowitz, a project manager for a software company, as he sits in his downtown Washington office. “It becomes an extension of you,” he says. “It’s like a window to your soul.”

And then again there is this issue, which raises issues of cultural assimilation and cultural isolationism — at the same time. Does the iPod make you a part of a culture or does it help you avoid it? What if the answer is “yes”?

Fatima Ayub, wearing a white chiffon hijab that matches her iPod’s white earphones, is walking briskly on R Street in Northwest Washington on her way to work. You’d hardly ever see her, she says, without her 15-gigabyte iPod, which has more than 1,300 songs on it.

“Your taste in music is something very personal, very emotional. So when you have an iPod and you’ve got all your music on it, you’re trying to say something about yourself,” says Ayub, 22, an associate for the Asia division of Human Rights Watch and a graduate student at Johns Hopkins University. She’s listening to “A Perfect Sonnet” by the indie rock group Bright Eyes as she sits on a curb near 18th and R streets. Her boyfriend, Imran, learned to play that song on his guitar for her, she says, cracking a shy smile. “You’re making a little collection of emotions and memories for yourself and you stick them all in this little machine and you carry it around with you wherever.”

Has anyone seen someone sitting in a religious sanctuary with an iPod on? Or have many people already chosen a congregation that fits in with the style and content of their iPod? Questions, questions.

P.S. tmatt’s iPod mix for this morning’s ride was the Byrds, with a heavy emphasis — I confess — on spaced-out David Crosby tunes. I don’t think “Triad” is about the Nicene Creed.

Print Friendly

World Youth Day: by the numbers

Pope BenedictHeadlines can be tricky things. In perusing the stories on the upcoming World Youth Day in Cologne, Germany, I came across three distinct types. The most basic news story simply contained edicts declaring the beginning of World Youth Day, often with a large number attached:

Young people arrive in Cologne for Catholic festival

World Youth Day begins for 400,000

Second, you had local stories from news organizations around the world proclaiming that local Catholics were embarking for Cologne.

Angolans Travel to Cologne for Catholic World Youth Day

Local Catholics head to World Youth Day

2,000 Irish taking part in World Youth Day pilgrimage

And third were the more ambitious articles that attempted to set an agenda for the week’s news in Cologne. Stories like these are the ones to watch, for they will determine the world’s perception of the event.

A story by the U.K.-based Christian Today stands out:

Pope Benedict will have to work hard to appease German Protestants that he is serious about pledges to improve relations as he returns to his native Germany for World Youth Day, which starts today.

The Pope’s return to his homeland this week will be the first time he has been in Germany since he was appointed as pontiff.

The preparations for World Youth Day are about to pay off as the Pope attends the massive event, expected to be attended by some 800,000 young Roman Catholics in the Rhineland city of Cologne.

Christian Today‘s Maria Mackay is pursuing an interesting if somewhat predictable angle. Germany is the birthplace of Protestantism, as well as of the new Pope. Will Pope Benedict have the same effect on his homeland as did Pope John Paul II? Is this the beginning of a great movement in the country toward unification between the two sects of Christianity? I doubt it.

Protestants respect the former Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger as a Pope who understands and appreciates their views far more than any pope before him, but also feel threatened by his deeply “Roman” posture and his keenness to reawaken a strong Catholic identity among Catholics worldwide.

Reuters picks up what appears to be a reprint of that story with a slightly altered lead. Watch for this story line to spread.

COLOGNE, Germany — Pope Benedict faces a tightrope walk with Protestants over pledges to improve relations when he returns to his German homeland this week for the first time since he became pontiff.

The AP has a take on Pope Benedict’s personality and the Guardian looks at Pope Benedict’s attempts to reclaim Europe’s youth.

Watch your local newspapers tomorrow and see which they pick up. Since most smaller newspapers in America don’t have Reuters subscriptions, watch for the AP story to dominate the local coverage.

By the way, Amy Wellborn’s blog is all over World Youth Day.

Print Friendly

Is it a sin to talk to a reporter?

I don’t know how to describe this item other than to say that the omnipresent Ted Olsen of the Christianity Today blog has done an amazing job of writing up a GetReligion case study from a San Bernardino Sun article about ministry in times of sickness and health. The case is so amazing that all I can really say is click here and go read it. Do yourself a favor.

Print Friendly

Strange times, strange times

You know we are living in strange times when you are more likely to see the name of progressive heroine Ayaan Hirsi Ali in a Wall Street Journal byline than in a headline linked to a human-rights fest in Hollywood. She is, of course, the Somali-born Dutch liberal who has been forced to live in hiding because of her criticism of radical forms of Islam. Her op-ed essay focuses on issues linked to the rights of women in two nations that seem, at first glance, radically different — Iraq and Canada.

The first is the draft constitution of Iraq, now due next week. Iraqi women like Naghem Khadim, demonstrating on the streets of Najaf, are fighting to prevent an article from being put in the constitution that would establish that the legislature may make no laws that contradict Shariah edicts. The second case is the province of Ontario, in Canada. There, Muslim women led by Homa Arjomand, an activist of Iranian origin, are fighting — using the Canadian Charter of Rights — to keep Shariah from being applied as family law through a so-called Arbitration Act passed as law in Ontario in 1992.

It’s all about religious liberty, isn’t it? Now tell me: Is this a “liberal” issue or a “conservative” issue?

Print Friendly

Are j-profs losin’ their religion?

ManAngelThat man Jay Rosen, a veteran professor at New York University’s Department of Journalism, is at it again — digging into the religious structures beneath the cathedrals of journalism.

A long, long time ago, a Sojourners essay took a stab at describing the links between religion and journalism, saying that journalists turn over the rock to reveal the dirt and ministers shovel off the dirt to reveal the rock. This is the same territory that Rosen covered in one of those essays that I hope every GetReligion reader has read — “Journalism Is Itself a Religion.” Note that this link takes you to the The Revealer, where it is stored as one of that blog’s statements of core doctrine.

If you want an update on some of those themes, check out Rosen’s “Deep Throat, J-School and Newsroom Religion,” which dissects the role that the Watergate Myth played in the idealism of a whole generation of journalism leaders. Here’s the readout from the top of that essay: “Watergate is the great redemptive story believers learn to tell about the press and what it can do for the American people. Whether the story can continue to claim enough believers — and connect the humble to the heroic in journalism — is a big question. Whether it should is another question.”

Now, if any of that interests you, you are ready for the Rosen report from the recent AEJMC convention in San Antonia (tmatt asks: Great summer climate. Was hell booked up?) where some veteran journalism professors had a chance to testify — in the Bible Belt sense of that word — during a panel discussion called “Things I Used to Teach That I No Longer Believe.” It seems that the old-time religion just isn’t converting a new generation. As a journalism professor myself, I feel their pain.

It’s impossible to miss the faith language in the San Antonio remarks. Here is a clip or two from Rosen’s report:

First up was Carl Sessions Stepp, a contributing writer to American Journalism Review, a former national correspondent and editor for the Charlotte Observer and USA Today, and a professor at the University of Maryland’s J-School. He said that most of what he believed when he began teaching in 1983 he still believed, with one big exception.

Then he would have said that nearly all journalists employed in the field were people “on a mission.” They saw their work as a noble public service, and shared a sense of duty that helped them define what the service was amid a hectic news environment. Students quickly picked up on this creed, and newsoom culture supported it.

That was then. Now, he said, the sense of mission is not the same. He didn’t say it was gone; plenty of journalists still heard the call. And young people still showed up in his classes ready to believe. But changes in the news business and “workplace culture” have turned the mission into a fairy tale much of the time. There is no universal sense of calling any more, Stepp declared. Journalism as a whole isn’t “on a mission,” but journalists as individuals still can be.

The obvious question: What is the nature of this secular “calling”? As a Christian who works in mainstream journalism, I have always struggled with that word for the simple reason that many people hear it and link it directly to the work of ordained ministers. The traditional Christian doctrine, however, is that people are called to a wide variety of professions and God does not rank them — from rock & roll guitarists to airplane pilots, from (gulp) lawyers to painters. In that sense, one can be “called” to be a journalist, working in this industry to the best of one’s ability and following the rules of the craft.

Rosen argues that many journalists are actually semi-ordained evangelists in a church of journalism. They are on a mission from the gods and the gods have names such as Woodward and Bernstein, who produced The Good Book that inspired young believers to make personal professions of faith and walk the true path.

So what does it mean if young people don’t want to do “mission” work in modern newsrooms? What is the modern j-student seeking?

Back to Rosen’s report:

Next was Dianne Lynch, dean of the School of Communications at Ithaca College, a journalist, and former executive director of the Online News Association. She told us a startling story about an exceptional student who gave up a four-year scholarship worth over $200,000, including tuition, room and board, even travel money. The student came to the dean’s office to let Lynch know that she was quitting journalism and switching to sociology. “I decided that I just can’t be in such a terrible profession,” the student said, adding that it did not seem to her a field where a young person could “make a difference.”

There was a slight gasp in the room at that. This was because the phrase used, “make a difference,” though tedious and vague, was once the very thing that identified to journalists their own idealism. You didn’t do it for the money, and it wasn’t the wonderful working conditions, or a chance for advancement. For a certain generation (whose mortality was lurking about the panel, way under the laughs) journalism, at its best, was all about “making a difference.” Speaking truth to power, and all that.

And so forth and so on, world without end. Amen.

So do modern j-students want to preach, as in pour out their beliefs in secular sermons in openly partisan publications? Are we facing the rise of the new, New Journalists? Is the goal to do unto the bloggers what the bloggers want to do unto you?

These are interesting times and Rosen is must reading, no matter what church you have joined.

Print Friendly

Familiar formula

math formulaDaily news coverage of religious controversies lends to a familiar formula. One side is pitted against another. Quippy quotes from both sides are dropped into the article for spice and the reporter is left satisfied that a standard of objectivity was met and the reader will be left informed.

This formula is familiar because I have resorted to it, as a young reporter, in the past. The challenge of covering controversial religious issues leaves a reporter with a 15-inch space limit scrambling to sum up the existence of the controversy in the lead, add a few more summary paragraphs with key facts and toss in some one-liners from both sides to fill out the story.

Said formula is followed here by Associated Press reporter Rachel Zoll.

ORLANDO, Fla. — A national meeting of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America rejected a proposal Friday that would have allowed gays in committed relationships to serve as clergy under certain conditions.

The measure would have affirmed the church ban on ordaining sexually active gays and lesbians but would have allowed bishops and church districts, called synods, to seek an exception for a particular candidate — if that person was in a long-term relationship and met other restrictions.

With limited space, Zoll lays out both sides, the development of the issue and the “what’s next.” Fortunately for those who follow debates like these, more detailed and in-depth reporting on the issue is available in niche publications and magazines. Here, words like “non-celibate gays” and “long-term relationship” are measured, explained and used carefully and the precision of the reporting is much greater.

But what about those who only read the headlines and the first few paragraphs and move on? They are left with a weak description of the issue and are left to interpret the news in a way that best fits their worldview. The goal of objective reporting has its limits in reality.

In related news, the Evangelical Lutheran Church made news by declining to financially protest Israel’s security barrier around Palestinian territory.

The Chicago Tribune weighs in:

ORLANDO — Avoiding a form of protest that has threatened relations between Jews and other mainline Protestants, the nation’s largest Lutheran denomination on Saturday denounced Israel’s construction of a security barrier around Palestinian territory and called for financial stewardship that did not include divestment.

Instead, church officials emphasized a commitment toward positive economic development in the Holy Land that ensures a secure and viable two-state solution, a shared Jerusalem and a continuation of the church’s humanitarian ministries in the Middle East.

But readers of Aljazeera’s website received the news from a slightly different tone.

A five-million-strong US church has rebuked Israel for building a separation barrier along the West Bank, becoming the second major US Protestant denomination to reject policies implemented by the Jewish state.

The resolution titled “Peace Not Wall” was adopted on Saturday on a 668-269 vote by members of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America at their convention in Orlando, Florida, despite pleas from Jews to refrain from the move.

What appeared in the first line of the Tribune story does not show up until the eighth paragraph of the Aljazeera story. How’s that for an extreme example of how two news organizations serving vastly different communities view the same news?

Print Friendly

Back to my Anglican hobbyhorse

SeoulNaveAs Terry hinted at the beginning of this month, I have taken a new job with the Anglican Communion Network. Since the early 1990s, my greatest passion as a writer has involved the moral and theological debates within the Episcopal Church.

I was born an Episcopalian because my Roman Catholic father and Southern Baptist mother both knew they wanted a church for themselves and their two boys, but also knew they needed a liturgical via media. During the 1990s I sometimes experienced a love-hate relationship with the Episcopal Church, and I wondered if I ever would have joined it had I grown up in, say, an evangelical Lutheran church. Today that relationship is more of a lover’s quarrel.

Because I will be engaged in an activist’s role with the ACN, I will cut back radically on how often I write about Anglican and Episcopal matters for GetReligion. Indeed, I expect to write on such matters only if I can do so without setting off my Conflict of Interest Meter (which I try to keep fine-tuned).

I will, however, write about magazine articles on many other topics that touch on the concerns of this blog.

I’ll always be grateful to Terry for making me part of this project when I was leaving the full-time staff of Christianity Today, but I’m also eager to rejoin the Anglican discussions I’ve been less involved in for the past several years. I’ll still appear here, albeit it with less frequency.

Print Friendly


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X