Saturday, January 10, 2004

better reporting

Referring to recent mainstream media coverage of religion in America in general, and in particular a new Pew Trust funded web site called The that provides a daily view of religion and the press, AKMA asked this week:

... if "religion" merits the coverage that these signal-flares suggest, is it too much to ask that NYU or Pew or the Times or someone actually seek out a theologically-informed, articulate writer whose reporting calls attention to the news that matters (or should matter) to the adherents to particular faiths, more than advising outsiders what those pagans Episcopalians or Pentecostals or whomever are up to this time?
Good question.

I think the reason much of the press doesn't seek out theologically informed writers is because:

1) it's not that important to them and they don't have time or interest to get up to speed on these issues;

2) the scholarly aim of intellectual integrity demands that writers within the academy ask themselves hard questions, in addition to expecting their peers to do the same. There is an expectation that the writer scholar will dig deeply into a subject and not settle for easy answers. This is an ideal, but it is there is at least lip service to the hope that scholars try to get at some kind of truth. But in popular discourse, the onus, so to speak, to truly understand anything too deeply does not appear to fall so heavily on writers or their media bosses. Hence the entire public relations industry, handlers and spinners, who feed reporters angles and facts on any issue or subject. Popular writers get lobbied, much like Congress. And they often take short-cuts to illustrate something that they have already concluded, or that makes sense to them, while in reality their perception may not be very informed.

3) not many people have demanded better information, better thinking, better coverage on religious issues.

These reasons are really not specific to religious issues. For years, media coverage about homosexuality, for example, rarely covered actual gay people (except as visuals from gay pride parades in certain cities, a soft equivalent to men who paint their bodies at major league sporting events, or any group of people who do wild things at New Orleans Mardi Gras celebrations). We gay folk would watch people on television or articles in newspapers or magazines talking about us. We were not part of the conversation.

Unlike the academy, public media are in a marketplace. To me that implies that we don't have to totally rely on the professional media gatekeepers. We can open up shop ourselves. We can challenge their inconsistencies and their mistakes. We can provide other voices to the conversation. Certainly the internet makes that possible.

The great value of blogs like AKMA, and many of the seminarian blogs that have developed recently, is that the conversations people are having in seminaries can be shared with the rest of us. In politics, the blogging community often chews on bones that the main news media ignores or mishandles, and has an impact on how politics is covered. Collectively, it has some impact on news coverage. I think that religious people on the internet could have an influence as well. We're a little behind the curb on getting enough presence, but it is growing weekly (as I surf around).

Of course, as Rebecca Blood said recently, in her Blood's Law of Webblog History, one's understanding of blogs and the net are correlated with one's own experience and time frame of blogging. I may be guilty here.

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