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#OMG! Mother Teresa and the revenge of the religious evangelicalists! Or whatever...

#OMG! Mother Teresa and the revenge of the religious evangelicalists! Or whatever...

Oh my. How time flies when there is lots of work to do.

Has it really been a decade plus since sociologist Christian Smith published his infamous Books & Culture essay that ran under this grabber headline?

Religiously Ignorant Journalists
In search of Episcopals and evangelists.

As you would imagine, that piece received quick attention from the new-born GetReligion.org and we have pointed readers to it several times, including this 2010 post by GetReligion emeritus M.Z. Hemingway which noted an interesting, and sadly not that unusual, grammatical innovation in the following NPR passage:

Some 3,000 evangelical Christian Cubans attend an open-air service in Havana to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their public service in 1999. Evangelism is among the fastest-growing religions in communist -- and formerly atheist -- Cuba.

Now, that first reference to "evangelical" is fine. But the second one? Clearly, that was supposed to say "evangelicalism." Thus, as MZ noted:

... It's clear that this is a copy editor or copy-editing problem. And certainly the industry struggles to hire editors who are both technologically savvy and literate. But, as the reader who submitted this notes, this is embarrassing. Evangelism is not a religion. Evangelicalism is a movement within Christianity and evangelism is the preaching of the Gospel of Christ.

What do you know? Four years later and NPR still hasn't fixed the vague headline: "Cubans Flock To Evangelism To Fill Spiritual Vacuum." Uh, that is still "evangelicalism."

Now, I have a new reason to bring this issue up, yet again. We will get to that in a moment. First, here is a flashback to the original Smith essay, which opened like this:

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Short test for journalists: Label the cultural point of view in this commentary

Short test for journalists: Label the cultural point of view in this commentary

One of the big ideas here at GetReligion is that we live in an age in which many of our comfortable journalistic labels are becoming more and more irrelevant. They simply don't tell readers anything.

For example, there is this puzzle that I have mentioned before. What do you call people who are weak in their defense of free speech, weak in their defense of freedom of association and weak in their defense of religious liberty (in other words, basic First Amendment rights)? The answer: I don't know, but it would be totally inaccurate -- considering the history of American political thought -- to call these people "liberals."

There are other religious and moral puzzles out there on the religion beat, these days. What to do? When in doubt, don't label people. You ask them very specific questions, especially when dealing with religious issues, and you quote what they say.

With this in mind, consider the following slice or two of a short think piece. My question, for journalists who read this: What is the proper cultural label for the speaker? I will ID the speaker at the end.

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Homo sapiens in the newsroom: The struggle to get complicated stories early, yet accurate

Homo sapiens in the newsroom: The struggle to get complicated stories early, yet accurate

Hope I'm not too far out on on a limb if I argue that, despite the growth of news hound-algorithms, journalists remain run-of-the-mill Homo sapiens. That is to say we are fated to struggle with making sense of the world we have appointed ourselves to explain using the same cognitive tools as everyone else. We have no magical aptitude for insight.

Magical thinking, of course, is another matter.

I'm referring to journalists who claim adherence to traditional American-style journalism for breaking news stories, as opposed to analysis or opinion pieces. Nor am I talking about the Web's evolving free-form paradigm. I'm talking about old-school "American model of the press" journalism that's theoretically balanced and far-minded, strives for accuracy, is consciously unbiased and tries not to get ahead of the known facts.

For this sort of journalist two currently ongoing and important questions are, when is it appropriate to link a terror act to Muslims or Islam, and what is the line between a reasonable conclusion and Islamophobia?

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What is news? NASCAR America collides, at National Prayer Breakfast, with politics of NPR America

What is news? NASCAR America collides, at National Prayer Breakfast, with politics of NPR America

About a third of a century ago, back when I was doing graduate work in mass communications at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, I started calling up editors and asking them a simple question: Why doesn't your newsroom -- mostly newspapers, back then -- do more to cover religion news?

These interviews ended up being part of my graduate project, which was edited down and ran as a massive cover story -- "The Religion Beat: Out of the ghetto, into the mainsheets" -- at the professional journal called The Quill

Editors gave me all kinds of reasons for their limited coverage of the Godbeat, but there were two reasons that I heard more than any other:

(1) Religion news is too boring (and no one wants to cover it).

(2) Religion news is too controversial (and causes our readers to get too riled up and they write too many leaders to the editor).

And there you had it: The world was just full -- too full, it seemed -- of boring, controversial religion stories. Between the lines, these journalists seem to be saying that religion was boring to THEM, yet they could not figure out why THEIR READERS seemed to care so much about it. Thus, the strange blend of boredom and controversy.

I thought about that this week when "Crossroads" podcast host Todd Wilken and I were talking about that controversial speech that President Barack Obama gave at the recent National Prayer Breakfast.

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Deseret News editorial: Religion news is real news, so there

Deseret News editorial: Religion news is real news, so there

As I mentioned earlier this week, GetReligion turned 11 on Feb. 2 and I noted that with a salute to the late journalist and pastor Arne Fjeldstad, the leader of The Media Project that backs this weblog, who died earlier this year. I also mentioned a major religious literacy conference for journalists and diplomats -- fittingly called "Getting Religion" -- held recently in England.

I wrote a pair of "On Religion" columns (here and here) about that conference that, among other voices, quoted Dr. Jenny Taylor, the founder of the Lapido Media network. I mention that because one of those Universal syndicate columns ("Ignore religion's role in real news in the real world? That's 'anti-journalism' ") let to something that I don't think I have ever seen before.

That would be a major editorial in a daily newspaper that warns the press not to ignore religion news. No, really.

The newspaper in question is The Deseret News in Salt Lake City, which is, of course, not your normal daily city newspaper. I should also mention that, as of a year ago, former GetReligionista Mark Kellner has worked in that newsroom helping produce its expanded religion-news coverage.

So here is that editorial.

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Journalism 101: Little crowd equals big news, while big crowd equals no news -- right?

Journalism 101: Little crowd equals big news, while big crowd equals no news -- right?

During my nearly 40 years in the news biz, I think I have heard the following question more than any other. Yes, even more than, "Why don't journalists get religion?"

The question is this: "Why do journalists consider some 'small' events to be big news, while other really 'big' news events are hardly covered at all?"

This is, of course, a question of news values. It's the old "What is news? Well, we know it when we see it" situation, with journalists trying to explain what is, frankly, an equation that reveals quite a bit about what they think is important and what they think is not very important. (Yes, you heard this recently in the Charlie Hebdo vs. Baga massacre in Nigeria debate.)

The tensions here frequently make non-journalists really mad. This, of course, leads us to veteran press button-pusher Bill Donohue of the Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights.

Yes, this is a man who rarely uses a flyswatter when a baseball bat will do. However, the following blast at The Los Angeles Times perfectly echoes the "What is news?" question that news consumers -- and many former newspaper subscribers -- keep asking.

Thus, let us attend.

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Year 11: It's still important to keep saying that the mainstream press needs to get religion

Year 11: It's still important to keep saying that the mainstream press needs to get religion

The conference last month in Westminster was called "Getting Religion," which tells you something right there. It was sponsored by England's Open University and the Lapido Media, an organization that promotes religious literacy among diplomats and journalists.

The chairman of Lapido Media could not be at the event, however, since he had died weeks earlier at his home in Norway. His name, as loyal GetReligion readers know, was the Rev. Dr. Arne Fjeldstad and this academic, Lutheran pastor and mainstream journalist also served as the director of The Media Project that has backed GetReligion since Day One.

Today marks the 11th anniversary of the birth of this weblog and, to be blunt about it, there is no way to talk about this past year without starting with the death of Arne Fjeldstad and, at the same time, the continuing relevance of the academic and journalistic materials that he worked so hard to produce through GetReligion, the "Getting Religion" event and many other similar projects. He was convinced, as we all are here, that there is no way for journalists (and diplomats as well) to understand real news in the lives of real people living in the real world without taking religion seriously.

Here is some of what British media critic Dr. Jenny Taylor, the founder of Lapido Media, had to say when Arne died:

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Your video think piece: 'Getting religion' is crucial when covering complex, even violent news stories

Your video think piece: 'Getting religion' is crucial when covering complex, even violent news stories

I am in the middle or writing a pair of "On Religion" columns about the recent "Getting Religion" conference in Westminster, England, led by the Open University and the Lapido Media network that promotes religious literacy in the press and in diplomatic circles. Click here to read the first of those Universal syndicate columns, if you wish:

However, the main thing that I wanted to share with GetReligion readers -- especially working journalists -- is this video that was shown as part of the conference. No, I wasn't there (my final semester here at the Washington Journalism Center was starting right about that time), but I certainly wish that I could have gone.

What was the general thrust of this event? Here are some crucial background quotes, the first drawn from published remarks (.pdf here) by Richard Porritt, a former top editor at The London Evening Standard and the British Press Association wire service.

Let this soak in, as a statement about UK media (and elsewhere):

A journalist who is not confident about the facts is dangerous. And with a specialism like religion mis-reporting can lead to widespread misunderstanding. For too long religious affairs -- as editors deem fit to call the specialism -- has been a job palmed off on reporters. It is a role that has traditionally been dodged by the cream of the newsroom for specialisms thought to be more glamorous or hard-hitting. But there is no more vital role in a modern society cluttered with half-truths and myth surrounding religion.

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Welcome to 2015: New year brings happy new developments to the Godbeat

Welcome to 2015: New year brings happy new developments to the Godbeat

Already, Terry Mattingly shared the news that former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey — now a national correspondent with Religion News Service — will join The Washington Post early next month.

At the Post, Bailey — along with award-winning religion writer Michelle Boorstein — will anchor a new religion and spirituality blog, 

For those who pay attention to the Godbeat — and many GetReligion readers certainly fall into that category — the good news does not end there.

Welcome to 2015, religion news watchers!

Here are two more exciting new developments:

1. CNN's Belief Blog — previously at http://religion.blogs.cnn.com — has moved to a "spiffy new home" at http://www.cnn.com/specials/belief, report Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi.

2. RNS has debuted "The Slingshot," a daily snapshot of headlines described as "like the Roundup, only better." 

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