Godbeat

The 'Kellerism' brand of journalism comes to the heartland -- in Fort Wayne, Indiana

The 'Kellerism' brand of journalism comes to the heartland -- in Fort Wayne, Indiana

I find it sad, but not all that surprising, that the journalistic virus that your GetReligionistas call "Kellerism" is spreading out of the elite zip codes along the East and West coasts.

Once again, "Kellerism" is a form of advocacy journalism that is practiced by journalists who are working in mainstream newsrooms, as opposed to newsrooms that openly admit that they have a dominant editorial point of view, or template, on many crucial issues in the public square. The term grew out of remarks by former New York Times editor Bill Keller, with an emphasis on this 2011 forum (video) at the Lyndon Baines Johnson Presidential Library in Austin. 

Here, once again, is a chunk of an "On Religion" column I wrote about his response when he was asked if -- it's a familiar question -- the Times can accurately be called a "liberal newspaper."

“We’re liberal in the sense that ... liberal arts schools are liberal,” Keller noted. ... “We’re an urban newspaper. … We write about evolution as a fact. We don’t give equal time to Creationism.” ...
Keller continued: “We are liberal in the sense that we are open-minded, sort of tolerant, urban. Our wedding page includes -- and did even before New York had a gay marriage law -- included gay unions. So we’re liberal in that sense of the word, I guess. Socially liberal.”
Asked directly if the Times slants its coverage to favor “Democrats and liberals,” he added: “Aside from the liberal values, sort of social values thing that I talked about, no, I don’t think that it does.”

As I have noted several times, the key words are "aside from." Why use a balanced scale when editors already know who is right?

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Memory eternal: Arne Fjeldstad and his efforts to help (global) media get religion

Memory eternal: Arne Fjeldstad and his efforts to help (global) media get religion

There is really no way to tell the story of GetReligion.org without talking about the veteran journalist and pastor who for years led The Media Project -- the Rev. Dr. Arne Fjeldstad of Norway. It is very unusual to find a Lutheran clergyman who also had a 30-year career as an editor in the mainstream press, including senior positions in the leading Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten. For his doctoral dissertation, quite early in the Internet age, he wrote about the potential growth of online churches.

Although his byline rarely appeared here at GetReligion, that was because he felt his management skills were best used behind the scenes. Trust me when I say that his gifts were many and they have been essential. Click here to read his global perspective on the 10th anniversary of this weblog.

Arne died very suddenly Sunday afternoon at his home in Norway, hours before he was scheduled to depart for a journalism conference in South Korea. Over the past decade, his travels took him around the world on almost a monthly basis, meeting with at least 600-plus journalists face to face at one time or another. In the photo above, he is seen -- earlier this month -- with journalists from nine different African countries gathered in Lusaka, Zambia.

My former Washington Journalism Center colleague Richard Potts, who worked with Arne on many conferences in Latin America, wrote this morning: 

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Scripture, social media and online comments: Post on President Obama quoting the Bible offers a case study

Scripture, social media and online comments: Post on President Obama quoting the Bible offers a case study

It's probably appropriate that I came across the following story via Twitter.

CNN reported:

(CNN) -- Online comments are on the way out.
Influential tech blog Re/code announced Thursday that it has shut off the comment forums on its story pages. Instead, the website is steering commenters to social media.
"We thought about this decision long and hard, since we do value reader opinion," co-executive editor Kara Swisher wrote. "But we concluded that, as social media has continued its robust growth, the bulk of discussion of our stories is increasingly taking place there, making onsite comments less and less used and less and less useful."
The announcement was just the latest in a recent wave of prominent websites removing or significantly scaling back their comment sections. Reuters, Popular Science and the Chicago Sun-Times have recently nixed comments.
Fairly or not, comment forums have gained a reputation as a haven for Internet trolls. Several of the sites that have banned comments noted the lack of civility in their decisions.

Back in July, Christianity Today announced that it was dropping comments on some articles.

At GetReligion, we still attempt — as best we can — to moderate comments. However, in my nearly five years of writing for this journalism-focused website, I have noticed a decline in both the number and quality of comments. Often, the best feedback and conversations about GetReligion come via social media.

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5Q+1 interview: Godbeat pro Peter Smith discusses his in-depth project on immigrant religion in Pittsburgh

5Q+1 interview: Godbeat pro Peter Smith discusses his in-depth project on immigrant religion in Pittsburgh

Peter Smith has spent the last several months reporting on immigrant religious communities in Pittsburgh, carving out time for the special project between daily assignments.

After 13 years on the Godbeat with the Louisville Courier-Journal, Smith joined the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette as its new religion writer last year. He previously freelanced for Religion News Service.

His work with the Post-Gazette earned him the Religion Newswriters Association's 2014 Religion Reporter of the Year Award. That prize recognizes excellence in religion writing for metropolitan newspapers.

In all, Smith boasts 30 years of experience as a reporter and editor.  He earned a bachelor of arts in English at Oral Roberts University and a master of arts in religion from Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

Smith discussed his first year in Pittsburgh — including the immigrant religion project — in an interview with GetReligion.

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Do New York Times readers need to know why some believe female bishops will cause schism?

Do New York Times readers need to know why some believe female bishops will cause schism?

The Church of England has, after several decades of debate, voted to allow women to become bishops. As the New York Times story noted, in the lede, this act "overturned centuries of tradition."

That is true, but it's important for readers to understand why that matters and to whom it matters. This is especially true since, while the Church of England is important, it no longer represents the statistical future of Anglicanism worldwide. The story notes:

“Today we can begin to embrace a new way of being the church and moving forward together,” the archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev. Justin Welby, said after the vote.
Two decades after the first female priest was ordained, the issue of women taking senior roles in the church hierarchy remains divisive. As recently as 2012, the proposal had been defeated by six votes.
But Archbishop Welby, the spiritual leader of the church and the global Anglican Communion, who supported the vote from the start, had warned fellow church leaders this year that the public would find the exclusion of women “almost incomprehensible.”
On Monday, however, he acknowledged that a split in the worldwide Anglican community was now a serious possibility. “Without prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures,” he said.

The heart of this story is found in Welby's hope that Anglicans will be "moving forward together" which is then contrasted, a few lines later, by his comment that without "prayer and repentance, it is hard to see how we can avoid some serious fractures." Via media, at best.

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Dear Baltimore Sun editors: Concerning your MIA U.S. Catholic bishops coverage

Dear Baltimore Sun editors: Concerning your MIA U.S. Catholic bishops coverage

It's logical, if you stop and think about it. Day after day, week after week, month after month, your GetReligionistas focus our time and efforts on news that is published in the mainstream press.

Note: This is news that is PUBLISHED in newspapers, wire services, websites, etc. As opposed to what? News that is NOT published? Precisely.

We do have our "Got news?" thing, which is when we note that something really interesting is happening somewhere in America or the world and the big, elite media (as opposed to, let's say, specialty websites) haven't noticed it yet. Readers send us notes about that kind of thing all the time.

That helps. But let's face it: It's hard to critique coverage that doesn't exist.

With that in mind, let's consider this week's Baltimore Sun coverage of the meetings -- in Baltimore, of course -- of the U.S. Catholic bishops.

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The dance continues: Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops and alleged confusion in the press

The dance continues: Pope Francis, the U.S. bishops and alleged confusion in the press

The U.S. Catholic bishops are meeting in Baltimore and, as you would expect, the coverage -- so far -- has been framed in terms of the the liberal, friendly, compassionate agenda of Pope Francis and the nasty, legalistic, orthodox point of view of the bishops who are "culture warriors" on abortion, marriage, religious liberty, etc.

The top of this Associated Press report is perfect, in terms of capturing this framework:

U.S. Roman Catholic bishops are gathering at a moment of turbulence for them and the American church, as Pope Francis moves toward crafting new policies for carrying out his mission of mercy -- a prospect that has conservative Catholics and some bishops in an uproar.
The assembly ... comes less than a month after Francis ended a dramatic Vatican meeting on how the church can more compassionately minister to Catholic families.
The gathering in Rome was only a prelude to a larger meeting next year which will more concretely advise Francis on church practice. Still, the open debate at the event, and the back and forth among bishops over welcoming gays and divorced Catholics who remarry, prompted stunning criticism from some U.S. bishops.

Actually, that is the top of an earlier version of the AP story, recovered via Wayback Machine. That text is now missing and the current version of that AP story, at the same URL, can be found by clicking here. There are some interesting differences ...

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Yes, I saw the New York Times piece on Marvin Olasky and World magazine

Yes, I saw the New York Times piece on Marvin Olasky and World magazine

It's interesting -- "ironic" may be a better word -- how many people sent me emails asking if I saw the New York Times "Beliefs" column this week focusing on the work of Marvin Olasky and World magazine, the one with the headline: "A Muckraking Magazine Creates a Stir Among Evangelical Christians."

"Ironic"? We'll get to that.

Columnist Mark Oppenheimer later noted, on Twitter, that many readers didn't seem to realize that the word "muckraking" is -- among real journalists -- a word that can be used as a compliment. That was the point of his column, in a word.

Before we go further, please understand that Olasky is I friend of mine, yet a friend with whom I have enjoyed many years of debates over very important questions about faith and journalism. You could not ask for a more interesting man with whom to have a meaningful and productive argument.

It is very old hat that many people on the political and religious left (liberal evangelicals, in particular) really, really, do not like Olasky's brand of advocacy journalism, which is interesting since he is a convert to Calvinist Christianity who was once a Jewish atheist and a member of the Communist Party. Oppenheimer focused -- note the headline -- on the fact that Olasky also gets under the skins of many people on the political and religious right because he is not a PR man for the Republican establishment. Ditto for the evangelical establishment, come to think of it. The typical World issue contains few, if any, ads from evangelical book publishers.

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Pod people: That 'mushy middle' in American religion and an old mystery on the religious left

Pod people: That 'mushy middle' in American religion and an old mystery on the religious left

For several decades now, I have been hearing pollsters -- with organizations on the left, right and in the middle -- asking some very similar questions about trends on the left side of the marketplace of ideas that is American religion. In fact, they have often, been asking precisely the same question.

That doesn't happen very often. So when it does, I think that it behooves those of us who report and write about religion to pay attention.

Here's the key question: If more and more Americans are moving toward liberalism on questions of faith and morality, then why are the membership statistics continuing to spiral down in doctrinally liberal churches?

That question came up again this week in our "Crossroads" podcast, when host Todd Wilken and I talked about the heritage of research done by the late George Gallup, Jr., and how it related to a new LifeWay Research survey -- the "Theological Awareness Benchmark Study" conducted for Ligonier Ministries of Orlando, Fla. Click here to listen in.

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