Let Dallas be Dallas?

Dallas Skyline dayThat post from the other day about the Dallas Morning News Solstice coverage continues to draw interesting comments. As I said in the comments pages, it's clear that the solstice celebration was a valid news story. But it's also clear that many Christmas-related events that were much, much, much larger were deemed to be old hat and not worthy of fresh coverage.

That may or may not be true. We don't know if there were valid news hooks linked to any of those other mainstream events in Dallas. If the tree falls in the forest and no one is there, does it make a sound?

Anyway, here is the archetypal comment from one of our faithful readers on the journalistic left, which means, in this case, that the purpose of news is to educate the mainstream readers who need to have their world views broadened until they resemble those of journalists:

Michael says:

The goal of a local newspaper is to cover events that are newsworthy and interesting. The goal is to get readers to consider things they've never considered before, open a door to something they don't know much about, to tell the untold stories. It is not to always just hold up a mirror for the reader so that they can gaze at themselves, although clearly there is a role for that.

The question is how you achieve that balance. On the Solstice, writing about the Solstice is a reasonable news decision. Just as on Christmas, there will be the inevitable story from Midnight Mass because that is a reasonable news decision.

But if I had to choose between a story about a Solstice celebration in the buckle of the Bible belt or a story about Bible Belt Megachurch doing their 17th annual Living Nativity, it's a reasonable news decision to cover the news because it is going to be "new" and "news" to many readers. There's a reason we don't call it "olds."

Winter solstice LW2 01Meanwhile, I received a private email from a Dallas reader who wanted to comment on the reality that is facing readers and former readers of the most powerful newspaper in Texas. It appears that this reader still reads the dead-tree-pulp edition.

As a Dallas Morning News reader who is grateful for the extra coverage the newspaper has given to religion over the years (and who mourns the loss of the Religion section), I appreciate your attention to our hometown paper's continuing reporting on religion here. I don't know if you get to see the print edition of the News, but this past weekend's Religion page was a good example of what I consider to be the paper's blind spot about its own audience.

There were two stories on the page. One was a story from wire services about Christians who don't celebrate Christmas. The other was about Latino Christians and a Christmas procession. Both were interesting, but I couldn't help wondering if this was the best the newspaper in this overwhelmingly Christian community can do on the weekend before Christmas. If you look on the page opposite the Religion page, it's a full page of ads for Dallas area churches listing the times of their Christmas services. All of them are in English.

Maybe I'm wrong about this, but I couldn't help thinking that the News is selling ads to English-speaking people (mostly Protestant) who observe Christmas, but their news pages have nothing really for those people. I mean no disrespect to my Latino brothers and sisters in Christ, but how many of them are buying the Dallas Morning News? Maybe I'm too sensitive about this, but I get the feeling that my local newspaper is bored by ordinary northern European Christians who live in the suburbs, even though as far as I can tell from reading business trends stories, it's people like us who are the few remaining subscribers to newspapers.

If you think I'm overreacting, please tell me. I know that I'm not the only one who feels this way, because my Christian friends, a lot of whom have stopped subscribing to the News because they (we) think the paper is either hostile to people like us, or doesn't care, talk about it. I'm also curious to know if the readers of your blog who live elsewhere in the country notice something similar about their own local newspaper's religion coverage. Please don't misunderstand: I don't want a newspaper that only pays attention to people like me! I'm just lots of times left scratching my head about the news judgment of editors. Is this just a Dallas thing, or do you see this trend nationwide? Or am I completely out to lunch.

Yours sincerely, A North Texas Reader

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