Religion and changing Times

stairway to heaven 01There are few things that journalists in Washington, D.C., like to talk about more than this subject -- journalists in Washington. I am sure that this surprises GetReligion readers, especially those inclined to belief in the utter depravity of man. So Howard "Howie" Kurtz of the Washington Post was in an interesting position the other day when he wrote a Style section feature about John Solomon, the new executive editor of the Washington Times.

For starters, this piece required him to openly talk about the Times being the conservative paper in town and the Post being the liberal paper, especially since the lede for the story focused on Solomon steering the Times in the direction of a more balanced, nuanced, "American" model of journalism. On top of that, Solomon -- an investigative reporter -- came to the Times from the Post, where some said he was too conservative. Others said that he was a solid, basic journalist who was even-handed in who he ticked off.

You know that religion is going to come up in this kind of piece, because of the history of the Times and the Unification Church. But Kurtz shows admirable restraint on that issue, knowing that it doesn't have much to do with the people working in that newsroom these days.

Truth is, the most interesting religious content in the piece about Solomon is in a quote from a Times staffer. Here it is, in context:

In an interview at the paper's Northeast Washington headquarters, Solomon, 41, conveys a mixture of energy and impatience, spewing out ideas faster than they can be scribbled on a pad.

"If I made one fundamental change," he says, "it's to make sure opinion and commentary didn't bleed onto the news pages." Toward that end, he issued a memo banning what he says were "archaic" terms used by the paper, such as "homosexual" and "illegal aliens."

Veteran Times reporter Ralph Hallow says he believes the right-leaning Times balances the left-leaning Post. Solomon's aim, he says, is to satisfy a conservative audience "without making the newspaper a shill for any of the causes of the right, for the Bible-thumpers -- something that is sensitive to them but doesn't pander to them."

David Keene, chairman of the American Conservative Union, says he hasn't noticed any change: "The strength of the Times on the news side has always been not any bias, but that it covers different things than The Post does. They cover more things of interest to conservatives."

Note the tension between these two phrases, between the newspaper being "a shill for any of the causes of the right, for the Bible-thumpers" and it covering "more things of interest to conservatives." You can see how both of those phrases can be read as referring to coverage of religion news and/or the politics of morality and culture. No sign of the old Libertarian vs. cultural conservative wars, right?

And Bible-thumpers? Nice quote, Howie.

Meanwhile, it is also interesting to note that the massive project to modernize the Times design and web product has led to the creation of a new, twice-a-week column for veteran religion writer Julia Duin (a friend of mine for more than two decades, going back to when we were both reporters in the Scripps Howard chain). This follows the recent creation of her Times "Belief Blog," which I shamelessly plugged here.

Duin kicked it off with a funny piece talking about the challenges she faced coming up with a name for the feature, running through waves of suggestions she heard from friends and colleagues. One of her top picks was "Encyclicals," but some people thought that was too Catholic.

The title had to be original, thus I could not steal from the London Times' "Articles of Faith," still the best title out there for a religion column. The title had to be theologically accurate -- plus, it had to be something I personally liked.

Surveying a few friends and fellow employees, I came up with some nominees: Faith-o-meter, Holy Cow, God Beat, Between Heaven and Hell, Frozen Chosen, Spirit, Soul and Body, Creed and Commandments, Anathemas, Angels and Demons, Epistles and Thinking Theology.

None of those quite took, so I sent an e-mail to more reporters and editors saying, "Help me." There were the celestial suggestions: From on High, Eternity in Print, Divine Inspiration, In Spirit or InSpiritation, eTernity, Out of the Silent Planet and Thoughts from Above. Those would be great were I a Delphic oracle or canonized saint.

There were loads of other suggestions.

So what did she end up with? Let's just say that the art for this post is a rather big hint. Or click here for video.

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