Azusa not yet: Why a media no-show for 56,000 charismatics at Los Angeles Coliseum?

Certainly we have all heard of the philosophical conundrum: If a tree falls in a forest and there is no one to hear it, does it make a sound? Of course it does.

Here’s similar one: If a large, symbolic religious event occurs but there’s little-to-no mainstream press around to cover it, did it have an impact?

On Saturday the 9th, thousands of Christians filled the Los Angeles Coliseum for Azusa Now, a 110th anniversary gathering for Los Angeles' famed 1906 Azusa Street revival that birthed the worldwide Pentecostal movement. Saturday's event was organized by Lou Engle, head of a youth revival movement known as The Call. Early PR for the April 9 event suggested 100,000 people would show up -- a neat trick in that the stadium only fits 93,000 -- but hopes were high. Some 50,000 were said to be registered; not a small number.

I was researching an article on a related event, so was checking around the Los Angeles mediascape to see if there was so much as an advance news story. The only thing I found was an offhand mention of the event in the Los Angeles Times in relation to the newspaper’s Festival of Books. Odd, I thought.

During the weekend, I scoured the Times, the Orange County Register, even the Riverside Press-Enterprise. Nothing. OK -- maybe the Christian Broadcasting Network? Nothing. Christianity Today? Nada. Local TV? Nope. Now on Sunday, the Register did have something on a gathering of beach corgis.

And the Times naturally talked up the “thousands” that attended its book festival. It was even doing live updates of the event.

But what about the “thousands” who put up with the rainy weather and showed up at the Coliseum? Guess they couldn't compete against books and the corgis.

I finally turned to YouTube, where folks had posted this, this and this set of videos on the event. It was a pretty colorful gathering and it actually made news, especially when Italian Catholic charismatic leader Matteo Calisi prostrated himself on the stage in front of Engle and kissed Engle’s feet in a gesture of reconciliation between Catholics and Protestants. (Engle then returned the favor). got that report up on their site on Sunday the 10th. A British site posted a similar story on Monday and Charisma posted this on Tuesday.

That was it.

It’s a little foggy as to who’s covering religion at the Los Angeles Times these days but by any measure, it’s beyond pathetic that the newspaper could not get a reporter and photographer out to the Coliseum on the 9th. (Note: religion beat veteran Jaweed Kaleem hasn’t started work there yet on his new race and justice assignment). It’s obvious the paper knew about the event. If somehow I missed something on the Times site, please let me know, but I've searched multiple times.

The Orange County Register and local TV should likewise be ashamed. Now I know that Azusa’s PR firm Frontgate Media was overwhelmed with organizing the conference, as their representatives weren’t even accepting calls -- at least mine -- before the conference and they only returned my messages four days after the event. But lax or non-existent PR is not an excuse to blow off coverage.

(The email I got from Frontgate, by the way, said that KTLA Ch. 5 TV was at the event. I checked their site later on and saw nothing. They also said CBN and GodTV was there but I found nothing on CBN. Frontgate's final head count: 56,586 attendees.)

I often defend secular news outlets to my incredulous Christian friends who feel the media has it out for them. This time, I’m sad to say they were right. Anything that draws more than 50K people deserves decent coverage.

Keeping the journalism parable of tmatt’s mirror image in mind, would the Times, the Register and the network affiliates have blown off a gathering of 50,000 Muslims? Atheists? Book lovers? Animal rights activists?

We all know the answer.

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