If you take the future of journalism seriously, you might consider reading a new piece on how journalism isn't just being overlooked, it's being replaced.
Follow the right people and organizations on Facebook and Twitter, and you’ll find out what’s happening close to you, straight from the source. LocalWiki, Pinwheel, Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare clearly do not replace a good local newspaper, but they offer a combo that is increasingly becoming good enough.
We saw the trend back when Craigslist began killing newspaper's classified ads, and now we're seeing increasing competition over content. Honestly, why would I read your book review when I can see my friends' Goodreads ratings, Facebook recommends and Amazon reviews? Why would I read your story on President Obama and gay marriage, when I can read any old blog, twitter or comment thread about it? What new piece of information are you adding to the table that competes for my valuable time looking at puppies on Pinterest? As Stijn Debrouwere writes, "[T]here’s a limit to our appetite, and every minute spent on Facebook is one not spent on a news site."
There are organizations and websites everywhere that are taking over newspapers’ role as tastemaker and watchdog and forum. These disruptors don’t replace investigative reporting, but they replace the other 95% of what made professional news organizations important.
What does this have to do with religion journalism? Fred Clark (thank you!) started me on a rant about how the media needs to think more carefully about how they spend their resources. Discussions about the future raise the question of whether outlets are currently spending valuable time and money in places that could be allocated elsewhere. I brought up two case studies connected to President Obama's announcement on gay marriage.
For another case study, let's consider Mitt Romney's commencement speech at Liberty University over the weekend. Yes, it was symbolic, but people who care were probably watching via web stream anyway, following on Twitter and commenting about it to their Facebook friends. I'm not saying reporters shouldn't cover it. I'm generally pleased to see a religion story make national news.
I'm questioning whether we need a number of national journalists flocking down to Lynchburg to cover a speech that's widely available to the public. It's why I spent the beautiful morning at the zoo with my niece instead of glued to my computer, watching the speech later. From what I understand, Romney didn't convert from Mormonism, so I didn't see much breaking news. Why don't news outlets at least post a link to full video and text, instead of just their take on it? You would think after several years of blogs now, outlets would catch up.
I heard some lamenting about how fewer reporters are covering the presidential campaigns and I can't help but wonder: why are there so many reporters on the campaigns to begin with, when they all seem to cover the same story every day? There are exceptional reporters, of course, but Middle America often sees one narrative coming from the Beltway, trust me. I could see an exception for outlets like wire services and a few national publications, but everyone doesn't have to pretend to be the New York Times, right? Besides, isn't it a bit paparazzi-ish?
If anything on the Liberty story, the political reporters might consider stepping aside and letting religion reporters take the ball on this one. For political reporters, all that seems to matter is the vote count. Religion reporters can dig deeper into why theological differences matter, as Terry pointed out. In a recent chat I had with Sarah Posner on Bloggingheads, we talked about how Romney dropped names of well-regarded figures among evangelicals, such as Bonhoeffer, C.S. Lewis, William Wilberforce and others. Would political reporters pick up on those names enough to know that he was signaling something?
Would a journalist (reporter or editor) with religion sensibilities write, as The New York Times did, Pat Roberts instead or Pat Robertson, or describe Liberty University as "the spiritual heart of the conservative movement." Are political journalists willing to dig for background on President Obama's note of the Golden Rule for his support for gay marriage? Those who focus only on votes risk losing an audience that wants a bigger picture.
Remember the piece I mentioned at the beginning of this post? Here's one of his big tips:
Write to people’s passion, and they will gobble up just about anything.
Hey, you know what people are passionate about? You guessed it: Religion! (ba-dum-ching!)
Leading media gurus might want to put their heads together to figure out what they can produce that is truly unique to the Internet, TV, print, or however else people are consuming information. Otherwise, we might all be working for Wikipedia some day.
Image of sleeping puppies via Wikimedia Commons.