Attack of the Evangelicalists!

On September 28, we noticed a Time magazine story with some glaring errors. The caption alone managed to misspell and misuse the word "diaconate." As of this writing -- October 11 -- the spelling and other errors haven't been fixed. Reader joye commented on a thread a few days ago:

I can't believe that not even the spelling errors have been corrected in the previous Time story by Dawn Reiss. The caption on the photo still described Ms. Jacko as becoming "a deaconate".

I'm not a journalist and my views on the profession are rapidly approaching Kierkegaard's famous insult, but please, journalists, hear my cry and answer if you can.

Don't you guys CARE any more?

Reading a news article is increasingly akin to watching a movie where the zipper on the monster's back is fully visible, or a boom mike floats over the actors' heads. In B movies, this is because, as Mystery Science Theater 3000 famous put it, "They just didn't care!" But for such sloppiness to go uncorrected for two weeks in the most prominent newsmagazine in the US? Is that what your industry has sunk to?

I thought of that when another GetReligion reader sent along the caption to this NPR story about the rise of evangelicalism in Cuba. Except, well, this is the headline:

Cubans Flock To Evangelism To Fill Spiritual Vacuum

Clearly this doesn't sound right -- but maybe the story is about Cubans evangelizing. Except once you get to the caption, you realize that the problem runs deeper:

Some 3,000 evangelical Christian Cubans attend an open-air service in Havana to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their public service in 1999. Evangelism is among the fastest-growing religions in communist -- and formerly atheist -- Cuba.

Right. Now, the story itself has a few holes, but it's clear that this is a copy editor or copy-editing problem. And certainly the industry struggles to hire editors who are both technologically savvy and literate. But, as the reader who submitted this notes, this is embarrassing. Evangelism is not a religion. Evangelicalism is a movement within Christianity and evangelism is the preaching of the Gospel of Christ.

It's been a few years since we shared this Christian Smith passage that was published in Books & Culture:

Often in our discussions, journalists refer to ordinary evangelical believers as "evangelists" -- as if the roughly 70 million conservative Protestants in America were all traveling preachers like Billy Graham and Luis Palau -- or, more to the point, televangelists like Jim Bakker and Jimmy [Swaggart]. Hey, aren't all evangelicals really pretty much like these last two, or rather as many reporters tend to see them -- scandal-prone limelight seekers with ambitions to impose a repressive Christian moral order on all America? Other journalists simply cannot pronounce "evangelicals" at all. They get confused and flustered, and after a few uncomfortable tries at "evangelics" and "evangelicalists" they give up and resort to referring to evangelicals simply as "them." These are the knowledge-class professionals who are supposedly informing millions of readers about religion in America.

Would editors settle for this kind of work on other newsroom beats? Smith continues:

I find it hard to believe that political journalists call Washington think tanks and ask to talk with experts on background about the political strategies of the "Democrizer" or "Republication" parties, or about the most recent "Supremicist Court" ruling. Surely reporters covering business and markets do not call economists asking 45 minutes of elementary questions about how the business cycle works or what effect it has when the Fed drops interest rates. So why do so few journalists covering religion know religion?

Things really have improved in the last few years, at least when it comes to those who are regularly on the religion beat. But the problem persists among some, particularly those who aren't used to covering religion, those copyeditors who write captions and headlines.

Please respect our Commenting Policy