The NYT as religion

Much will be discussed today about the future of the New York Times and women in journalism as Jill Abramson is set to become the new executive editor of the Times. We would not usually pick up on this type of transition unless we see direct impact on religion coverage, but two particular quotes caught our eyes.

Ms. Abramson, 57, said that as a born-and-raised New Yorker, she considered being named editor of The Times to be like "ascending to Valhalla."

"In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion,” she said. “If The Times said it, it was the absolute truth."

Valhalla is the hall of the chosen dead in Norse mythology. The second quote about religion is definitely interesting, one of those where you might think, “We're not surprised that the editor of the New York Times would think such a pronouncement, but did she really just confirm it?” I wish we could read more of the context of that interview, but that is all we get in the announcement article.

What does it mean for the future of religion coverage at the Times? Maybe nothing, but it seems to suggest a particular understanding about the world, religion and truth from the paper's throne. A reporter or editor certainly does not need to be personally religious to be able to produce quality religion reporting, but I wonder if Abramson will lean towards or away from devoting the paper's resources to covering religion.

For old times' sake, let's pull up this amusing blog post from Frank Lockwood, the religion editor at the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, on "Enjoying a Pentecostal exorcism with NYT’s Jill Abramson." When Lockwood was traveling to Argentina on a fellowship with journalists like Abramson, they attended a Pentecostal church where they were anointed with oil and watched an exorcism.

"There were only a handful of people there, for a service that included no piano, no organ, no scripture reading and no altar call," Lockwood wrote. "There was, however, an offering. 'I was ready for this,' Jill said, reaching into her pocket to retrieve a low-denomination piece of Argentinian currency. In return for Jill’s gift, church workers gave her a piece of Spanish-language church literature, which she kindly passed onto me."

Abramson would ask Lockwood what was going on in the service.

“He’s going to exorcise a demon now,” I whispered to the managing editor of the New York Times, adding, “This is somewhat unusual.”

She didn’t say a word. Together, we watched as the preacher screamed “Fuera” — Out! Out! — he yelled. But the devil refused to budge. So the preacher yelled some more and manhandled the poor woman.

It was an ugly bit of domestic battery — closer to a Jerry Springer melee than a World Wrestling Federation brawl — but horrible to watch. The show was all the more evil because the woman’s pre-teen boy was on hand to witness it all. [Afterwards, when I questioned the appropriateness of manhandling a young woman in front of her child, I received a cryptic reply: Don't worry. He's seen it all before.]

My mind wandered as the farce continued. “There are good Pentecostal churches in this city with good music and good people with good hearts”, I said to myself. “But this is the face of Pentecostalism that you’ve revealed to the managing editor of the New York Times.”

At least, it hasn’t been boring.

It really is a fun story, but we hope this is not Abramson's only experience in a religious institution--that is, if you don't count the Times.

Image via Wikimedia Commons.

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