Anyone who's been around the news for a while will notice that, from time to time, media outlets will "discover" something that's been talked about, elsewhere, for quite some time. Nearly 20 years after the online world of AOL, Prodigy and CompuServe began to morph into the Internet as a place where people can find information about God, at last a metropolitan daily newspaper has learned that Christian folk are using Twitter to communicate with each other. As a breathless newsreader might say on those grating "teaser" TV news breaks during commercials: "Details at 11!"
In this case, the apparently surprised outlet is The Deseret News in Salt Lake City. Owned by a business unit of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the DesNews, or DN, as it's known locally, actually does a very good job of covering religion in general, and, as might be surmised, a good job of tackling LDS news. They don't have the occasional edginess of the secularly owned Salt Lake Tribune when it comes to the Mormon beat, but the DN often pleasantly surprises with its Godbeat coverage. Indeed, I find their coverage of non-Mormon faith topics, in general, to be quite good.
Oddly enough, this article about "How social and digital media are changing #religion" isn't all that bad, in my opinion. As journalism, the content is pretty good.
But, then there is the sense of gee-whizziness throughout the text:
Brian Hemsworth’s book club wasn’t anything to write home about.
The club — one of about 80 created and founded by Mosaic, a non-denominational Christian church in Pasadena, Calif. — didn’t offer much for the members, save for some discussion on the previous week's service and the occasional get-together at a picnic or church function.
It was all standard and by-the-book.
That was, until Hemsworth and other group members flocked to Twitter and began dropping their hashtags and tweets. They snapped photos and sent them instantly via the new-age telegram.
Soon enough, what was once a weekly gathering transformed into an everyday discussion.
“People just began to connect,” Hemsworth said. “People are wanting to find ways of connecting and getting together. And social media is really helping that.”
True that, as the young'uns would say. After all, Twitter has been around since 2006, so, yes, after seven years and now with a reported 500 million registered users, social media is helping people to connect. Then again, reducing a spiritual message to something that can be read on a telephone display isn't all that new: Ship of Fools, a British website that takes its religion with a side of snark, held a contest in 2001 to see who could best condense the Lord's Prayer into a 160-character SMS text message.
So, not to belabor the point, but the usage of Twitter, etc., by people is faith isn't new. Even older (established, 2003) is Skype, which also figures in the piece:
"[Pastor Ted] Stefan said the Golden Heart Center even broadcasts bible [sic] study sessions on Skype.
"The 'Study by Skype' sessions bring people from all over country together to analyze the bible’s [sic] text. Stefan reads a verse aloud and lets everyone on the call 'meditate on the verse.'"
I have the feeling -- maybe it was in a book I once wrote, long ago -- that Christians, and others, have been using Internet-related technologies to study the Bible for quite some time. Again, the Skype thing is interesting, but the Skype service is a decade old.
I can't fault the details in the story -- reporter Herb Scribner seems to have his facts straight, and he certainly understands the religious elements as well as the technology. But also oddly missing from the piece, perhaps due to space constraints, is any mention of the LDS Church's own encouragement of its members to go online to share (and defend) their faith.
In October 2011, Mormon Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said just that:
"Today’s 'manner of conversation' seems to involve the Internet more and more. We encourage people, young and old, to use the Internet and the social media to reach out and share their religious beliefs.
"As you utilize the Internet, you may come across ongoing conversations about the Church. When directed by the Spirit, do not hesitate to add your voice to these conversations."
With a little more reflection, and the inclusion of what Mormons are themselves doing online, the story might have offered a more complete picture. And when something's news, don't hesitate to say it. Just make sure it is new, won't you, please, news media pros?