The conference last month in Westminster was called "Getting Religion," which tells you something right there. It was sponsored by England's Open University and the Lapido Media, an organization that promotes religious literacy among diplomats and journalists.
The chairman of Lapido Media could not be at the event, however, since he had died weeks earlier at his home in Norway. His name, as loyal GetReligion readers know, was the Rev. Dr. Arne Fjeldstad and this academic, Lutheran pastor and mainstream journalist also served as the director of The Media Project that has backed GetReligion since Day One.
Today marks the 11th anniversary of the birth of this weblog and, to be blunt about it, there is no way to talk about this past year without starting with the death of Arne Fjeldstad and, at the same time, the continuing relevance of the academic and journalistic materials that he worked so hard to produce through GetReligion, the "Getting Religion" event and many other similar projects. He was convinced, as we all are here, that there is no way for journalists (and diplomats as well) to understand real news in the lives of real people living in the real world without taking religion seriously.
Here is some of what British media critic Dr. Jenny Taylor, the founder of Lapido Media, had to say when Arne died:
"Arne was our rock. He helped launch Lapido Media at Frontline in 2007, and remained a Trustee and Chair until his death. He had a unique combination of skills and sensibilities: a mentor and adventurer who understood religions in all their diversity, and loved the human beings struggling with whatever faith they had.
"But he was at heart a newsman with a passionate Christian take on that, and a tireless zeal to encourage good journalism around the globe. I never saw him lose his rag, though I know his punishing schedule of travels was taking its toll. ... He was unique and is irreplaceable."
But the work goes on and, on this 11th anniversary, I want to point GetReligion readers toward some examples of that.
First of all, please check out the recent "Crossroads" podcast that discussed some of the themes covered in the Westminster conference. Click here to listen to that or download the recording from the iTunes page, once it is posted.
No, I was not able to go to England for this event (due to the start of the new Washington Journalism Center semester), but there are plenty of video links at the Lapido Media site for those interested in the proceedings. Journalists and academics can also check out the .pdf document version of the report that as released during this event, entitled "Religion, Security and Global Uncertainties."
In addition to the "Crossroads" podcast, I also addressed some of these topics in my "On Religion" columns the past two weeks for the Universal Syndicate. Please check out these short pieces, which include new interview material as well:
* "Ignore religion's role in real news in the real world? That's 'anti-journalism'."
* "Ignore religion's role in real news in the real world? That can be dangerous."
In addition to all of this material, let me also -- as a final salute to Arne Fjeldstad -- point you toward the essay that he wrote a year ago, as we marked our 10th anniversary. That piece -- with a nod to his global, jet-hopping life -- was called: "10 years of GetReligion: Arne's view from 10,000 feet."
Read it all. Please. But here is a sample from the top of the essay and, yes, note that it points to the work of Taylor and to the themes that dominated the recent "Getting Religion" conference and paper.
Sometimes, you have to keep making the essential points over and over and over. Even for 11 years, and into the future.
Here is the start of Arne's piece:
Mainstream media is up for a big challenge in the coming years. Nope, I am not talking new technology, lack of finances for print media and rapidly declining numbers of readers both for magazines and the daily newspaper. Or any other of the many rapid changes in media reality today. I am talking about the challenge of a paradigm shift in mainstream media.
Possibly the challenge is even greater in Europe (where I live when I am not on the road or in an airplane at 10,000 feet) but also US media as well as many media elsewhere in the world will need to change their attitude and policy. Start focusing for new ways to meet the growing demands for real knowledge about the world, the society and the neighborhood. Real knowledge that will include knowledge about history, culture and religion. Yes, religion.
Religion will be the key to the ongoing paradigm shift. It's all about religion and the impact of faith in any culture, in any country or region of the world. The challenge for any news media is to "get religion." Understand its impact -- good and bad. Simply because religious faith, religious culture and religious history again and again are the key to understand why news happens.
"We are at the end of the secularist era. The New Religious Era is upon us," says the British expert on religion and media, Dr. Jenny Taylor who runs Lapido Media in the United Kingdom. Great Britain is home to a conglomerate of faiths and cultures with the Anglican church in sharp decline and a growth of postmodern and post-postmodern spirituality. They are facing a rapidly changing society and a changing culture as well. Religion is starting to play a crucial role. Taylor adds:
"Religion is trendy. (Not Christianity of course. Not church. Perish the thought.) But any shaven-headed sociologist with an ear-ring, any hijabbed and articulate 'outreach worker,' any multi-faith professional in fact will look oddly at you if you mention the traditional reticence of the British about faith. Good grief. Even the leader of the English Defence League is 'taking religious instruction' from the sheikh -- Usama Hasan -- who runs Quilliam Foundation."
The new religious era is still at its beginning and will need to fight its way through the minds of people and into the newsrooms. There is a lot of "old beliefs" still present in the minds of very intelligent, highly educated and tech savvy journalists in the West. They are in for a surprise -- and a challenge.
Keep reading. Nevertheless, we will end with this simple checklist -- cited by Arne in this airplane-view essay -- produced by Jack Jenkins of ThinkProgress.org, who reminds elite information producers of a few grim facts. Why do journalist need to get religion?
(1) Failure to understand religion can lead to embarrassingly inaccurate stories.
(2) Lazy, incomplete religious reporting can make stories appear biased.
(3) Religious illiteracy leads to missed opportunities and missed stories.
(4) Good religion reporting can keep people safe.
(5) Religious illiteracy is a fixable problem.
Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.
Still true, sadly.