It doesn't take a doctorate in Mass Communications to grasp that the Internet and other forms of digital technology that have emerged in recent decades have changed many elements of "journalism" as we know it.
Your GetReligionistas have written about this many times during the past 11 years. I guess that's because -- as a guy with a mass-comm master's degree from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign -- I am pretty obsessed with the whole "technology shapes content" idea.
What changes? You know what I'm talking about.
The WWW is great at narrow-casting information into niches, as opposed to offering broadly stated information for debates in one mass culture. Also, the Internet is open for business 24 hours a day, seven days a week -- yet a business model built on digital advertising cannot sustain the larger newsroom staffs of the past. Thus, there are fewer scribes doing more and more work as they try to seize the attention of readers who are surfing past waves of digital ink.
What to do? Many believe that it's crucial for these digital journalists to write with a sharp "edge" that helps to define their social-media "brands" in order to appeal to loyal readers who agree with their editorial worldview. Thus, the line between news and analysis and old-fashioned editorializing is becoming harder and harder to see.
Meanwhile, information is expensive (think old-school reporters) while opinion is much cheaper (think armies of bloggers, freelance columnists and think-tank public intellectuals). Thus, we see more opinion and less basic reporting, with on-the-record interviews with articulate voices on both sides of hot-button debates.
This leads me to the following headline, which stopped me dead in my tracks as I marched through my stack of morning emails.
Two steps forward ... then all this
This was the headline on today's edition of "The Slingshot," the digital newsletter circulated by the Religion News Service that is promoted as, and I quote, "Quick. Reliable. Provocative." Your GetReligionistas have recommended the RNS daily newsletter many times as essential for anyone interested in mainstream religion news coverage. I will happily do so once again.
Today's newsletter was kind of a perfect storm of post-Sexual Revolution religion-news writing. Among the headlines placed in the spotlight in this digest were these three up top:
Threading the needle? Utah passes antidiscrimination bill backed by Mormon leaders
Just plain needling? Pastors oppose lesbian bishop speaker at Baptist college
Because they're fattening? My school won’t let us sell cupcakes for homeless LGBT youth
Then, among the other digest items readers may have noted:
Get in line ... Madonna: “I’d like to meet the Pope over a glass of wine”
Never change, Italia Topless nun billboard: Blasphemy, or just tasteless?
Religious freedom cause? Florida church holding naked spring break parties loses tax break
Eat, Pray ... Shoot me now She took a year off from her marriage to sleep with strangers. What could go wrong?
Maybe try a nanny? Polyamorous Oakland family finds parenting easier with two moms and a dad
Quite a day in Lent. I hear things are also hot, in a totally different kind of way, for religious minorities in the Middle East right now.
What's my point? Here is the question that I want to ask, returning to this post's overture.
GetReligion readers: What is the meaning of the headline that opened this edition of the RNS newsletter? It's a joke, I guess, an edgy "branding" statement. Perhaps a kind of mini-editorial statement from the management.
But, uh, well -- "Two steps forward ... then all this."
OK, I will ask. "Two steps forward" on what issue or issues, precisely? Two steps forward for whom? Two steps forward for what group or groups in the world of religion, today? Is this a news statement? An editorial statement? An effort to get clicks in a search-engine world that values sex references?
In short: What does "Two steps forward ... then all this" mean, atop this list of religion-news stories?