How does potentially good journalism go bad? Perhaps it's when reporters fail to find (and editors fail to insist upon) more than one side to a story. Let's call it a context deficit disorder.
Today's nominee is MarketWatch.com, part of the Dow Jones media group, which no longer includes The Wall Street Journal, it should be noted. (That daily is now owned by Rupert Murdoch's News Corp.)
MarketWatch readers are promised an explanation of "Why millennials are ditching religion for witchcraft and astrology." Instead, we're treated to what essentially is a puff-piece for some firms in the metaphysical realm without much, yes, context about whether this really is a thing.
Let's start with the introductory paragraphs. This is long, but essential:
When Coco Layne, a Brooklyn-based producer, meets someone new these days, the first question that comes up in conversation isn’t “Where do you live?” or “What do you do?” but “What’s your sign?”
“So many millennials read their horoscopes every day and believe them,” Layne, who is involved in a number of nonreligious spiritual practices, said. “It is a good reference point to identify and place people in the world.”
Interest in spirituality has been booming in recent years while interest in religion plummets, especially among millennials. The majority of Americans now believe it is not necessary to believe in God to have good morals, a study from Pew Research Center released Wednesday found. The percentage of people between the ages of 18 and 29 who “never doubt existence of God” fell from 81% in 2007 to 67% in 2012.
Meanwhile, more than half of young adults in the U.S. believe astrology is a science. compared to less than 8% of the Chinese public. The psychic services industry -- which includes astrology, aura reading, mediumship, tarot-card reading and palmistry, among other metaphysical services -- grew 2% between 2011 and 2016. It is now worth $2 billion annually, according to industry analysis firm IBIS World.
Can you say non-sequitur, gentle reader? That x percentage of Americans either never doubt the existence of God or who feel such a belief is necessary to "have good morals" has no correlation with the number of people who believe astrology is a science. The only linkage is that which the reporter and editor make in this piece.
We're also treated to blurbs for the Co--Star (yes, with two hyphens) astrology app, the "Mystic Lipstick" shopping box and a Brooklyn emporium Catland where you can learn about witchcraft and other topics. For example:
Astrology isn’t the only spiritual field overwhelmed by demand: Danielle Ayoka, the founder of spiritual subscription service Mystic Lipstick, said her customer base is growing exponentially. The self-described astrologer sells a “mystic box” subscription, which includes crystals, “reiki-infused bath salts,” and incense customized to the unique energy of the current moon cycle for $14.99 a month. She says she’s seen 75% increase in her audience in the past year.
“When I started my journey in 2010, I was the weirdo,” she said. “Now it is becoming more and more normalized, and I believe it is because more people are looking to heal. Millennials are much more open-minded.”
That may well be the case, but where's the evidence? Yes, there is the Pew Research Center study (referenced above in the first excerpt) and the IBIS World market research data (cited in the above excerpt without a source link, which I'll provide here). But the main thing driving this story are all the self-referencing testimonies of those with something to sell:
Like the existence of God, however, there’s no actual scientific proof. Astrology has been debunked by numerous academic studies, but Banu Guler, co-founder of artificial intelligence powered astrology app Co—Star said the lack of structure in the field is exactly what drives young, educated professionals to invest their time and money in the practice.
“It’s very different from the way we usually work and live and date, where everything is hyper-mediated and rational,” she said. “There is a belief vacuum: we go from work to a bar to dinner and a date, with no semblance of meaning. Astrology is a way out of it, a way of putting yourself in the context of thousands of years of history and the universe.”
Oh, and thanks for the backhanded swipe at something sacred to billions of people, millennials included -- belief in God. Where such faith is dismissed in less than 10 words, we're also told that it's because there's nothing to support the concept of astrology that so many young adults are drawn to it.
Hey, MarketWatch, here's a question for ya: Could it be that Islam, Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism and Buddhism -- among other religions -- also bring in millions of believers, including those in the 18-29-year-old cohort, because they represent another "way of putting yourself in the context of thousands of years of history and the universe"? For starters, think of all those people -- an estimated 3 million -- who flocked to see Pope Francis at the 2016 World Youth Day in Krakow, Poland. Might there have been more than a couple of millennials among the crowd? #JustAsking
Here's where MarketWatch dropped the ball: They could have spoken with any number of scholars or clerics (the very media-friendly Roman Catholic priest Father Jonathan Morris immediately comes to mind) who could offer some thoughts about whether they see the same thing, astrology-wise. Or, perhaps, that they've noticed an uptick in millennials being interested in traditional forms of other faiths.
Without the voice of an informed person outside the astrology-promoting environment, we're left with a pile of puffery. The attraction of millennials to astrology may be a trend. It may not be. But lacking any academic or other religious voices, the reader gets an assortment of assertions. To me, that means this story is missing a degree of credibility. Or, you know, context.
FIRST IMAGE: Millennials, as photographed for a survey that was not about astrology, by State Farm Insurance.