Our partners on the Issues, Etc., radio and podcasting team took this week off -- in part to get ready for their June 9-10 "Making the Case" conference in Collinsville, Ill.
I will be one of the featured speakers at that conference, addressing the challenges of finding solid journalism in an age of fake news. There is a second conference Nov. 10-11 in Houston that will, among others, feature M.Z. "GetReligionista emerita" Hemingway and Rod "Benedict Option" Dreher.
In other words, we didn't record a new Crossroads podcast for this week.
However, I did do a radio interview the other night with the national Catholic Answers program that I think will be of interest to many GetReligion readers -- especially newcomers. The topic was pretty obvious, with this title: "Why Don't the Media Get Religion?" Click the title to listen.
In a way, this was a GetReligion 101 mini-seminar, in terms of talking about the goals of this blog and why we think the mainstream press is -- when it comes to religion news -- worthy of serious criticism, as well as praise.
As you would expect, in a chat about that topic recorded this past week, the whole subject of the death of The New York Times Public Editor slot did come up, as discussed in this post ("Disturbance in the Journalism Force? New York Times spikes its public-editor post").
But the discussion went all over the place, with explanations of many topics that are familiar to GetReligion readers.
For example: What is a "religion ghost"? That literally takes us back 13 years, to the first paragraphs in the blog's first post:
Day after day, millions of Americans who frequent pews see ghosts when they pick up their newspapers or turn on television news. They read stories that are important to their lives, yet they seem to catch fleeting glimpses of other characters or other plots between the lines. There seem to be other ideas or influences hiding there.
One minute they are there. The next they are gone. There are ghosts in there, hiding in the ink and the pixels. Something is missing in the basic facts or perhaps most of the key facts are there, yet some are twisted. Perhaps there are sins of omission, rather than commission.
A lot of these ghosts are, well, holy ghosts. They are facts and stories and faces linked to the power of religious faith. Now you see them. Now you don’t. In fact, a whole lot of the time you don’t get to see them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.
What was that classic Bill Moyers image for the struggles of many mainstream journalists when they try to take on serious religion news events and issues?
All good specialty reports want to get the facts right. The really good reporters want to dig deeper than that and get into the spirit of their stories, as well. I like that Bill Moyers quote: Many journalists remain tone deaf to the music of religion.
So why don't the managers of many elite newsrooms hire solid reporters who have experience covering religion or, in some cases, have done serious academic work to broaden their backgrounds on this complicated topic? Remember this sad case study?
In 1994, Washington Post editors tacked up a notice for a religion reporter, seeking applicants from within the newsroom. The "ideal candidate," it said, is "not necessarily religious nor an expert in religion."
Now try to imagine a newsroom notice seeking an opera critic which states that the "ideal candidate does not necessarily like opera or know much about opera." Or how about seeking a Supreme Court reporter who "does not necessarily care about the law or have done any work in the field of law." How about notices for reporters who cover professional sports, science, film and politics?
Are all mainstream journalists prejudiced, in some way, against religion and religious believers? Of course not.
But are some editors and reporters (hello Bill Keller) more likely to veer into biased, advocacy journalism when the news overlaps with controversial moral, cultural and, yes, religious topics? For example, what does the stylebook at BuzzFeed say about that?
We firmly believe that for a number of issues, including civil rights, women’s rights, anti-racism, and LGBT equality, there are not two sides.
You get the idea. In fact, you could turn listening to this interview into a kind of GetReligion drinking game. Write down five to 10 topics, phrases or quotes that you expect to show up in a tmatt discourse on what GetReligion is all about.
Then, when one pops up, well, you know. If you are a Baptist or a Mormon, you can take a large bite of ice cream.