Journalistic thoughts on the vices and virtues (and resources) of our social media age


So the Russians and others have been messing with Americans by means of fraudulent online ads and “fake news.”

Expect more of this. (The Guy here refers to “fake news” that’s actually fake, as opposed to “news I label fake though it’s wholly or largely accurate because I dispute it, dislike it and want to foment distrust and hate toward reporters.”).

Simultaneously, books, articles and media interviews warn us that the addictive powers of social media are undermining the psychological well-being of youths, on top of longstanding sexual dangers.

The latest contribution to this literature, from San Diego State University psychologist Jean Twenge, has this jawbreaker of a title:  “iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy -- and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood -- and What That Means for the Rest of Us” (Atria Books). That’s an obvious topic reporters could explore in clergy interviews, with Twenge’s tome in hand.

Along with the vices, there are obvious cyberspace virtues that journalists exploit. The Web, whether accessed via desktop, laptop, or a $999 hand-held device, can quickly disgorge useful information and commentary. However, vice gets involved if material is -- well -- “fake.” A few basics for Web surfing:  

The reporter’s infallible rule of faith and practice is “consider the source.” Religious folks are usually candid so you pick up the pitch right away. But whenever something on the Web looks potentially interesting and the site is unknown to you, ask yourself:

Who sez? What ideological or organizational or economic interests underlie this site? What factors might this source carefully conceal? What’s its track record? Does the sponsor list phone, e-mail and office address contacts? Does it post comprehensive “about us” information and author IDs? Don’t assume anything and triple-check everything.

Back to virtues. For what it might be worth, here’s The Religion Guy’s daily online regimen to quickly keep up with the beat.

Of course everyone will want to scan each day. This site assesses media treatments of religion, but in the process highlights many major topics breaking and brewing. Readers can subscribe for each e-mailed item as soon as it’s posted.

The Guy always checks daily e-mails provided by two aggregators of important articles from assorted outlets, with headlines linked to text:

* Pew Research Center’s “Daily Religion Headlines” feed. Click here.

*, a handy sub-site that runs alongside political writers’ favorite www.realclearpolitics.

You can also subscribe without charge for daily e-mail listings of items from:

* Religion News Service, a venerable agency now operated by beat specialists’ Religion News Foundation. RNS rarely misses big topics and is often first, with news and lots of commentary. The “Slingshot” offers a precis and links for each RNS news item and opinion piece (sometimes the line between those two categories is thin). Consider sending regular donations to sustain this service, as The Guy does.

* Among the dailies, monitor the Godbeat hustlers with the Washington Post’s “Acts of Faith.” The headlines are always worth a look, though you’ll need a paid subscription for full access to copy.

Then there are the specialized sources. For instance, if a good chunk of your readers are interested in Catholicism or something on that beat is hot, be sure to monitor John Allen’s Crux and the U.S. bishops’ semi-independent Catholic News Service.

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