monastic life

New York Times visits a fading abbey -- that plans to court spiritual-but-not-religious folks

New York Times visits a fading abbey -- that plans to court spiritual-but-not-religious folks

Let's say that you are a reporter and you are going to write a feature story about an order of Catholic monastics.

If you were writing about an order that is growing -- let's say the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia in Nashville -- it would be very important for your piece to mention the larger context of this story. I am, of course, referring to the overall decline of Catholic monasticism and holy orders in the United States.

For example, see the opening of this classic NPR piece:

For the most part, these are grim days for Catholic nuns. Convents are closing, nuns are aging and there are relatively few new recruits. But something startling is happening in Nashville, Tenn. The Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia are seeing a boom in new young sisters: Twenty-seven joined this year and 90 entered over the past five years.
The average of new entrants here is 23. And overall, the average age of the Nashville Dominicans is 36 -- four decades younger than the average nun nationwide.

So lots of monasteries and convents are in decline -- but not all. In other words, there are two sides to this equation.

So let's flip this around. Now you are a reporter and you have been assigned to write about the decline and potential death of a Catholic monastery. That, for example, this lovely New York Times feature with this expansive double-decker headline:

The World Is Changing. This Trappist Abbey Isn’t. Can It Last?
Meet the monks of Mepkin Abbey, a Trappist monastery in South Carolina, who are trying to maintain age-old religious traditions in a rapidly evolving world.

You can see half of the equation right there in the headline. Throughout the piece, the challenges faced at Mepkin Abbey are -- as you would expect -- spelled out in great detail.

What is missing? The story does not include the other side of the equation.

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Wall Street Journal resists news media entropy, finds faith in the 'Sooner State'

Wall Street Journal resists news media entropy, finds faith in the 'Sooner State'

Almost three years have passed since I took pen to paper in aid of the work of The Media Project and GetReligion. I welcome the opportunity to return to the team of writers led by tmatt who cover the coverage of religion reporting in the secular press. 

Much has changed in my life these past few years. I have left the Church of England Newspaper after 18 years and have been engaged in the parish ministry in rural Florida as rector of Shepherd of the Hills Episcopal Church in Lecanto. I’ve gone up a notch in the church world and now can claim the right to wear purple buttons on my cassock following my election as dean of Northwest Central Florida. I remain active with two online media ventures, Anglican.Ink and Anglican Unscripted. 

The media world has not stood still either. The decline in professional standards -- clarity of language, honesty in reporting, balance and integrity in sourcing -- continues. From my perspective, it would appear that we in the media are all doomed.
 
Rudolf Clausius’ 1865 maxim: "The energy of the universe is constant; the entropy of the universe tends to a maximum" -- from which he formulated the second law of thermodynamics-- is true for journalism as well as physics. In terms of journalism basics, a race to the bottom is underway.  

We are now at a point where The Sun, a British redtop or tabloid, is a better source for religion reporting than The Independent (one of Britain’s national papers). Compare these reports on a Catholic abuse scandal in Italy published earlier this month.

The Sun’s story is entitled: “ROMPING IN THE PEWS: Randy Italian priest ‘with 30 lovers’ faces the sack for ‘organising wild S&M orgies on church property’.” The Independent’s piece has the less colorful headline: “Italian priest faces defrocking for ‘organising orgies on church property’.”

Naughty vicar stories are a staple of the British press.

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