Thus, it’s hard to cheer about these disasters in the lives of many professionals. However, millions of millions of Americans — especially in red zip codes — have given up on the mainstream press. What about them? Should they cheer as major news organizations implode?
This week’s podcast is the last one that will be featured here at GetReligion, as we close a week from today, on this weblog’s 20th birthday. However, future episodes of Crossroads will continue to be available through the podcast page at the GetReligion.org archive, at my own Tmatt.net, the Religion Unplugged website, Lutheran Public Radio and the Apple podcasts page.
In this (sort of) finale, it was obvious to ask: Does the current newsroom employment crisis have anything to do with decades of journalism leaders failing to, you know, “get” religion when covering one of the most complex religious cultures in the Western world?
After recording the podcast, I had a flashback to a story that Rod “Live Not By Lies” Dreher shared about his years at the Dallas Morning News. Then, lo and behold, Dreher retold key parts of the story in a new Substack post (“Journalism Continues To Crash, Burn”).
A few of his colleagues were worried about the increasingly liberal — in terms of religion, culture and politics — product that the News was producing for the region it served.
“It aggravated us to no end that our readers were mostly conservatives — they really were; we had the audience research to prove it — but too many in the newsroom were bound and determined to act as if that wasn’t true.”
The issue that pushed this to a boiling point was — no surprise here — coverage of LGBTQ+ issues. Truth be told, few leaders in the newsroom:
“… ever thought for a second about how they cover conservatives, or religious people, or issues from their point of view. Back in 2007 or thereabouts, I complained to a DMN friend and colleague that our paper’s coverage of the same-sex marriage issue was entirely lopsided. We never, or almost never, wrote about opposition to gay marriage, except to paint the opponents — of whom there were many in Dallas at the time — as simple bigots to be overcome. My colleague, who was a good guy overall, said that of course we don’t give fair treatment to that side — and that’s a good thing, too.
“Do you think we owed equal treatment to the KKK during the Civil Rights era?” he said. He was completely sincere.”
The bottom line: Would the unbalanced and often inaccurate coverage drive off many readers? If that happened, one editor stated, the newspaper would be losing readers that really didn’t matter, in the long run. And that was that.
Nevertheless, Dreher stressed, right up front: “People who take pleasure in others losing their jobs are either hard-hearted jerks, or have never lost a job themselves, or have never seen others losing their jobs.”
Amen to that. However, I also know that this division between corner offices in newsrooms and the practical details of life for many readers is nothing new.
I mean, I ran into it in 1981 as I was doing research for my massive mass-media graduate project at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign (which later ran, in a shorter form, as a cover story at the journal The Quill. That headline: “Religion News: No room at the inn?” That included quotes from the a religion-beat pioneer that I later wove into a 2000 “On Religion” column with this headline (four years before the launch of this weblog): “Are journalists getting religion?”
The key word here is “underlined.”
The late, great religion writer George Cornell knew a big story when he saw one – especially when people kept underlining it.
It was in April 1982, that he wrote his Associated Press story about research by S. Robert Lichter and Stanley Rothman into the moral and religious views of journalists in America’s top newsrooms. One statistic jumped out of the report and into pulpits nationwide. Half of these journalists, when faced with the “religious affiliation” blank, wrote “none.”
Cornell dug deeper and learned that many had also underlined the word “none.”
“A lot of journalists, grew up in a tradition where religion – at least the substance of religion – was out of the ballpark as far as newspapering is concerned,” Cornell told me. … “I think that idea has carried over. … They hesitate to cover religion because they see it as a private matter and they don’t want it in the newspaper.”
If you start with Cornell’s worries, it is pretty easy to leap to the thesis statement in the giant James Bennet feature — “When the New York Times lost its way” — that ran at The Economist. This is short, and blunt:
“The reality is that the Times is becoming the publication through which America’s progressive elite talks to itself about an America that does not really exist.”
That “preaching to the choir” attitude works, as a business model, for a progressive national newspaper based in New York City.