Guilt folder chatter: What happens when newsworthy topics are 'covered' in entertainment?

Guilt folder chatter: What happens when newsworthy topics are 'covered' in entertainment?

Faithful GetReligion readers are familiar with our "folder of guilt" concept. If you live online, you have one, too.

It's the large stack of emails that you know you need to deal with, but more urgent (or less complex) emails keep arriving, day after day, week after week. The digital layers between you and the "guilt" emails get bigger and bigger.

The difference here at GetReligion is that some of us have -- literally -- created "guilt" folders in our email software to protect certain stories or op-eds or online discussions that we know we should deal with, somehow, someday. Like today.

This brings me to a 5-star "guilt" discussion that took place recently among the GetReligionistas. This one was important because it cut to the heart of what we do here and, to be blunt, what we may or may not be doing in the future.

The basics: GetReligion has, for 14-plus years, attempted to critique the good and the bad in mainstream coverage of religion. We have deliberately tried to avoid writing about opinion and analysis journalism, other than making references to add depth or perspective to posts about hard-news coverage. We also have the weekend "think piece" feature that points readers to all kinds of journalism about issues linked to religion and, thus, religion news.

Meanwhile, trends in the Internet age have weakened the wall between straight news and advocacy news (#DUH). We know that and we have struggled to cope with that.

But we also know that many of our culture's most important discussions of religious issues and events are taking place OUTSIDE of the journalism world -- in entertainment. That's one of the reasons I left a newsroom in 1991 to teach mass-media studies at a seminary.

So what is GetReligion supposed to do with debates about "news" topics that take place, to cite one example, in a show like HBO's "Silicon Valley"?

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Porn education for teens? The New York Times (like it or not) raises big moral questions

Porn education for teens? The New York Times (like it or not) raises big moral questions

If you spent anytime on Twitter and other social media this week (and you're a parent) then you probably noted tweets and posts about that ultra-viral New York Times Magazine feature about teen-agers involved in a porn-literacy class in Boston.

So what is the religion angle here?

What makes this our must-read "think piece" for this weekend?

Well, there is no absolutely religion and/or moral angle to this story at all, according to the Times magazine. at least that appears to be the case based on the content that made it into print. Actually, I guess the moral angle is whether constant porn consumption is in some way negatively shaping how young males view sex and, thus, affecting their sex lives and those of the teens with whom they are having sex.

You can kind of see what's going on in the story's double-decker headline:

What Teenagers Are Learning From Online Porn
American adolescents watch much more pornography than their parents know -- and it’s shaping their ideas about pleasure, power and intimacy. Can they be taught to see it more critically?

At one point in the story, there is this mild form of moral nervousness, when addressing the issue of whether tax-funded porn classes for teens should actually RECOMMEND some porn sites to parents and students as safer and more sex-positive -- in terms of avoiding violence and truly twisted material -- while warning them about others.

I mean, after all:

That may be more than most parents, even of older teenagers, can bear. But even if parents decided to help their teenagers find these sites, not only is it illegal to show any kind of porn -- good or bad -- to anyone under 18, but, really, do teenagers want their parents to do so? And which ones would parents recommend for teenagers?

Yes, read that a second time and think about it.

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Playing 'Think like a Godbeat pro': Let's look for religion hooks in big search

Playing 'Think like a Godbeat pro': Let's look for religion hooks in big search

One of the big themes through our years of work here at GetReligion is that reporters with experience and training on the religion beat do a better job of handling stories with strong religious themes than reporters with zero experience on this complicated beat.

I know, I know. #DUH

So why, I am asked all the time, do the editors that staff major newsrooms (a) fail to see the big religion hooks (we call them "ghosts" here at GetReligion) in so many stories and (b) fail to include religion-beat professionals in the teams covering these stories? Obviously, those two questions are connected. It's a big journalism mystery.

With all of that in mind, let's look at a major national story and then play a little news-coverage game. Let's call it, "Think like a Godbeat pro." In this case, we are talking about the much-ballyhooed process to select a home for a massive new headquarters, with thousands of jobs attached.

This story is everywhere, as you would expect, since the 20 "finalist" cities are spread across much of the map of North America. To save time and space, let's look at a new report on this topic by the team at Axios, with this punchy headline, "Jeff Bezos’s brilliant PR stunt." Here is the overture:

Elected officials across the country have spent the past three months falling all over themselves to show Amazon just how much their cities love the e-commerce giant and would do just about anything to house its new headquarters.

Bottom line: The real winner is Amazon, which has created a feedback loop of positive press and fawning politicians just as the company increasingly needs both.

Big picture: Amazon, the world’s largest Internet company by revenue and the fourth-largest company by market cap, is reshaping everything from industries to main streets to homes. But this omnipotence also has put Amazon in the bullseye of a burgeoning "tech-lash," alongside gilded peers like Facebook, Google and Apple.

Now, that "tech-lash" angle is interesting and it involves all kinds of issues, from the brutal side effects of economic libertarianism (must-read book here) to religious, moral and cultural battles linked to gender and sexuality.

Now, let's keep reading. This brings us to the religion hook for this little journalism game.

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What five religion-news stories truly impressed you in 2017? It's time to praise them!

What five religion-news stories truly impressed you in 2017? It's time to praise them!

Attention serious GetReligion readers!

You know who you are. You may be Catholic, Baptist, atheist, Eastern Orthodox, Mormon, Anglican or nothing in particular. Oh, and Lutherans of all stripes. You may have read this blog for 14 years, 14 months, 14 weeks or whatever. You may be a veteran religion-beat professional or you may be a reader who has carefully consumed mainstream religion news for years.

The members of the international team with The Media Project -- backers of this blog for 14 years -- want your help in selecting five truly great mainstream media religion-news stories for this year. It's fair to criticize religion coverage produced by people who just don't "get" religion. But it's also great to offer praise where praise is due, something we frequently do here.

We would like your suggestions by the morning of Wednesday, Jan. 3.

Note: We are talking about news stories, not editorials or advocacy pieces.

Note: We are talking about mainstream news media, not religious publications or websites. This can be news in all forms -- print or broadcast (with links online for those reports).

Note: When we say "best" we are talking about stories in which you believe the religious content and themes were handled exceptionally well by reporters and editors. We want you to pick stories worthy of JOURNALISTIC praise, not topics that you simply want to publicize because they echo your own beliefs.

We are looking for all the virtues of great journalism, with a heavy emphasis on accuracy, fairness and respect for the views of people whose voices are included in these reports.

For example, here is one of my nominees, the subject of a recent post with this headline: "Bodies trapped on Mt. Everest: The New York Times gets the Hindu details in this tragedy." You can find this amazing, epic report right here at the Times.

Yes, magazine journalism qualifies. For example, I recently poured praise on a piece at The New Yorker that, on the magazine's website, had this headline: "Roy Moore and the Invisible Religious Right." This is another of my 2017 nominees.

So please take this seriously. Many of you send us URLs, week after week, pointing us to religion stories, good and bad. Now focus on the good and even the great. The email from The Media Project team put it this way:

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