Think like a reporter: What kind of American cities are booming? Any impact on religion news?

The graphic from this Axios article, with data from  Bureau of Economic Analysis

The graphic from this Axios article, with data from Bureau of Economic Analysis

I have a question for GetReligion readers, especially those who have experience in journalism or online publishing.

Here it is: Are readers “trolls” if they constantly write comments (and sends emails) that have little or nothing to do the journalism issues covered in our posts, but also provide — on a semi-regular basis — totally valid URLs for stories that deserve the attention of your GetReligionistas?

One of our readers, for example, is offended by references to “elite” newsrooms or “elite” U.S. zip codes, especially those along the East and West coasts. All of those studies showing that places like New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles and the Silicon Valley have more clout than cities and towns in flyover country? Who has more power to shape the news, editors at The New York Times or The Oklahoman?

This brings me to a fascinating Axios piece that ran the other day with this headline: “The age of winner-take-all cities.” You have to see the simple, blunt, graphic that Axios editors used to illustrate data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (there’s a screenshot at the top of this post).

Now, what does this story have to say about religion news and trends?

Absolutely nothing, in terms of specific information or explicit references.

However, if you read this piece carefully and think like a reporter who covers issues linked to religion, morality and culture (and, yes, politics) it’s easy to see a burning fuse in this piece that is attached to many explosive stories in the news today. Here is the overture:

For all the talk of American cities undergoing a renaissance, economic success has been concentrated in a few standout metropolises while the rest either struggle to keep up or fall further behind.

Why it matters: This winner-take-all dynamic has led to stark inequalities and rising tensions — both inside and outside city limits — that are helping to drive our politics off the rails.

The new and best-paying jobs are clustered in cities like San Francisco, New York and Seattle.

A widening chasm separates them and struggling post-industrial ones like Cleveland, Detroit and Newark. And distressed areas are fading as their populations age and young workers head to coastal cities.

The top 25 metro areas (out of a total of 384) accounted for more than half of the U.S.'s $19.5 trillion GDP in 2017, according to an Axios analysis of Bureau of Economic Analysis data.

This is a classic good news, bad news situation.

The good news, according to Axios: “ Modern cities wield more power on the global stage than ever before, simultaneously serving as tech testbeds, policy pioneers and economic experiments.”

The bad news is that these cities “sit at the crux of some deepening divides.”

It’s not just a costal thing. The same trends show up inside states in Middle America, including the Bible Belt. For example:

In Texas, almost all the net growth in jobs from the "Texas Miracle" went to four metros — Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio — while the state's poorer, smaller towns saw no growth or losses, the NYT reports. …

Some Sunbelt suburbs are now growing twice as fast as nearby cities, the WSJ reports, as millennials look for alternatives.

As some places pull ahead, the widening urban-rural gap helps drive today's political polarization.

OK, is there a religion angle here? What can religion-beat professionals learn from this?

Let me state the question another way: In the theological battles that have rocked American altars and pews and decades, are their differences between the theological views common in New York City, San Francisco and other major cities, as opposed to in the heartland and, especially, in rural areas? Where will journalists find higher worship attendance rates? Higher birth rates? Where are evangelical and traditional Catholic communities strongest?

Or consider a heartland state like Illinois: Hey United Methodist leaders, are there doctrinal differences between churches in Chicago and those in downstate communities?

I could go on, looking at the tensions inside various flocks.

Has anyone come up with a U.S. version of the term BREXIT? Does anyone doubt that the growing American political conflicts — described in economic terms by Axios — will also involve religious, moral and cultural issues?

Just asking. Anyone want to offer comments that are linked to the journalism implications of this post?

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