One of the things I am working on, at the moment, is a memo for seminar on religion reporting that is tentatively slated for this coming summer in Prague. The name of the memo, which will become one of the lectures that week, is this: "The Seven Deadly Sins of the Religion Beat."
After consulting with some former GetReligionistas, I have a list of about 11 deadly sins -- so there is some editing and condensing ahead.
Nevertheless, I know that one of the deadly sins that is sure to make the cut will center on an idea from M.Z. "GetReligionista emerita" Hemingway. She suggested: "Ignorance of religious landscape outside of big cities."
Dead on. There is a tendency for reporters at big news organizations to assume that all big religion stories and trends emerge in big places, in big flocks, with big buildings (that photograph well) and that are led by big people (who function as semi-political leaders or celebrities). If you know anything about the history of religion, you know that this is often not how things work.
I think, in particular, that journalists often struggle to find ways to convince editors that it is important to notice when institutions decline, as well as when they grow. Here at GetReligion, I have said, over and over, that the decline of America's liberal Protestant establishment is probably the most under-covered story of the past 50 years. Without the demographic collapse of the oldline churches, you would not have had a giant hole in the public square for the Religious Right to (in part) fill.
I thought about all of this when reading the top of a poignant think piece that ran this week at The Forward, with this headline: "These Are America’s Most Endangered Jewish Communities." Heads up, journalists: There are all kinds of stories in this piece to localize.
The bottom line is the bottom line: There is no painless way to cut a shrinking pie and, at some point, the pie may vanish altogether.