Stewart Hoover

Bonus podcast: tmatt and Eric Metaxas sift through 30 years of 'On Religion' work

Bonus podcast: tmatt and Eric Metaxas sift through 30 years of 'On Religion' work

Every Friday, our own Bobby Ross Jr., adds a dose of what he calls "shameless promotion" to his Friday Five wrap up of GetReligion stuff.

Let me add a bit of that of my own, a bit early. My apologies in advance.

Readers may have noticed that the "On Religion" column I filed on April 11 marked the 30th anniversary for my weekly analysis piece, which began with Scripps Howard News Service then moved to the Universal syndicate. Our friends at Lutheran Public Radio also did an extra-long "Crossroads" podcast that week, focusing on what I saw as the five "Big Ideas" in that period.

I finished that anniversary column soon after I arrived in New York City for two weeks of teaching and, literally while doing the edits, I took an hour-plus off to head up Broadway a couple of blocks to appear on The Eric Metaxas Show.

Now, Eric and I have been friends for two decades and I have been on the show several times, either by telephone from here in Oak Ridge or live in the New York studio when I'm in town. There are now video cameras in there, which I find disturbing since I have a face for radio (see proof in this video from a lecture at the University of Mississippi in Oxford).

Metaxas and I agree on a lot of things (love of C.S. Lewis, for example) and disagree on others (artistic quality of bubblegum pop in '70s-'80s). He was raised Greek Orthodox and is now an Evangelical. I was raised as a Southern Baptist "moderate" and am now Orthodox. And then there is the Donald Trump thing. I was #NeverTrump #NeverHillary and Eric's views are best expressed as #NeverHillary, period.

Anyway, during this hour of his program, we went all over the place -- but the heart of the discussion focused -- as you would expect -- on events and trends in religion news.

Consider this a bonus podcast, with an occasionally sarcastic (in a nice kind of way) host.

Click here to tune that in.

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New York Times seeks another Godbeat scribe: How would Yogi Berra parse the job listing?

New York Times seeks another Godbeat scribe: How would Yogi Berra parse the job listing?

I have some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that one of the buzz topics in religion-news circles this week was that job posting at The New York Times, the one with this headline: "Change Is Coming to the New York Times National Desk."

It appears the Times is thinking about doing something new on the religion beat, 12-plus years after the 2005 report on its newsroom culture and weaknesses, "Preserving Our Readers Trust." That was the amazing document that urged editors, when hiring staff, to seek more intellectual and cultural diversity -- to help the Gray Lady do a better job covering religion, non-New York America and other common subjects. Yes, I've written about that report a whole lot on this site.

Oh, and Times editor Dean Baquet's recent journalism confession on NPR -- that the "New York-based and Washington-based ... media powerhouses don't quite get religion" -- may have had something to do with this, as well.

The bad news? There is one chunk of language in this job posting that, for veteran Godbeat observers, could cause a kind of bad acid flashback to another religion-beat job notice in another newsroom, at another time. Hold that thought. 

So here is the Times job notice for a "Faith and values correspondent."

We’re seeking a skilled reporter and writer to tap into the beliefs and moral questions that guide Americans and affect how they live their lives, whom they vote for and how they reflect on the state of the country. You won’t need to be an expert in religious doctrine. The position is based outside of New York, and you will work alongside Laurie Goodstein and a team of other journalists who are digging deep into the nation.

Did you see the key sentence? Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher sure did:

Two cheers for them! I’m glad they’re adding this position, and I’m really glad they’re not basing this reporter in New York (I hope they don’t base him or her in any coastal city, or in Chicago, but rather someplace like Dallas or Atlanta). Why not three cheers? That line about how “you won’t need to be an expert in religious doctrine” bothers me. ... 

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Weekend think piece: Questions to ask, when reporting on the state of a candidate's soul

Weekend think piece: Questions to ask, when reporting on the state of a candidate's soul

Around and around and around we go, with the ongoing chatter about the state of Citizen Donald Trump's soul ("Crossroads" podcast here) and the whole "is he or is he not a you know what kind of Christian" talk.

However, I have good news for all who are frustrated by all of this, including the fact that the Trump drama has offered a chance for journalists to laugh at people who are eternally serious when it comes to discussions of heaven and hell, sin and salvation.

One of the America's most respected scholars on matters of religion and the press has weighed in with some thoughts on this situation. I've known Stewart Hoover ever since our paths crossed soon after his doctoral studies. To make a long story short, he was very kind, at one point, to call some attention to my own University of Illinois graduate project (the short version in The Quill is here) digging into why journalists struggle to cover religion news. Anyone who has taught a college class on this subject knows his work.

Thus, this weekend's religion-news think piece comes from Hoover and can be found at ReligionDispatches.org. The headline: "Hillary's faith, Trump's conversion: Two questions journalists need to ask."

Here is a key part of the overture. It's almost like he's saying that many mainstream journalists, you know, kind of don't "get" religion.

Somewhere in each reporter’s notebook is a tab marked “religion.” The problem is that, unlike most of the other topics they’ll be reporting on, their understanding of religion is a mixture of broad bromides about the nature of religion in American life, mixed perhaps with entirely subjective notions of religion born of their own personal experience with it.

Among journalistic “broad truths:” religion used to be important to Americans, but isn’t anymore, except in rural areas and the Midwest and for those pesky evangelicals and mass-attending Catholics and of course the great and noble tradition of African-American Protestantism. What do you do about a candidate’s religion? She or he must have one, of course, but it doesn’t matter what it is -- except when it does.

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Year 11: It's still important to keep saying that the mainstream press needs to get religion

Year 11: It's still important to keep saying that the mainstream press needs to get religion

The conference last month in Westminster was called "Getting Religion," which tells you something right there. It was sponsored by England's Open University and the Lapido Media, an organization that promotes religious literacy among diplomats and journalists.

The chairman of Lapido Media could not be at the event, however, since he had died weeks earlier at his home in Norway. His name, as loyal GetReligion readers know, was the Rev. Dr. Arne Fjeldstad and this academic, Lutheran pastor and mainstream journalist also served as the director of The Media Project that has backed GetReligion since Day One.

Today marks the 11th anniversary of the birth of this weblog and, to be blunt about it, there is no way to talk about this past year without starting with the death of Arne Fjeldstad and, at the same time, the continuing relevance of the academic and journalistic materials that he worked so hard to produce through GetReligion, the "Getting Religion" event and many other similar projects. He was convinced, as we all are here, that there is no way for journalists (and diplomats as well) to understand real news in the lives of real people living in the real world without taking religion seriously.

Here is some of what British media critic Dr. Jenny Taylor, the founder of Lapido Media, had to say when Arne died:

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10 years of GetReligion: Arne's view from 10,000 feet

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Rev. Dr. Arne H. Fjeldstad is a veteran journalist who worked at a variety of mainstream Norwegian newspapers and then as a publisher in Egypt and North Africa. He is also a Lutheran pastor and has a doctorate from Fuller Theological Seminary. He leads The Media Project, which includes GetReligion. Mainstream media is up for a big challenge in the coming years. Nope, I am not talking new technology, lack of finances for print media and rapidly declining numbers of readers both for magazines and the daily newspaper. Or any other of the many rapid changes in media reality today. I am talking about the challenge of a paradigm shift in mainstream media.

Possibly the challenge is even greater in Europe (where I live when I am not on the road or in an airplane at 10,000 feet) but also US media as well as many media elsewhere in the world will need to change their attitude and policy. Start focusing for new ways to meet the growing demands for real knowledge about the world, the society and the neighborhood. Real knowledge that will include knowledge about history, culture and religion. Yes, religion.

Religion will be the key to the ongoing paradigm shift. It’s all about religion and the impact of faith in any culture, in any country or region of the world. The challenge for any news media is to “get religion.” Understand its impact — good and bad. Simply because religious faith, religious culture and religious history again and again are the key to understand why news happens.

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