If you were going to select a short list of the most infamous articles ever written about the mainstream press and the religion-beat, surely Christian Smith's "Religiously Ignorant Journalists," which ran in Books & Culture (RIP) back in 2004, would be near the top of the list.
As you would expect, it drew the attention of the newly formed GetReligion.org weblog, with an early post under this headline: "Are journalists too ignorant to cover religion news?"
Smith made several interesting points about language on the religion beat, not the least of which was a riff on the many ways that journalists tend to abuse the term "evangelical." His key point: Why don't editors hire more professionals trained to work on the religion beat, the way they do on other highly complicated -- yet respected -- beats?
Yes, the reason I am bringing this up again is that a faithful reader sent us yet another case of a mainstream, national publication offering a unique or shall we say innovative approach to ordinary religious language.
Hold that thought. Here's the famous overture of Smith's piece:
Today I received a phone message from a journalist from a major Dallas newspaper who wanted to talk to me about a story he was writing about "Episcopals," about how the controversy over the 2003 General Convention's approval of the homosexual bishop, Gene Robinson, would affect "Episcopals." What an embarrassment. How do I break the news to him that there are no "Episcopals"? Actually, they are called Episcopalians. Of greater concern, I wonder how this journalist is going to write an informed and informing story in a few days about such an important and complex matter when he doesn't even know enough in starting to call his subjects by their right name.
What I have learned, however, over the years, is that this journalist is not alone in his ignorance.