Personal ministry by bicycle. (photo: waferboard/Flickr, cc by-nc-sa 2.0)
Respected theologian Martin Marty has a winning article highlighting a mainstream news story that has finally gotten religion reporting right. The New York Times’ recent profile of a Baptist couple who spend their retirement doing disaster relief work stood out as a “too-rare” kind of reporting on religious people and topics as Martin Marty writes:
“We have to wear virtual sunglasses when we do our too-rare Sightings of positive religion news in public media, so bright are these exceptions to the down and depressing accounts. Since most religious people and those who benefit from their doings see and experience more bright sides than down sides, we ask: is there something wrong with those who report and publish or broadcast the depressing and scandalous stories?”
He argues that there is double standard for religion reporting, in that such stories get boxed into one category or another:
“(I) have come up with a formula: if religion is covered as news, the bad stuff will predominate; if it appears as features, the good side gets a chance to show.”
It would be a delicate balancing act to blend news reporting with the best aspects of features reporting:
“News waits for someone to embezzle or kill or seduce another in the name of God. Features allows for creative reporters to get up close to believing and behaving people who use their imagination, faith, energy, and communal spirit to serve others.”
He is praising an unusual gift for readers, the opportunity to learn the language and practices of other faith traditions in a tight news cycle. After many years of working in a daily newsroom, I know that beast of news production has an endless appetite. And with dwindling resources, those thoughtful features are getting harder and harder to cultivate in that environment.