The Loss of the Religious Reporter for the Huntsville Times
What does it say about society that we are losing newspaper beat reporters and reporting? These are people who have dedicated their lives to the discovery of the truth. They have taken the time to build relationships with people in a specific area. They have learned the history not only of that field, but also how it applies to that specific geographic region. They have a huge contact list of all of the relevant individuals and know who to ask the specific and necessary question. Now there is one reporter for the entire state of Alabama whose beat is religion. In a state that is by many considered the buckle of the Bible belt, with over 50% affiliations we have only 1 religion reporter. There are of course other reporters at the Huntsville Times who will cover items as they are considered newsworthy.
Yet who is to decide what is considered “news worthy?” What about interest stories? Are we as a society no longer reading those longer in-depth pieces of news? Has our attention span shrunk to the point we can only handle something the length of a 500 word blog post?
I accept the fact that the newspaper industry’s business model has failed. Newspaper companies are finding it challenging to make money by having a website. Subscriptions have gone down as people have moved away from receiving their newspaper by reading a printed paper. The news in the paper appears 24 hours after a story happened. We are in the information age. An age when we must consume vast amounts of information quickly, yet do we really digest that information? If we are so busy consuming, do we have time to process?
Important and thoughtful pieces about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will no longer be printed as “A Rabbi and Imam Pray for Peace,” instead it will appear only if there is some drama attached to it when an over stretched reporter will come and ask a question and may or may not understand the nuance of a specific situation. The loss of beat reporting is a loss for the whole community. Sensationalism will be the bread and butter of the press as the press feels obligated to continually feed a machine – the machine of “breaking news” or “headline news.”
One of the reasons that the online newspaper model is failing goes back to the same reason that the loss of beat reporting is a problem. It is the loss of relationships. Companies want to feel as if their advertising dollars are being well spent, that the person who is working with them cares about their company enough to help them design the right type of advertising. When the people who sell ad space no longer care or are no longer in the same positions very long then how can they care? Beat reporting is the same. A beat reporter may get someone to talk because the person trusts that what is being said will be taken in the best context. There is a relationship; the interviewee and the interviewer understand one another. Now that those ties are being broken, the quality of the news will suffer just as the website of newspapers are suffering.
No religion is an island and the more we sensationalize the sacred, the more we continue a process of eliminating the Bible and deep thought from the consciousness of the World, the more that we will feel alone. We will suffer as we try and fill that void with more and more stuff whether it is information or materialism. The void will never be full. Only when we are truly open to though and engagement will we find a deep connection and be able to more fully connect. As Abraham Joshua Heschel said: “The purpose of religious communication among human beings of different commitments is mutual enrichment and enhancement of respect and appreciation rather than the hope that the person spoken will prove to be wrong in what he regards as sacred.” May we find ways to continue the important act of religious communication to learn and support the other.