Thinking Out Loud

August 17, 2017

Skye Jethani on News Media; Then, and Later, and Now

Skye Jethani ran this as a series of 20 Twitter posts on Thursday morning. I thought he’d post it to his blog, but in the absence of that wanted to make sure more people got to see it.

by Skye Jethani

Here’s what’s on my mind: Cultural division, the media, and the Civil War. Does 19th century media explain what’s happening today?

Newspapers before and during the Civil War were hopelessly biased in both the North and South. Many twisted facts into “fake news.”  There’s no doubt a steady diet of biased news fueled the divide between North and South and contributed to the profits of a media industry fueled by the new technology of the telegraph allowing for much faster reporting then ever before. Part of the problem was that neither side engaged reporting from the other. Media was highly regional with the opposing point of view rarely presented fairly. It was a fragmented and siloed media landscape that made generative dialogue difficult if not impossible.

The media landscape changed dramatically in the 20th century again due to tech. Radio and then TV created for the first time a national media that could speak to the whole country instantly. It was also an age of external threats where the country rallied together to fight WWI and WWII. The focus on external enemies continued with the Cold War. For much of 20th century regional media differences were overshadowed by a united national media. A handful of outlets spoke to all of us. Remember when Cronkite was the most trusted man in America?

A new wave of tech, this time digital, has erased the unifying media landscape of the 20th century and my childhood. Instead, we’re returning to the pre-Civil War fragmentation where we only hear the voices that agree with us, and where opposition voices are silenced or mis-characterized. The divide is not geographic this time but socio-graphic as social media curates our ‘friends’ and ‘networks’ into like-minded bundled for marketing purposes.

Many look at what’s happening today and the divisions splintering the country as an abnormal, new development. I worry the relative media unity of the 20th century may have been the abnormality, and America is simply returning to the fractured existence that has plagued us since 1776. Without a serious external threat (King George III, Nazi Germany, Imperial Japan, USSR), and without a common national and trusted media, we may be returning to the unsustainable conditions of the 19th century that ultimately led to civil war.

When we’ve faced such existential threats in the past it was the virtue of great leaders that has kept us united. Washington galvanized thirteen colonies into a single nation. Lincoln preserved the Union with deft leadership and uncommon wisdom. We need that kind of executive vision, virtue, and resolve no less in these times. God help us, we have none.

God help us.


Skye Jethani is an author, speaker, consultant and ordained pastor. He also serves as the co-host of the popular Phil Vischer Podcast and writes the With God daily devotional, emailed to subscribers worldwide. Skye is a former editor for Christianity Today and Leadership Journal magazines. skyejethani.com  @SkyeJethani

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January 31, 2017

Before Screens There Was Newsprint

Filed under: Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:26 am

From the time I was 20 to the time I was 30, four of my friends started Christian newspapers. In the times before screens, there was newsprint and anyone with minimal ability to do basic layout and the funds to pay a printer could have their very own outlet.

Oddly enough, the type of offset printing used to print newspaper was called web printing — or fully, web-fed printing, to distinguish it from sheet-fed printing — a term which has taken on a different meaning in the digital age. Most of us had worked on high school newspapers and understood the low-tech technology.

In a world where it seems that everybody has a handful of social media platforms on which to share their poetry or prose, their political views or their literary skills; it’s important to realize that those living in a pre-internet age had no fewer opinions or no less desire to see their words in print reaching a mass audience. (Also, unlike today, we knew how to insert paragraph breaks. But alas, I digress.) I had a byline at some point in each of the following ventures.

The first paper I became involved with started by friend Steve, who named it Deluge. On page four of each issue, we were reminded that “Deluge means flood…” but I can’t remember the rest of the purpose statement. The paper was officially published by the Toronto Christian Activist Forum, which to the best of my knowledge consisted of Steve. I don’t believe the group had held a meeting, or a forum, or done any activism, but I could be wrong. My job was to write music-related content. The 12-page paper was distributed free on college and university campuses at a time when a great host of other interest groups were also distributing newspapers. Together, we contributed to the demise of many forests.

delugeWhen Steve grew weary of the project, I took it over, dropping the activist group reference. The paper became wholly subsidized by a business I had started, and showed up at more Christian gatherings than college campuses, but basically consisted of advertising for music related products and events.

That caught the attention of a local concert promoter and radio program host, Gord who started the paper Triumph. Unlike the rest of us, Gord had a friend named Tom who was a professional graphic artist and was able to upgrade the quality considerably.

One of the people who worked on that paper was another Steve. He dreamed of doing something to reach the same basic audience — twenty-somethings and thirty-somethings — but on a national scale with rented commercial office space in the heart of downtown Toronto. His publication used the same type of web printing, but rather than a tabloid size, was printed in magazine form. The magazine was called Destiny. The idea was to focus on a much wider variety of interests; not just music.

Although it was a given that I would write for Destiny I was initially hired as advertising sales manager. This was based on the assumption that because I had been involved in writing for a variety of publications — both these and much larger U.S. magazines — I knew something about selling ad space. We now know that this assumption was somewhat flawed. Did I mention that during much of the time I was supposed to be traveling the city meeting with clients I was having to borrow my mother’s car?

Destiny had a truly beautiful layout concept, but the initial issue was printed on the same paper stock that had been used in each of the earlier ventures which gave rise to it. In other words, it was a magazine printed on newsprint. But not only that, it was a magazine that was somewhat ink-saturated, with the result that after only a few pages, one was leaving fingerprints on everything they touched.

Furthermore, the official launch issue of Destiny was shipped in bulk across the country to Christian bookstores who had not requested it. While there are ways to put a positive spin on negative-option or consignment sales; the particular retail climate of the day meant that store owners were not entirely receptive. Bundles of that first issue started returning, many of them unopened.

Eventually, while some nicer full-color issues on better paper stock appeared, the magazine wasn’t destined to survive long-term. It was at Destiny that I was asked to commit what I now see as a breach of writing ethics. Or maybe not. (You’ll have to tune in on Thursday for that story.)

The final venture with which I was associated brought things back to a more regional territory and was in fact sponsored by a local church. My friend Vince started Crosswalk — ah, that poor name, used to this day by so many ministries — which was the print outreach of a dynamic youth outreach in Toronto’s northeast suburbs. It was the product of a particular time and place; so many people talented in the arts producing music, writing and visual fine art. Minus the aspect of living in community, it was a smaller scale of what Chicago’s JPUSA was doing with Cornerstone magazine and Resurrection Band; and the house band at the coffee house ministry which sponsored the magazine was actually good friends and toured with Rez Band…

…And where you live there are similar stories. Visiting different cities and connecting with different youth ministries as an itinerant speaker, I would always pick up copies of whatever publications were stacked up on the lobby of the concert hall or church basement. If we really liked a graphic image we would literally cut and paste it. (Yes, the thing you know as Ctrl-V actually had an element of glue to it.)(Or command-V for you Mac users.)

These publications were the way we promoted our youth events, sold our t-shirts and shared our testimonies. When an issue was ready to go, we didn’t press a “publish” key, but took the finished layouts to a printer where we told they would be ready in 3-to-5 days. If you noticed a mistake after going to press, you couldn’t edit printed copies; you had to live with it. As for stats, if your copies were still lying in a pile a week later, you knew the response wasn’t great.

Later, a generation who worked on such things would move on to writing for denominational publications and national ministry organization newsletters; but there was nothing like the early days of just starting something, even if it left black fingerprints all over everything you touched.

 

February 12, 2016

Unsportsmanlike Media

Filed under: Christianity, current events, ethics — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:44 am

Color barsThere was less than five minutes on the clock when I finally tuned in Sunday’s big game. I’m not a sports guy. Even if I were, I’m told it wasn’t the greatest football telecast in history. And it’s a lot of football to watch just to see a few innovative commercials.

So this means I saw far more of the post-game coverage than anything else.

There are winners and losers in any sport, and one team walks away in celebration while the other goes home in defeat. For the losing quarterback it was too much to bear.

The cameras got a tight shot of the man sobbing. The broadcast director — the one choosing the camera shots that go to air — called the shot of the dejected player and then just held there for about five seconds which seemed like five hours. I’ve directed community television before and worked in broadcast as well, and the director in me was saying, ‘Enough already! Cut to another shot.’ (If it bleeds it leads, if it cries it…)

The next day the sports bloggers and talk radio hosts had a field day criticizing the quarterback. He was sulking. He was being unsportsmanlike. It was unprofessional.

Okay, I have a question: How is that the fans are allowed to abandon all emotional restraint cheering on their team, but the players themselves are not expected have any emotional investment in the game?

Carolina was the favorite going in. The championship game can be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. You’ve waited for this. You go in hoping for the win. If the win doesn’t happen it’s a loss, it’s a big loss.

My issue is the way the director held the shot for so long.

In the song Dirty Laundry, Don Henley sings, “People love it when you lose.” And “It’s interesting when people die.” (If you don’t know the song, at least play the first two verses, this is a lyric version.) In today’s world, what is considered good journalism is often close-ups of pain and suffering. Media ethics? Probably a somewhat sketchy field.

I did not hear of any of the sports bloggers or talk radio hosts criticizing the broadcast director. But to me, holding the shot as long as they did seemed equally unsportsmanlike. Yes, the same quarterback later walked out of the press conference, but maybe by doing that he was actually averting more emotional display.

For the crew at CBS: A flag on the play.

 

June 11, 2014

Wednesday Link List

calvinistsafety

With lots of people doing summer things this week, I thought we’d tinker with the format while nobody’s looking. ANYTHING YOU CLICK will take you to PARSE, the blog of Leadership Journal, the Link List’s owner.  But first, we take you to Monday’s edition of the comic Pearls Before Swine (click image to link).

Pearls Before Swine June 9th 2014

I usually bury the video links near the bottom, but this week uncovered two clips I wanted to give more prominence.

Church leadership stuff:

Essay(s)-of-the-Week:

The wider religious world:

Worth reading:

Be afraid; be very afraid:

So how do you like your links? Categorized or free-range? Leave a comment!

 

Happy Hour Church

February 10, 2011

Being the Go-To Guy for Opinion and Information

An old friend of ours is frequently called upon by a Christian television show to offer his opinions on the major story of the day or general trends.  He’s one of a number of “go-to” people they use when they want to gather additional commentary on a given topic. He’s knowledgeable about many things, and I don’t at all question their judgment in using him.

When I worked briefly in campus media — newspaper and radio — at Canada’s largest university, we would receive a phone book of sorts titled Sources; a listing of people in business, finance, academia, education, entertainment, sports, politics, world affairs, etc. who were considered experts in their field.  The book allowed writers and broadcasters to get past the screening processes and be in contact with these people quickly.  A good journalist has his or her own contacts as well.

It’s always nice to be asked your opinion.  It’s self-gratifying perhaps, but always good for self-esteem to hear someone say, “What do you think about this situation?”  Recently, “Canada’s most-listened to spiritual talkback program” as it is known, cut back it’s actual time allotted to talkback.  I think it’s unfortunate when fewer and fewer voices get to be heard.  Or when only a few people get the morning call from the Christian television producer to prepare a soundbite for the morning broadcast on a fast-developing story.

But we all can’t be experts on everything.  For the past three weeks I’ve followed the uprising in Tunisia and the subsequent protests in Egypt without writing a word about them here. I think I understand the basic issues enough to explain it to my kids, but that’s where I draw the line at jumping in on that one.

You see, I went to an experimental high school in Toronto.  We were among the first to get “unstructured modules” or “spares” in the middle of the day.  Also, we were allowed to drop history if we took geography, which means that I’ve never taken high school history (nor political science) and my middle school history classes were taught by a former hippie whose teaching of the subject consisted of playing the banjo (seriously!) and spinning tales that often sounded more like fiction than fact.  He wasn’t big on students taking notes either, so in those three years of junior high, my cumulative notes would barely fill a single notebook.  So I tend to shy away from topics related to history, political science or macro-economics.

It’s important to know what you’re an expert on and where you’re out of your depth.  Yet we know people who feel they have to have a take on everything and at least one Minneapolis pastor who I sometimes feel is placed in a spotlight where he has to have an opinion on every issue passing by.

Locally, I’ve worked in inter-denominational ministry for 16 years now in a somewhat higher profile position, but not once have the local newspapers contacted me when a local religious news story is breaking.  It would be nice, just once, to be a source.  I can’t do Egypt.  I can do topics of interest to the faith community.

But you, too can be a source.  There’s always blogging.  As I approach the three-year anniversary of this project in a few days, I am reminded that I’ve always felt I got into this too late. That for someone who has always been a prolific writer, building a platform might have come easier if I’d started earlier.

But then yesterday I spoke with a professional writer who has just started one.  And honestly, I don’t think it’s ever too late.  This one succeeded partly because it wasn’t about my issues or local issues.  The first time a comment came in from Europe or Australia, I knew that I was being followed by a much larger audience than I imagined, and I responded by writing in a way that would make this blog world-friendly.

However, if you read the stats on Christian Blog Topsites (the first of the aggregator ‘buttons’ in the sidebar) you know that all of us in the upper tier play second fiddle to a woman who simply writes about “raising four kids under five.”  So you don’t have to take on the world in order to reach the world with your writing.

And if you’ve already made that leap, today’s comment section is available for you to promote your writing.  Who knows?  You might even turn up as a Wednesday link at some point in the future.

If you care about your world and can express opinions cleary, You are a source. And your opinion is worthy of an audience.


October 16, 2010

Canada’s Largest Newspaper Doubles Horoscope Space Allotment

The Toronto Star, the largest circulation newspaper in Canada has upped its commitment to readers of the daily horoscope to just under a half page.    That’s right, a half page of editorial (as opposed to paid advertising) space for people who believe that the day of your birth dictates the path of your life.  And all this at a time when other ‘religious’ space allocations are being cut.  (The paper once published over two pages of “church” copy and advertising each weekend, and then priced it so high that churches could no longer afford to advertise.)

Can you imagine the outcry if the paper printed a half page of Bible promises?   Or wisdom from the book of Proverbs?   Or how about a half page each day from various Evangelical pastors on knowing God’s will for your life?   (With the pastors receiving payment for so doing, as writer Jonathan Cainer undoubtedly does.)

This isn’t the first time this has been mentioned here, however; so I want to simply reiterate what I wrote in March of this year…

Their followers maintain religious devotion to their every pronouncement. Their right to millions of dollars of free newspaper space around the world is never questioned, in fact many of those papers pay them for inclusion in their print and online editions.

These same media outlets are very cautious about granting space of any kind to Jewish, Christian or Muslim faith groups because that would be “sectarian” and they don’t want to be seen as promoting this or that religion. So why is an exception made for this one group?

They, of course are astrologers and their daily encyclical is usually called “Your horoscope.” Their belief system is secularized predestination — Calvinists, take note — believing that our lives are guided by the stars, in various ways, depending on the star (or Zodiac) sign in place at our time of birth.

My usual tongue-in-cheek reply to this is, “I don’t believe in astrology, but then again, we Geminis are natural skeptical.”

Kidding aside, why does one faith group get preferential treatment? And how can any media outlet turn down any request from any religious group when they already grant one unfettered access to their readers?

Comments: This is a piece about press discrimination or media favoritism. Comments as to the merits of astrology will be deleted.

March 6, 2010

One “Religion” Gets Preferred Advertising Worth Millions Daily

Their followers maintain religious devotion to their every pronouncement.  Their right to millions of dollars of free newspaper space around the world is never questioned, in fact many of those papers pay them for inclusion in their print and online editions.

These same media outlets are very cautious about granting space of any kind to Jewish, Christian or Muslim faith groups because that would be “sectarian” and they don’t want to be seen as promoting this or that religion.  So why is an exception made for this one group?

They, of course are astrologers and their daily encyclical is usually called “Your horoscope.”  Their belief system is secularized predestination — Calvinists, take note — believing that our lives are guided by the stars, in various ways, depending on the star (or Zodiac) sign in place at our time of birth.

My usual tongue-in-cheek reply to this is, “I don’t believe in astrology, but then again, we Geminis are natural skeptical.”

Kidding aside, why does one faith group get preferential treatment?   And how can any media outlet turn down any request from any religious group when they already grant one unfettered access to their readers?

Comments:  This is a piece about press discrimination or media favoritism.  Comments as to the merits of astrology will be deleted.

April 13, 2009

Unlikely Disciple: Kevin Roose Embeds Himself at Liberty University

He may consider himself an unlikely disciple, but as Kevin Roose finds out after a semester at Jerry Falwell’s Liberty University, he’s hardly atypical when it comes to doubt, lifestyle or even worldview.     Apparently, the 21st Century version of LU has a student body composition that while different in some respects, in others appears to be a microcosm of the larger college and university universe.

unlikely-discpleKevin, a journalism student at Brown University — where they spell “Liberal arts” with a capital ‘L’ — notices the whole “study abroad” opportunity to spend a term immersed in a different culture and decides that the American fundamentalist culture is just as interesting, plus he doesn’t need a passport.

Unlike books like Rapture Ready and Righteous, this book isn’t the result of hours of research conducted from the safety of the authors home turf, albeit with a few field trips added.    No, this is the field trip of the decade, involving total immersion, total focus and commitment, and shrouded in total secrecy.   Only his off campus, pre-Liberty contacts know what he’s up to, and they’re concerned he’s going to undergo a conversion before the semester ends.

Which brings me to:  This is a book with an actual plot; as in ‘a beginning, a middle and an ending.’   It’s investigative, yes; but it’s also autobiographical as the author tells the story subjectively and transparently.    It’s the story that every secular journalist who ever covered the late Jerry Falwell, or Liberty University, or Thomas Road Baptist Church simply never got.   It’s the story you can only get by being there.

Some Christian bookstores chains are carrying this title and some aren’t.  (No, Lifeway isn’t; not even with a “Read With Discernment” warning.)   That’s probably fair.   The language is a bit edgy at time, but in general, it tells the story in an honest and balanced manner.

Whether or not a high school student considering Liberty University should read this is another question.    It could either raise social expectations for the teenager who is going to a Christian college somewhat against their will; or lower spiritual expectations for the prospective student who believes that dorm life at a Christian college is going to be life transforming.   Ditto the possible consequences should the parents read it.

For the rest of us, who don’t have an emotional stake in this issue, I would say that this particular title comes really close to a ‘must-read.’    Why?   Because this is probably as accurate a portrayal of Christian college life as any you will ever read, written by someone who had no previous history, and no particular axe to grind.

He did however have some preconceived ideas.    Watching those tweak, morph, or just plain get deleted is what makes the book so engaging.    As Kevin Roose himself might say after reading Unlikely Disciple, “Hey, Kevin; I’m praying for ya.”

Kevin Roose – Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester at America’s Holiest University; Grand Central Publishing; hardcover; March 2009

October 1, 2008

Don’t Show Me A Transcript, Send Me a Video Link

Filed under: Christianity, election, issues — Tags: , , , , — searchlightevents @ 5:19 pm

Christianity Today’s election blog features a transcript of a media interview with Sarah Palin that discussed her views on topics most likely to be informed by her Christian beliefs.   Frankly, the transcript doesn’t read all that well.   One person posted a comment which described it as “a blizzard of words that make not sense whatsoever … the individual words appear to be English, but strung together they are giberish.”

I thought that deserved a response:

Sometimes transcripts are the worst. You don’t think when you’re THE SPEAKER that your words are going to be transcribed and what that’s going to look like. But READING transcripts is also the worst. You miss the inflection, the gestures, the whole timing and tenor of what the speaker really said. You can have a transcript that reads one way, when in fact those who heard and saw the speech would say that the meaning went the other way.

You’ve got interviewers who are trying to keep things concise, respecting the economy of airtime; while at the same time the speaker is trying to flesh out and qualify their remarks with a series of subordinate clauses. You’ve got interviewers who want to see a good headline; who want to see the story in black and white terms; and a speaker who is still thinking on their feet trying to formulate their answer even as they’re talking.

Instead, the whole process should be done on blogs! Seriously! Or some other written format. Spoken English is so terribly deficient, as Sarah Palin so capably demonstrates.

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