Political Journalism and Lolcats–Together?

Politico writer Ben Smith made waves last week when news broke that he was leaving most of his duties at the young political news site to head up a new  team of journalists at BuzzFeed, a website devoted to distributing popular social content across the Web. The editorial team, Smith said, will cover traditional beats like sports and politics plus other, “non-traditional” news categories.

On the surface, it seems like an odd move. In the world of elite political news coverage, Politico is where it’s at. Everyone in Washington, DC reads it. It’s one of three things that former president George W. Bush reads every morning (the other two are the Bible and the Wall Street Journal). When I spent a semester in DC, the first journalist I met had some advice for me: read Politico–every day.

BuzzFeed, by contrast, collects and promotes anything that lots of people are clicking on, seeking to provide “the viral world in real time.”  It is thus geared toward everyone on the Web; we all know the posters and gag videos that come up on such sites. I do not frequent either of the two sites myself these days, but from what I know of the two, I would have no qualms about spending a few hours a week reading Politico.

BuzzFeed? It hosts a weekly battle to choose the “best”, most time-wasting flash game and makes lists of top viral videos.

So why did Smith make the switch? Clearly he has an entrepreneurial spirit, but I think he realizes something more. Simply put, the internet is powerful. Some have called it the “Second Gutenberg Moment,” and I don’t think that is much of an exaggeration. Those who learn to tap into this power have the potential to gain a lot of influence in a short amount of time. I doubt that Smith hopes to become the next Drudge or Zuckerberg, but as many articles about the move have pointed out, BuzzFeed’s CEO Jonah Peretti is a co-founder of the successful HuffingtonPost. Peretti knows how to work the web better than most, and it appears he hopes to duplicate his success with BuzzFeed (although he refuses to speak directly about comparisons between the two). Continue reading →

Freedom of Religion is Only for Christians

Photo: Gage Skidmore

As a human being, I have a bias towards certain things, and I think a large part of it is towards the media. It seems like everyone these days can find a way to criticize journalists and tear down the work they do. In any controversy (or lack thereof) the media is always one of the first groups to get blamed.

I’ll be the first to confess that journalists are human and make their fair share of mistakes. Worse, their presuppositions, religious beliefs, and political framework play into their coverage. However, I still want to believe the best about journalists and the stories they write. Most of the time, I don’t think they’re out to get one side or the other.

Sometimes, though, they really are “that bad”. Yesterday I nearly spit my drink out when I came across this AP story about the Aug. 6th prayer meeting headlined by Texas Gov. Rick Perry. Dubbed “The Response” and attended mainly by conservative Christians, the prayer meeting was promoted as a time for believers to gather and bring their mutual concerns and hopes before their God.

Many of the stories and commentary I’ve seen on it have either emphasized the political aspect–Perry’s marshaling the conservative Christian base–or questioned it’s appropriateness. Is it okay for a governor to lead such a narrow religious event? What about separation of church and state? etc.

If you want to talk about that, fine, but in this case, it seems, the writer has let her fear and disdain of these evangelicals slip through in a really sad way. Where did the AP story trip up? Look near the middle, where April Castro writes:

Perry’s audience Saturday was filled with people who sang with arms outstretched in prayer — and wept — as Christian groups played music on stage. And Perry, himself, huddled on the stage in a prayer circle with several ministers who helped lead the event. It was Perry’s idea and was financed by the American Family Association, a Tupelo, Miss.-based group that opposes abortion and gay rights and believes that the First Amendment freedom of religion applies only to Christians. (empahsis mine) Continue reading →

How Do You Label a Mass Murderer?

The other night, my dad was reading an article online about the recent massacre by Norway killer Anders Breivik. Either my father, the article, or both were complaining about the New York Times’ labeling of Breivik as a “fundamentalist Christian.” He thought their bias led them to use the fundamentalist label and thus give Christians a bad name.

It made me curious to see how the overall media world is covering the religious angle on the story, so I hit up Google news and pulled up a few articles, mainly analysis pieces. From what I found, it wasn’t that bad.

First is a article in the Washington Post’s On Faith section by Mathew Schmalz. He makes a clear distinction between a fervent, Christ-centered Christianity, and the glories of the Crusades and the old Christendom that Breivik sought to reinstate. In Schmalz’s analysis, if Breivik invoked Christ at all it was only as a symbol or tool by which to repel Muslim invasion.

Tony Norman’s article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette harps on the hypocrisy and shame of Breivik’s actions, noting that even the Norse warriors of Breivik’s heritage would despise his actions. Also, Norman compares him to radical Muslims, writing:

Like the mirror image of the Islamic terrorists he fears, Mr. Breivik has proven himself more adept at killing his own kind than his shadowy enemies. He subscribes to the ethic that if you’re going to go to the trouble of inciting a war between civilizations, then you might as well begin your own personal Ragnarok in your own backyard.

Most importantly, Norman is careful to note that Breivik only defended a type of “cultural Christianity,” and even that is “just a part of his contradictory and inane mission” (emphasis mine).

Continue reading →

From One Side to the Other

I guess this is old news, but I came across this story about ex-gay rights leader Michael Glatze in the New York Times yesterday, and it pointed me back Glatze’s article in WorldNetDaily back in 2007, as well as an open letter to Rick Martin in WND. I’d never heard of this guy. His story is fascinating.

Glatze was a gay’s gay. He started and spearheaded the rise of Young Gay America’s magazine, produced the first documentary film on gay teen suicide, and appeared with media outlets like PBS, MSNBC and TIME magazine as an advocate for gay rights and the homosexual lifestyle. As Denizet-Lewis says in his article in the Times, many young gay men looked up to him. He quotes Glatze as saying things like “Christian fundamentalists should burn in hell,” and “People have been raised incorrectly to believe that the prejudices they’ve been taught by their pastors are God’s word. . . The only Truth is Love.”

Then, in about 2004, health issues prompted Glatze to start asking some deep questions about himself and the state of his soul. Long story short, it started what he calls a “spiritual awakening” that led to him rejecting his homosexuality and becoming a Christian.

I’ve always hesitated to say much about homosexuality for two simple reasons. One, I’m not gay and have no homosexual desires; I don’t “get” it. Two, growing up in a fairly narrow Christian environment, I haven’t had much personal interaction with homosexuals. They’re a tough group for conservative Christians to reach. Most Christians don’t set out to “hate” gays or demonize them, but there are two different philosophical assumptions at play here that makes some animosity inevitable. One side says that a certain “lifestyle”–or, as some Christians might say, certain “acted out desires”–are sinful, and therefore the most loving thing to do is to warn people that this lifestyle is contrary to God’s design for the world, inherently enslaving, and destructive to human civilization. The other side says that this lifestyle is completely normal, enjoyable, and conducive to human happiness. It ought therefore to be embraced and celebrated. Continue reading →

TIME’s Story on Rob Bell

I know I’m several months’ late throwing my hat into the ring of the firestorm surrounding pastor Rob Bell and his book “Love Wins“, but when I came across this recent cover story in TIME magazine, I immediately put it on my “to critique” list. The article, by Jon Meacham, deals with the controversy of Bell’s new book, and talks about what it might mean for the world of American Evangelicalism.

I’ve put my fair share of roots down in the Evangelical blogosphere, and for a few weeks “Love Wins” dominated it like nothing I’ve ever seen. I’ve read my fair share of critiques of “Love Wins,” most, admittedly, from the attacking side, but I’ve seen the entire Christian gamut–everything from the quick, possibly “judgmental” response (prominent Evangelical pastor John Piper on twitter: “Farewell, Rob Bell”) to the extensive , thoughtful and careful (Kevin DeYoung, another Evangelical pastor has a 20-page review).

I have no thoughts of my own because I haven’t read the book yet. I’d like to eventually, but for now, after hearing from the likes of Piper, DeYoung, and John MacArthur, I appreciated the chance to read a secular perspective on the issue. It’s worth a few words, mainly because I’m one of those conservative Evangelicals, yet one who care about good, balanced journalism–even when I start out with my own bias and firm position on the issue.

Overall, TIME did a pretty good job of covering the controversy. I appreciate how Meacham gave a voice to Evangelicals and people on both sides of the argument. The story got a lot of things right. Meacham rightly observes about Evangelical Christians:

The traditionalist reaction is understandable, for Bell’s arguments about heaven and hell raise doubts about the core of the Evangelical worldview, changing the common understanding of salvation so much that Christianity becomes more of an ethical habit of mind than a faith based on divine revelation.

Continue reading →

For Those Who Still Really Really Want to Read the New York Times on the Cheap

Business Insider tells us how we can still read the New York Times online for free. Apparently if you find the headline you want you can copy it into an search engine, click the first hit, and read the whole thing for free.

Better yet, the article puts my conscience at ease about the “loophole” by noting that many publications are aware of it but don’t have problems with it. They know most of their readers are too lazy to use the copy-search method anyways. You can read the Wall Street Journal without a subscription, for instance, using the same method.

The Times did say that it would place a five-articles-per-day limit on referrals from Google (and only Google, so far), but who’s going to read more than five stories online in a day anyways?

The Times, it is a-Changing

As of today, The New York Times is now offering a digital subscription.

We talked about this last fall in the journalism program I did in Washington, DC. Lots of people saw it coming, so it’s not so much unexpected as significant. This just might be the model of the future that publications use to help fund themselves.

As an aspiring journalist and someone who tends to have a little more sympathy for the media, I support the Times’ decision. The news and media world is in flux right now. With the rise of the internet, we’re getting used to more and more free information, but “free” isn’t going to sustain much quality journalism. Even with advertisements, newspapers need more funding to continue operating at a high level. Pay-per-story is one solution that I thought could work quite well. Online subscriptions is another. We’ll see if it works out for the Times. If it does, expect a lot of other papers to start heading that direction.

Personally, of course, I’m not as much of a fan of this move because it means I can only read 20 articles a month before I have to cough up $15 for the minimum monthly plan. And as a poor college student, I think I’m going to content myself with the 20 stories. That’s about one story a day on weekdays.

Though come to think of it, when you put it that way I guess it’s not too bad.

A call to call it like it is

Jeffrey Herf of the New Republic says that America’s enemy is radical Islam.

This is a call, as best I can tell, to say it like it is. Maybe actually calling a spade a spade will be good policy this time. Seriously, it shouldn’t be that hard to distinguish between radical Islam and the peaceful Islam that millions around the world practice. Obama, of all people, certainly has a better shot at it than anyone else in public discourse these days.

As one of my favorite profs would say: “Let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay.” Say what you mean. It’s remarkably effective.

Tread Carefully

From the Wikipedia Commons

Interesting story about biology teachers and their stance on evolution.

Now I don’t want to take a position either way, but Jennifer Welsh’s piece here is just poor journalism. The pro-evolution bias seeps through all over. For instance, she says:

13 percent of the teachers said they “explicitly advocate creationism or intelligent design by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light.” These are mostly the same group of teachers (about 14 percent) who personally reject the idea of evolution and the scientific method, and believe that God created humans on Earth in their present form less than 10,000 years ago. (emphasis mine)

As someone who comes from circles steeped deep in creationism, I’ve never met someone  who rejects the scientific method. I haven’t looked at the survey like (I assume) Welsh has, but that statistic is hard to swallow. Evolution, yes, but not the scientific method. One of creationist’s main critiques of evolution, in fact, argues that macro evolution should not be presented as scientific fact because it cannot be verified by the scientific method.

Ironically, Welsh actually quotes someone who advocates this very position:

Others rejected the scientific method as valid for shedding light on the origin of species, with an Illinois teacher responding, “I am always amazed at how evolution and creationism are treated as if they are right or wrong. They are both belief systems that can never be truly or fully proved or discredited.”

Two, she assumes it is a “problem” that 13 percent of teachers spent more than one hour of class time presenting creationism in a positive light. Not everyone sees it as a problem, and I suspect that even some evolutionists are fine with at least acknowledging in class that there are other views out there.

Even the headline is misleading: “13 percent of biology teachers back creationism.” This is not quite a fair picture of the survey, which stated that 13 percent of teachers “explicitly advocate(d) creationism or intelligent design by spending at least one hour of class time presenting it in a positive light.” Devoting a couple hours of class to teaching an alternate viewpoint hardly constitutes “backing” of an issue.

To Walsh’s credit, she does quote a creationist, so at least there are two different voices in the story, but stories like this ought to serve as a warning to both sides. Yes, we all know MSNBC has a heavy liberal slant, and that probably won’t change anytime soon. It would be nice, though, if even the writers for politically-slanted publications would at least treat the other side with a little more accuracy and fairness, because stories like this sure aren’t making creationists more friendly toward the other side.

Here’s The Week’s take on the story, as well as Wired.com’s.

NYT Grab Bag

Some stories in the New York Times that might be good to read:

—  A really good article about China’s leader Hu Jintao (pictured), his weak leadership, and the touchy relationship between Chinese and American power. I myself don’t know that much about what’s going on over there, besides the general fact that China is a big deal these days when it comes to world economics and military power.

—  Now I wonder how much journalists, police investigators, and psychologists will analyze this side of Tuscon shooting suspect Jared Loughner. Will they say that we should have seen this coming? How all of the patterns in this guy’s behavior indicated that he was about to crack? It reminds me a lot of some of the situations discussed in these two Malcolm Gladwell essays. Should we, and those gamers in the chat rooms, have seen this coming? Are there countless other people out there spouting off similar things that aren’t legitimate threats? I can’t say, but I suspect that this story might not be as significant as it seems.

—  Last but not least, how about the things that state governors are doing in the midst of budget shortfalls and continuing recession? Again, another area where I’m woefully ignorant (when you’re in DC, you tend to look at things more from a national, federal government perspective), so I appreciated this story giving readers a nice overview of how governors are turning toward hard, practical solutions and making the tough choices despite party views.