When news stories that were posted four hours ago are old, how in the world
can you keep up?
by Melodie Davis
CHICAGO (RCCongress2010) April 8, 2010
Octogenarian Dr. Martin Marty, professor emeritus of the University of
Chicago Divinity School and renowned religion historian, moderated a
Thursday morning panel addressing the changing media landscape for
participants in the April 7-10 gathering of faith communicators, Religion
Communication Congress 2010.
Panelists included Kevin Eckstrom, editor of Religion News Service, who
teaches at Northwestern University School of Journalism; Barbara Bradley
Hagerty, religion beat reporter for National Public Radio and author of
Fingerprints of God; and Kenneth Irby, founder of the photojournalism
program at the Poynter Institute and head of the institute's visual
Moderator Marty opened the discussion with a reminder to the audience that
from the perspective of religious history it "often takes 250 years to
settle an issue." Eckstrom, who spoke of some of the difficulties wrought by
the social media revolution, said truth, objectivity and credibility can
suffer because of the speed at which information now moves through tweets,
blogs and other new media.
"I can't write as fast as I need to," Eckstrom noted.
On the positive side, these same social media offer writers more direct
contact with spokespersons - from religious leaders to politicians and
celebrities - who they are able to access through social media pages without
having to rely on public relations officers or agents.
Hagerty said her job at National Public Radio (NPR) is to wade through the
mountain of materials available everywhere - she recently was asked to skim
10,000 pages of court documents in 45 minutes for a story - but that her
best and most unique story ideas still come the old fashioned way: from
talking to people about their ideas and experiences and finding a unique or
"Those are the stories that get 1,000 comments on the NPR web site like
(snapping her fingers) that." One example, she said, was the story that
explored the question, "Which is more violent, the Bible or the Koran?"
Irby, who also is a pastor, said that in the age of the "always on and the
20 second deadline" the role of journalists is to be "sense makers." He
believes that community building can and does happen through social networks
but that the danger of some networks lies in users accessing only links
connected their Facebook friends, and not taking advantage of a wider diet.
"You have to work to get and present a balanced view," Irby pointed out.
Audience members lined up at the microphones to ask questions of panelists,
who agreed that the social networking explosion is still in its infancy.
Hagerty reminded the audience that "Reporters want to get it right. If the
media call asking for a comment or viewpoint, talk to us, even if it can't
be on the record. It will be a better story if we have good background."
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Melodie Davis, a member of the RCCongress2010 communications committee, is
staff writer and producer for Third Way Media
Media Contact: Lesley Crosson, RCCongress2010, 347-513-4030
The Religion Communication Congress (RCCongress 2010) is an international,
interfaith gathering of religion communicators held every ten years offering
cutting edge skills-building workshops, challenging plenary speakers, and
networking opportunities with communications professionals. For more
information, visit http://www.rccongress2010.org/.