By Andy Butcher
Imagine going to church next weekend and finding the women in the choir have traded their gowns for micro-skirts and midriff-baring halter tops. When you inquire about the new dress code, you’re told that people expect a bit of skin these days, so we’re just giving people what they want—only in a reasonable manner.
An unlikely scenario on the church platform, hopefully, but it’s one we seem to accept on some Christian media platforms, where it appears folks figure that if we are going to attract and keep people’s attention, we have to “follow the crowd.”
What am I talking about? So much of the online content that gets passed off as “news” these days. Let’s be honest: simply telling people what some other news media outlet has published isn’t reporting. It’s reposting at best, or merely repeating (a word often associated with gossip) at worst.
Now, that wouldn’t be all bad if much of that original content contained authoritative information. Not everyone has the time or access to survey the world’s media, after all, so there is benefit to having a trusted place where that information can be curated or aggregated. But only if it has some value and validity.
However, the 24/7 news cycle has devalued much of the essential elements of news. In place of facts we all too often have snippets and tidbits mixed in with supposition and speculation, shoveled out fast. Immediacy over accuracy, morsels over meat. No wonder some cynics now talk about “churnalism.”
In that sort of climate, what’s the role and responsibility of Christian media? Do we just go with the flow because that’s what everyone else is doing? The reductionist rationale is: we can’t beat them so we might as well join them. If people are going to hear this stuff, they should hear it from us. At least it will help our page-view numbers.
I can’t help feeling that this is a race to the bottom that we shouldn’t want to win even if we could.
So what is the answer?
Maybe we need to be content with being late to the party sometimes. In our image-conscious culture, we’ve been conditioned to believe that immediacy is everything. The communications experts talk about the need to “own the narrative” and to “get ahead of the curve” because first impressions are hard to shake. And there’s something to that. We all know that the misreported scandal on the front page sticks in people’s minds, while the bottom-of-inside-back-page correction gets overlooked.
But perhaps we should have greater confidence in the tortoise-and-hare timeliness of truth. Standing before Pilate, Jesus was confronted with some juicy false allegations, but He refused to be pressured into giving an answer. He remained silent.
Luke was a latecomer to the accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry (the first verse of his Gospel acknowledges, “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile a narrative of the things that have been accomplished among us...”). Note that he felt it was important to offer “an orderly account” of what had happened. And, that his resulting work is one of those that endures. Whatever happened to those earlier rush-to-papyrus versions?
Of course, time and money restraints mean that Christian journalism endeavors are not capable of doing all original reporting on stories broken by other outlets. But perhaps we might resolve to at least bring some seasoning to the table rather than just slicing and dicing what someone else has cooked up. Maybe include some meaningful commentary from someone of note within our relevant community. Or some historical or biblical context, as appropriate. Something that adds some value and meaning, not just soft-clickbait.
EPA member Andy Butcher is a freelance writer and reporter. He was recently named editorial director for Inspire magazine. He is a veteran magazine and newspaper editor with major stints as director of Youth With a Mission Press & Media Services, senior writer at Charisma magazine and editor of Christian Retailing magazine. He serves EPA as a contest judge and has also served on the board of directors.
Posted Sept. 18, 2021