Monday, April 12, 2010

Media New and Old -- Sightings

Media comes in all forms these days.  Yes, even this blog could be considered a form of new media.  I don't pretend to be a journalist, though I was a member of an award winning high school newspaper staff.  Back page editor my senior year!

Well, enough about my journalist credentials.  Martin Marty gives a report on a conversation about media at the Religion Communication Congress -- an event that occurs every ten years.  The topic of conversation, of course, had to do with the changing fortunes of media.  Indeed, like so many churches, they wondered how to reach the younger generations, the ones not so tied to paper!  Read on, offer your thoughts.


Sightings 4/12/10

Media New and Old
-- Martin E. Marty

Every ten years a Religion Communication Congress meets, as it did last weekend in Chicago. I attended, as is my decennial habit. Though I could not stay to the end, I did get to chair a panel on “How Social Change is Changing Media Coverage of Religion.” The hundreds of attendees got to hear sundry biggies in the communications-and-religion fields, had good times, and did other things which are very important to those/us in those fields. The RCC and associated hosts performed well, as they have done ten and twenty and more years ago.

The theme was “Embracing Change: Communicating Faith in Today’s World.” Faith at RCCongress means “many faiths,” denominations, agencies, service organizations, et cetera. Picture every person in all of them being very busy these years, as the breathless pace of developments in communications – we don’t have to spell them out here! – and the drastic changes in the context of what is covered or addressed by these communicators should induce anxiety beyond that which afflicts people in this business even in quieter times. This brings us to the point that is relevant to the mission of Sightings.

Against all odds, the Congress folk, aware as people in communications are trained to be, are jostled but not undone by the changes and challenges. Some have been dragged screaming into the technical world in which they must operate. No one seems secure or untroubled. Yet the plenary sessions, the workshops, the interviews, the hotel hall chats, also confirmed that these survivors from earlier communications eras (which were ending around 1970 when RCCongresses got started) relish the tasks to which they feel called. They know that what Joseph Schumpeter observed about capitalism is true in their field, that “creative destruction” makes old instruments, methods, and treatments obsolete. Keynote homilist Pastor Otis Moss III had the gathering learn to chant “Moses is dead!” (Joshua 1:2), not because values associated with Moses are outdated, but because the means of continuing his work keep changing -- and no one can hide from the changes.

Much of the talk had to do with the failure of most media and messengers to reach and serve and gather newer generations, who never did know “Moses,” as well as the indifferent seculars who had never been touched. Still, for all the realism in diagnosis and practical envisioning going on, the Congress people did not seem to be done in. The historian in me says: Moses “dies” in every generation. The promised land is always partly out of reach. If I, a print media hanger-on shaped in the middle of the twentieth century, were starting out now, I would be bewildered, tempted to be immobilized by questions: How would I get the ear of these generations when pop culture provides their mental and spiritual environment? How would I keep up in an internet world which adds new data and opinions by the second? Should I try to? Which gatekeepers should I trust, and should there be gatekeepers? How best would I put my journalist-school learning to work?

But while I would keep asking such questions, others would have moved on, inventing, experimenting. One hears little at such congresses of jettisoning the traditions which the name Moses evokes. One hears much about how hard it is to reach, converse with, and learn from the hoped-for publics. I would lose credibility if I suggested that someone has the formula for dealing with radical change. But I would also lose it if I reported on people defeated.

For Further Information:

The RCCongress website is

Martin E. Marty's biography, current projects, publications, and contact information can be found at


In this month’s Religion and Culture Web Forum, Web Forum editor emeritus Spencer Dew explores the relationship between Jack Kerouac’s religious thought and its expressive practice in the act of writing: “Indeed, his entire oeuvre can be read as an expression of his personal religious stance, a kind of ‘fusion’ of Catholic theology with notions taken from Buddhist philosophy and practice.”

Through a close reading of Kerouac’s novella Tristessa, Dew suggests that such a fusion—despite exemplifying Kerouac at his writerly best—leads to a solipsism that is ethically troubling, and likely reflective of Kerouac’s personal and professional shortcomings—especially later in his life. “Devotion to Solipsism: Religious Thought and Practice in Jack Kerouac’s Tristessa,” with invited responses from Benedict Giamo (University of Notre Dame), Nancy Grace (College of Wooster), Sarah Haynes (University of Western Illinois), Kurt Hemmer (Harper College), Amy Hungerford (Yale University), Omar Swartz (University of Colorado, Denver), Matt Theado (Gardner-Webb University), and Eric Ziolkowski (Lafayette College).


Sightings comes from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.

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