I am going to tell you a story, but this is not about the story; rather it is about what I learned about a lazy and irresponsible kind of journalism. In the year 2008 I was being prepared by the late Auburn Tracyk to take over editorial duties for a monthly publication that had lasted since the earliest days of the Continuing Anglican movement in the late 1970s, but was domed to fold as online publications were making this periodical a bit of a dinosaur. It was named The Christian Challenge. I did not enjoy the work, inasmuch as the religious news about the mainstream Anglican Communion and the Episcopal Church took up most of my time, and my heart was not in it. What I really wanted, and eventually received, was a call to a parish as a priest (now in my tenth year at St. Benedict’s Anglican Catholic Church in
where I am the
rector). Chapel Hill,
Nonetheless, though having never been a professional journalist or reporter - or perhaps because I was not a trained “professional” in journalism – more than once in those days The Christian Challenge (and this blog) managed to scoop all the other religious news. In fact, I believe we published exclusives, but not because the news should have been exclusive. Indeed, it should have been reported everywhere, and certainly reported online much more quickly than we could get hard copy of The Christian Challenge to press. From that brief experience in the field of religious journalism, I learned about sloppy and misleading practice.
A Tale of Two Dioceses
The kind of news we were reporting was varied because the world of Anglicanism, then as now, was full of daily events that concerned many important issues of church order, of theology and doctrine, and of morality. Much of it was wholly unedifying, and just about all of it was carried on in the context of spiritual warfare and unrest. To earnest believers the matter involved eternal verities and the salvation of souls, and the turmoil was rightly about the most important things. Specialized as Anglican religious news might be, the very importance of such issues called for no less of an energetic and diligent reporting effort than any other kind of journalism.
So we came to a time when the Episcopal Church in the United States was losing whole dioceses as 2008 was drawing to a close, with some Diocesan Bishops and the vote of their Diocesan Conventions, realigning at that time within the official Anglican Communion as part of the Province of the Southern Cone (South America) under Archbishop Gregory Venables. One of those dioceses was the Diocese of San Joaquin in
. Under the
leadership of their bishop near the end of that year, the late John David
Schofield, the Diocese formally voted, legally and properly, to realign with
the Southern Cone. California
At that time in the history of the Episcopal Church, the properties were considered to have been legally owned by each local diocese (a rule explicitly rejected in the constitution of the Continuing churches), and for the first time ever it was something that could work in favor of the relatively more traditional and conservative (doctrinally speaking) ex-members of the Episcopal Church. But, at denominational headquarters in
, then Presiding “Bishop”
Katherine Jefferts-Schori tried to interfere with the decision of the Diocese
of San Joaquin, even though it had been carried out by due process, and with
precedent dating back to the 1860s. Even though the diocese was still in the
official Anglican Communion, she presumed to pronounce them as having been
unfaithful “to this church.” The office in New York then proceeded to announce
that they, in the office of the Presiding “Bishop,” had created a diocese made
up of the churches that wanted to remain in the Episcopal Church, appointing a
bishop named Jerry Lamm (imagine that, a Lamm in Sheep’s Clothing). New York City
On the Episcopal Church’s official website they claimed to have retained more than twenty of the local churches. I saw, within hours, that several of the online news services had simply copied and pasted the official press release from Jefferts-Schori’s office in
, stating as
fact that possibly more than half of the diocese was remaining in the
Episcopal Church. As for me, never a trained, professional journalist, I had an
advantage. I was skeptical, curious, and willing to do a bit of work. New York
I noticed that the Diocese of San Joaquin Southern Cone (SC) and the Diocese of San Joaquin of the Episcopal Church (TEC) both listed many of the same local churches, by name and town, on their respective websites. Clearly, that could not be correct. So I did a bit of research, parish by parish, mission by mission. I discovered that many of the churches, those with the same name and town on the respective websites, had disturbing information. The ones on the SC website had no disturbing information, however. They had websites with pictures of church buildings. They had service times, physical address, directions to get there, and local phone numbers. But, alas, the poor churches still loyal to Jefferts-Schori’s TEC, namely all of the churches with names and towns identical to many on the SC website listing, appeared to have nothing but P.O. Boxes. They had no buildings, no service times, and no directions to get anywhere. And, just about all of the clergy were women (of course). I can appreciate why they posted no directions to get to their locations: Somehow, I doubt that any of the Post Office Boxes, listed as the addresses to the loyal TEC churches, provided sufficient space for worship services.
Readers of The Christian Challenge (and readers of this blog) got to read all about the fraud perpetrated from
everyone else had only to read, reported
as fact, the misinformation provided in the press releases from New York City . The press
releases had been copied and pasted as “News” from the beginning, all identical
but for the by line. But, I am not a trained professional journalist, and I
suppose that gave me the edge. And, as I said, there were other such occasions
in those months of my journalistic tenure. New York
Ten years later I still reflect on that experience, especially when I look at “News” programming on the major news channels, or read the headlines and stories that, on the internet, appear hour by hour all during any given day. How much has any research been done? Does anyone investigate anything anymore? The most common format on news channels seems to be a program with a biased host, leaning one way or the other, who presents a line up of talking heads who express their own point of view. In effect, the programming relies on something very much like press releases, people speaking for their cause, or their political party, or a boss in the political world. Viewers hear from “both sides” the perspective of these spokespersons, and supposedly have been informed. Is it information? Is it misinformation? Is it partial information? Is it skewed?
Take it from someone who has seen the routine of the press release, copied and pasted, unchallenged and reported as “fact” much too often. Whether it is political news, economic news, social news, or, yes, religious news, a bit of skepticism, a touch of curiosity, and a bit of investigative work, give readers and viewers a more accurate perspective on affairs and issues that have everything to do with our real lives. Matters of war and potential war, issues of morality, questions of justice, as well as matters of important doctrine and order – all of these arise in any given news cycle. It may be too important to be left to the trained professionals.