What strikes a newbie at the Religion Newswriters Association conference is the relatively small number of actual religion newswriters. Generously including freelancers, bloggers, retirees, and academic refugees, maybe one-third of the participants count as journalists, with the balance made up of publishers, functionaries of religious bodies, publicists, presenters, etc. It’s a commentary, of course, on the sad state of newspapers, where specialty beats like religion have increasingly turned into unaffordable luxuries.
The result is a spectacle where those with wares to sell find themselves with fewer and fewer customers. Still, the sellers are on hand, sponsoring meals in return for the chance to pitch to a captive audience. The marks generally take the pitch in good spirit, whether it’s the evangelical filmmakers/publishers promoting their efforts to rescue American fatherhood or the North Carolina furniture entrepreneur calling attention to “religion based-bigotry” against LGBT youth. There was, however, some serious push-back at Friday’s Knights of Columbus-sponsored luncheon, at which a representative of the Becket Fund, the conservative legal outfit, gave an excessively partisan talk on the Hosanna-Tabor case, which will be argued before the Supreme Court October 5.
The legit program has been lively and interesting–especially by comparison with the panels at academic conferences that your correspondent is used to nodding through. The pastors who talked about their creation of multi-site churches–the latest trend in the megachurch movement–made you realize once again that when it comes to religious enterprise, the evangelicals leave everyone else in the dust. John Green and Laura Olson, stars of the religion-and-politics poli sci profession, rang the changes on role of religion in an election cycle where economics sits at the top of everyone’s concern. Bottom line: Yes, religion will still matter, but in subtler ways than in the recent past.
For the dinosaurs of the profession, the panel on social networking, which featured a clutch of young online specialists, seemed like a journey down the rabbit hole–call it Alice in Twitterland. Blogs are now legacy media. Ack!