A writer raised an interesting question with me recently. Can the practice of traditional journalism accurately report on dialogue between people about a new vision of community life? It’s more than an interesting question.
points to a concern about how journalism is practiced today. The tendency
toward storytelling in major media is to highlight conflict and emphasize polar
extremes. It’s about framing stories in either/or language. In matters of
religion this comes down to moral absolutes. If we accept the framing of
important differences of faith as polar opposites we accede to a media-imposed
model that makes it impossible to carry out constructive dialogue.
We’ve seen the result. Political dialogue
in the U.S. has become so vitriolic that politicians talk past each other or
worse, they simply go on the attack. This doesn’t lead to problem-solving or
compromise. It leads to divisiveness and alienation.
How do we reclaim community and
deal with differences more constructively? Could digital media such as blogs be
used by religious groups to stimulate cross-cultural dialogue or give voice to
those who are left out of the mainstream media or discuss those issues of faith
that we are not of one mind about?
Most denominations teach that
authentic community can only occur in local congregations in face-to-face
relationships. Mainline denominations have been critical of televangelists, in
part, because televised worship and talk shows do not offer the full depth of
human interaction that creates authentic community.
But the new media are more interactive.
Differing points of view about theology create the opportunity for genuine
dialogue about matters of faith utilizing digital media. Whether this fulfills
the qualities of authentic community is another question. Community is more
than interactive exchanges. It is people sharing life together in direct
But this doesn’t
diminish the value of dialogue in digital media. The issues that are shaping
the future are not being addressed in the mainstream media in a manner that
fosters reconciliation and understanding. If journalism continues to be
practiced as a rehearsal of either/or positions we won’t close the gaps, we will
make them deeper and wider.
need dialogue about those matters that people feel deeply about. This is
threatening to those who would like to control the flow of information. Hugh
Hewitt in Blog:
Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World
makes the point that new information
technologies inevitably threaten existing hierarchies. The gatekeeping function
is being bypassed by digital media such as
The Internet empowers people
and puts considerable control of information selection and information-sharing
in their hands. It’s a new power reality. It may be that the new media can
strengthen traditional community by stimulating more transparent discussion of
important differences leading to greater understanding, tolerance and respect.
If we can encourage such dialogue it may lead to renewed communities and
building bridges over the gaps in understanding that have been created by the
voices at the extremes.