Huff Po Editor Talks About AOL Merger

Alana B. Elias Kornfeld, the Living section editor at Huffington Post, told the Religion Communicators Council yesterday she is not sure how the AOL-Huff Po merger will play out.

But she does know that some trends will definitely remain worthy of reportage — like the green movement and our need to unplug.

I find it ironic — and cool — that a plugged-in website advocates unplugging from the web. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a fan of living off the grid. I renamed this blog The Connected Life because I’m trying to connect more to family and friends through face time rather than Facebook time.

On religion, Kornfeld said Huffington Post is not interested in religion — as in the politics of religion — but in religion — as in providing a “Space that gives rise to an inspired experience.”

I’m a fan of share and inspired experiences. And a lot of people are fans of Huffington Post — 56 million unique visitors per month and they’re expecting at least 200 mill more with the AOL merger. Kornfeld said that AOL has a loyal brand following, while Huff Po has substantive content. Nice when big brand marries big content!

I am a fan of Alana’s. And of Arianna’s. I met Arianna a long time ago and kinda knew she was going places.

I love what Arianna’s been saying lately about our need to get more sleep! (my post from last month, inspired by Huffington’s Ted Talk: ) I’d like to say more about yesterday’s luncheon, but you guessed it, I’ve got to go to bed!)

Incidentally, yesterday’s RCC was held at the Opus Dei headquarters on 34th and Lexington. Really nice and clubby, reminded me of the Yale Club. Nicer than the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints near Lincoln Center where the RCC met last month.

The RCC is a great group. At the annual gathering this year in Little Rock, Arkansas, Abderrahim Foukara, Head of Al-Jazerra in the US will deliver the keynote address. Should be interesting.

Gender Bias in the News

One on-going topic at the Religion Communication Congress 2010 is: What makes for a good religion story?

 Manya Brachear, religion reporter at the Chicago Tribune, answered this question in a provocative workshop. She is looking for “emotionally engaging stories.” To find them, she sometimes looks at Google’s Hot Trends. She eavesdrops on what she calls the “national conversation.”

But perhaps the national conversation as determined by the Tribune, the New York Times or Google is not the national conversation that the average Josephine is engaged in. I get the feeling that emotionally engaging stories told by the Average Joe are more impressive than the very same stories told by the Average Jo.

Ms. Brachear described one of her own favorite stories for the Tribune, a story she wrote about Rev. Phil Blackwell of a Chicago United Methodist Church who visited his ageing high school teacher.

Mitch Albom, in his opening address at the Religion Communication Congress, spoke of visiting his former rabbi and helping repair a church in Detroit.

I don’t deny the awesomeness of these men for visiting these awesome people and doing these awesome things. I do think their stories are more appealing to the mainstream because they are about men.

Women, in all their awesomeness, are doing the very same things —  visiting former teachers and helping rebuild churches. But I am not hearing their stories. Those are more ordinary examples of compassion.

I think we need to move the national conversation to one that includes ordinary woman’s stories and women’s issues. What are women’s issues? Women care about compassion, poverty, justice, equality and systemic change. Systemic change is not very sexy. Not as sexy as Tiger Woods’ infidelity, of which I am on record as not being at all interested in. I am not a part of that national conversation.

Thursday’s workshop from the Global Media Monitoring Project 2010 asked Who Makes the News? Pretty eye-opening. In mainstream media, women’s stories are told 24% of the time as opposed to men’s. Looking for an expert on TV? 80% likely you’ll find a man, unless you’re asking in general for a public opinion then perhaps it’s 50% likely to be a woman.

How do writers and editors bring women’s voices into the mainstream so that the stories are more equitably the stories of all of humanity? We can start by just realizing that we have to represent when we write our stories and choose the issues that headline our news. Just engaging in this dialogue and asking these questions, I think, will move us into a new era of  personal, engaging, and good stories. Not just for women, but for everyone!

Media Bias Against Religion

Terry Mattingly spoke yesterday to the Religion Communicators Council at the Latter Day Saint’s offices on Broadway at 65th. He’s a religion writer who can be found at:

Mainstream media may be biased against religion. But the reasons, Mattingly says, have to do with a lack of time, space, and resources in newspapers. Also newsrooms are ignorant and perhaps apathetic towards religion, but they are not particularly prejudiced.

To overcome media biases, Mattingly suggests religion journalists realize:

1. Words matter. Cover religious news accuarately.

2. Facts matter. Don’t condense church history and polity.

3. Praise the good; call out the bad, especially in blogs.

4. Do not hide. Use the internet for constructive sharing.

Mattingly advises church leaders not to ask reporters where they go to church. Better to question a reporter’s professionalism than their beliefs. Reporters can be effective at covering stories from faiths outside of their own traditions.

These RCC lunchtime meetings are good opportunities to provoke discussion and deeper thinking about the role of communicators in religion.