Religion in the Media- A Fair Chance Online with the BBC and NYT

“Journalism is merely history’s first draft.” -GEOFFREY C. WARD

As history is taking place for religious and anti-religious groups, are they getting written into this “first draft?” Some argue that religious organizations in England are not getting enough media coverage. Individuals and businesses depend on and live through the news; it is a necessity in our thriving, global society.

The British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) is the largest broadcaster in the world yet has still received complaints and suggestions to improving their faith coverage. In journalism, it is the journalist/news company’s responsibility to provide the public with impartial, credible information and updates. This means giving all groups a voice or chance to talk and share about what’s going on in their community or group.

The BBC’s religious coverage was brought into question in 2010 by Roger Bolton who works for the BBC, presenting the BBC Radio 4’s Feedback program. He said a religious perspective was commonly absent in their stories. In response, a BBC spokeswoman stated, “BBC News and Current Affairs has a dedicated religion correspondent, and topical religious and ethical affairs stories are featured across all our BBC networks.” Having a correspondent on a specific issue means a member of staff is assigned to strictly that area, also known as having a “beat” for all their stories.

In the United States, the New York Times (NYT) could be considered the equivalent to the BBC for the United Kingdom, or at least a strong comparative. The New York Times not only has a religious correspondent but also a Times Topic for Religion & Belief. If you, for some crazy reason, are not familiar with the New York Times online (the most popular visited online newspaper website in America), Times Topics are explained by the NYT as:

“Each topic page collects all the news, reference and archival information, photos, graphics, audio and video files published on topics ranging from A M Castle & Company to Zyuganov, Gennadi A. This treasure trove is available without charge on articles going back to 1981.”

Times Topics mean an area of news interest is a pretty big deal and has a lot of collections and articles all conveniently compiled. Equivalent on the BBC’s online website is BBC Religion. In the article from 2010, the Church of England council was worried about a cut in mainstream broadcasters’ religious programming. These cuts could apply to any mediums of broadcasting, ranging from news editorial print, to radio or television broadcasting. Regardless of the cuts, online the BBC has really taken multimedia to the next level.

While researching for this post and looking around, I noticed the BBC’s multimedia to be much more impressive and involved. Here you’ll find calendars, podcasts, music stations, radio programs, service segments, and most importantly, videos in the Learning Zone to further advance your knowledge on religious studies. On the BBC’s Religion page you’ll also see an announcement for RE: THINK 2012, a Religion and Ethics Festival coming to the UK in the Fall. This is important because some of the concerns expressed in the past were about religious festivals for various religions and getting coverage.

I might be missing a link, in the middle somewhere between the article about complaints on inefficient religious coverage and the web pages I have explored today, but it seems as though the world’s largest broadcasting company has done their part, at least with their online presence with faith coverage (assessing their nearly-dozen television and digital television stations is a different story).

Sources Used:

Reality London- a comparative visit

Why so many random Californians all in the same hidden place at the same time in London? This was one of my thoughts once I had ventured across the city and attended and observed an afternoon service. Welcome to Reality London, a church plant of the Reality network of (modern/ non-denominational) Christian churches in California. The Reality network of churches started in Carpenteria, CA and branched out from there, now having five church plants all over the state and now in London. From one of their webpages they describe, “Reality is called to birth healthy churches in order to effectively explain and expose Jesus to as many people as possible.” That’s what they’re simply all about- bringing glory to God and sharing Jesus with others. The Reality London webpage, which you can check out here, further expresses:

We are an ordinary group of people who have been rescued by Jesus, united by Jesus, defined by Jesus, and sustained by Jesus. It’s all about Jesus for us. This may sound strange to you, but when you think about it every community is defined by its chief attraction, whether it be music, sport, business, art, etc. We desire to seek Jesus as our chief attraction, and believe that only Jesus can bring true depth, meaning, value, and purpose to all of life and culture.

From this, one can see that they are a pretty simple congregation of Christians with a simple mission. From my experience, they are a very welcoming community and down-to-earth, laid-back group. The atmosphere was friendly and inviting.

I made a point to go because I was recommended by one of my older brothers who attends services at the Reality LA church plant (after being very involved in the Reality Santa Barbara church plant for several years), and really enjoys being a part of the Reality community. I thought I would find comfort in attending a similar service as I was used to back home, although I’ve never been to a Reality service. I noted the worship, sermon and prayer time were all structured just like services I attend back home. They also had a time for communion during worship and prayer but that was fairly different from anything I’ve participated in.

“For those of you wanting to participate, we have communion set up over here and we are going to spend some time in worship and then getting into the word.” This was the notice that kicked off the service, after a quick intro welcome and some announcements. My experience with communion at Christian services has been primarily back in my hometown at Word of Life Assemblies of God in Burney, but also at several other churches across California. In these times of communion there are separate mini cups and separate little pieces of bread. Once we all get our own and make our way back to our seats, we all are led by the pastor and say a prayer together. “We do this together in remembrance of the Lord.” What I though was very interesting and different about this service at Reality London was how communion was specifically individualized and everyone who wanted to partake went up on their own time during worship.

It was also just one communal cup and one small loaf of bread. There was also no group-led prayer over it. I found this interesting to see and it made me appreciate the community aspect of communion. Communion, by definition, is about fellowship and an interchange or sharing with a group all together. So this way of partaking in communion was a new way I had never seen. Also, it seemed as if Reality London has communion available on a weekly basis. At other services I’ve attended, it is usually a once a month activity.

So what does this mean for the rest of London? Well, Reality is a very small, almost unheard of Christian community available to all residents and visitors of the city.  With a congregation of around 40 or less people (smaller than my tiny hometown church!), and an underground location (Reality London currently meets in the crpyt of St. James Church), they do not have the resources for reaching lots of people at this time. The purpose of Reality London is mostly for other Californians or Americans to have a home base church plant to attend and be a part of, so that they can continue having a Christian network while over in England studying or working. Although they do have outreach activities, it is still a rather select group of people who already know about Reality. Me for example, a temporary resident studying abroad, wouldn’t have found Reality London when just browsing through a Google search for Christian churches in London, since it is so small. It’s about connections and the fact that my brother informed me of the church plant here that I sought it out on my own.

Commitment, Community and Contributions- where are yours?

It’s that time of the week again. You call your pals and get dressed decently nice before picking them up. There’s a special this week, you can’t wait to get there. As you all pile out of the car and enter, you hear chatter of the townspeople and all your friends. Most of the neighborhood is there- your dentist, a few neighbors- you love seeing so many familiar faces. It’s a great time- you always get something out of it when you come here weekly. You leave a little cash on your way out. What an awesome environment, it’s nice to catch up with everyone.

……..Where are you? Was that a Sunday service at your local church or a weeknight at your favorite pub down the street? Was the cash you left a tip for your server or your weekly donation into tithes & offerings?

As we can see, there are multiple similarities between attending a church service and regularly eating and drinking at a pub you enjoy, and both usually involve loyalty. I present the point that these can both be considered religious practices.

In British culture, faithfulness to a particular pub is common- they find themselves committed to (one or a few) that they fancy. C. Mitchell, a college student in London puts it, “We are very loyal to a group of pubs in our town. My favorite is a pub called the Last Post. We are loyal there because it is cheap and has a really nice feel. I also love spending time with my mates.”

MercyMe performing live at Rock & Worship Roadshow, March 2012

What if a few of those words were changed; if “a group of pubs” was switched for “a local church?” They are both about commitment and finding the right one that “has a really nice feel,” as he put it. (Of course when speaking of churches, it wouldn’t be plural. For the most part, when people commit to a specific church, they choose ONE and this would be singular). And consistency is key; this is what builds on the attendee’s positive perspective of the facility. Consistency provides the attendee with routine, trust, and tradition. These are all important in a religious practice, whether that is at a church (or other religious building) or pub. Then a personal connection can start being formed- when one finds themselves comfortable, welcomed, and can see themselves coming regularly. This is one’s personal initiative to take action and become a part of something.

But how does one experience these positive feelings and make a decision? That’s where community comes in- it’s all about the people. Networking is how one’s personal initiative branches out and becomes a group commitment. They start relying on each other to keep up with their “weekly tradition” and can form accountability partners. When it comes to community, either pub culture or church attendances are reinforced by communication and relationships with the others that partake. Coworkers might email each other to go out for their weekly Thursday night drinks, just as a parallel of college students texting each other for rides to church on Sunday morning. Community takes the forms of carpooling, plans, inside jokes, support, and probably a lively and diverse environment.

Lastly, both of these depend on contributions. Contributions come from the commitment of the community and how they have decided to use a facility for a certain purpose and practice. Pub culture and church services need contributions of not only money but also time. Staying at home and just sending money to either your favorite pub or church would not do them any good. They need PEOPLE. They need users of their services. Just as only spending time there and never pitching in any money would also not do them any good. They need FUNDS. They need donors and sponsors. Contributions of time and money don’t only come in one form, it could be servicing the facility through service, volunteering or purchasing something at an event. There are many ways to further advance either of these religious practices through contributions, whether it be personal or a group effort in community.

One could also argue that both pub culture (going out for food and drinks) and religious services (seeking prayer, worship and usually a message) are both nourishing and “feed you.” Whether that is physically, literally being fed or spiritually being fed, they contribute to a better well-being and peacefulness of the body & mind.

I think the pub culture of the Brits can be considered religious because it shares the same fundamental building blocks as does a religious practice or attending services with one’s religion. Both “religious activities” thrive on commitment, community and contributions.

West London Synagogue- An Outsider’s Brief View into the Jewish community




I never thought I’d find myself walking through a Jewish temple, sitting in their seats, listening to personal experiences of an attending Jew, and attempting to read their holy Torah. There we were absorbing Jewish life in London and spending time in one of their places of worship. I felt a little out of place and almost disruptive as we walked through their holy grounds, which goes back to the religious tourism aspect of traveling.

Last week our class visited the West London Synagogue and experienced their sanctuary, walking through their facilities. I was very intrigued by the trip- getting a chance to gain an inside perspective, especially since I’ve never had any type of exposure to Jewish culture and practices. Besides what we learned in class lecture, everything I absorbed was news to me.

I understand that there is a full range of versions and interpretations of Judasim and the ways a temple chooses to practice, just as there are in other religions. I learned that Jews can identify anywhere from Orthodox/Conservative all the way to Liberal/Reform, just as Christians in my faith communities can identify anywhere from Catholic or Conservative all the way to Pentecostal/Evangelical. For this temple specifically, it was eye-opening to see and hear their own ways of practicing their faith on a regular basis. West London Synagogue is a Reform Jewish congregation and their facility was founded in 1840, making it the oldest Reform synagogue. It is one of the oldest among the 409 synagogues in the UK. Some highlights from my observations of this experience include:

• Hebrew readings and writings

• head coverings

• the uses of the Torah

• symbolism on their walls and ceilings

Anne, our “guide” for the morning, explained how if you were to chisel on stone with your right hand, it would be awkward to go left-to-right (how we are used to reading), and that carving/chipping right-to-left (how their books and documents are written out) would’ve been much easier. Once realizing this, we see why their Torah and Hebrew texts are written and documented this way. This temple still maintains the tradition of head coverings in their sanctuary even when a service is not going on- so the males were asked to wear a kippah for our time inside. I was surprised to learn that no one may ever touch the original Torah copies, which are kept in scrolls with protection and adornments, up at the back of the stage. Lastly, different symbols painted and carved onto the temple walls and ceilings almost all had complex meanings or symbolized something. Anne pointed out the three stars of David (layered over one another) and explained how Jewish festivals and events start the night before the day of the event, after the first three night stars are out in the sky.

These are only a few of the things I saw and learned at the West London Synagogue but they were very interesting for me to experience. I see this class’ quick view into the Jewish culture as a snippet of what there is to learn from this community.

Intro Initial Post

“Peace through understanding.” This was the short motto for my People to People Student Ambassador Program I participated in during the summer of 2008, and I love this short quote- I find myself applying it to everything these days, especially faith.

My name is Jenna and I am now a third year Journalism (Public Relations) major at Cal Poly with a minor in Global Politics/International Relations.

Being a Christian is a huge part of my identity and I am thankful to have grown up with structure but slowly been given independence to make my faith my own (not yet baptized). I like to say I have an intimate relationship with God and that my faith is probably stronger than ever (although I can drift away or get distracted, just as in other areas), rather than saying “very religious.” I was raised in a solid family with two older brothers and all of us attended a First Baptist church in our small community regularly. After randomly ceasing our attendance when I was around 10 or so I think, our family’s religious practices sort of fizzled out. In my tiny tiny hometown of Burney, CA (near Mt. Shasta), the Word of Life church had really strong youth group outreaches and programs with fun adventure summer camps and other activities, which I guess could be considered a very moderate version of Pentecostal. Since grade school, I have been very involved (on and off) in this youth group and still visit when home on breaks and sharing my spiritual growth with our friendly community.

I know I certainly don’t have all the answers, and of course I still have lots of questions myself, but I AM sure of various spiritual experiences and the life I have been incredibly blessed with. No matter what faith, an attitude of gratitude makes the world brighter. I have been challenged, brought down, and doubted by others in my faith walk but I DO know that being questioned and constantly learning and thinking about why we hold tight to our values is something worth affirming and backing up. So although those conversations are hard and scary, I believe they can open the eyes of my heart to what others have experienced or believe as well. There have been a lot of injustices between the church and society today, and I think of myself as an agent of change as I bridge the gaps by listening, being a friend, and expanding on peace through understanding.

As I mentioned my student ambassador trip, that summer program was 3 weeks throughout France, Austria, Germany, Switzerland, and Italy. With my family, we’ve been lucky enough to have traveled to the Caribbean/Cayman Islands, Belize, Mexico, Canada, around the country, camping up in Oregon, and uncountable trips to southern CA to visit family.  This is my first time in the UK and I am loving the British accents, the musical theater, and talking to the locals! I am really soaking it up and stoked to actually be LIVING here temporarily 🙂