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).

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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.