Can one talk about Religion in 300 words?

Between 2009 – 2011 when I was working on book manuscripts, I posted 24 times a month, lots of small posts and news clips. I submitted the manuscript in 2011 so I went back to research, grant writing, and Fulbright year abroad. Therefore, between 2011-2014, my posts have been limited to a handful a month and gotten much longer, usually magazine length. Well, I am now working on a manuscript again. So I back online. I will start posting things I read again. As of now, I do not plan on posting the small stuff on Facebook, but if people would like that then let me know-maybe a separate page.

The AP has sent a memo to relgion journalists to limit their stories to 300-500 words. But can any religion story be explained in so few words?It seems that unless people are already within one group and know the people involved that it limits stories to organizational teams and rooting for one side. It removes all tradition, doctrine, text, and spiritual quest from religion. Everything is now either good news or bad news. The blog GetReligion which is dedicated to watching how the press handles religion flags this point.

Here’s the story as reported by The Washington Post:

Citing a “sea of bloated mid-level copy,” Associated Press Managing Editor for U.S. News Brian Carovillano last week instructed fellow editors at the wire service to limit most “daily, bylined digest stories” to a length of between 300 and 500 words. Top stories from each state, Carovillano directed, should hit the 500 to 700-word range, and the “top global stories” may exceed 700 words but must still be “tightly written and edited.”

Carovillano’s memo itself references the driving force behind the limits: “Our members do not have the resources to trim the excess to fit shrinking news holes,” notes the editor.

Paul Colford, a spokesman for AP, notes that a “common concern” among AP members and subscribers is that stories are too long. In recent months, says Colford, the wire service has been trimming stories in Europe and the outcome has been “successful.”

Noting that the memo encouraged AP reporters to “consider using alternative story forms either to break out details from longer stories, or in lieu of a traditional text story,” a Poynter Institute blogger quipped: So is AP getting into the listicle business?

Here at GetReligion, we often critique stories that seem incomplete and lacking in basic context and details. Often, those stories run 800 to 1,200 words. But what happens when a journalist has only 300 to 500 words to tell a complicated religion story? Is that even possible?

Can a news organization report fairly and fully on, say, a same-sex marriage lawsuit or a doctrinal debate or a faith affiliation survey in that amount of space? Can it even pretend to?

source GetReligion

5 responses to “Can one talk about Religion in 300 words?

  1. Alan Jay Weisbard

    We are dumbing down throughout our society. Even the media that general interest readers looked to for greater depth are following this trend. It is, so to say, dispiriting in the extreme, particularly but not only in the spiritual/ religious domain.

    Fortunately, the net with its blogs, such as yours, provides the possibility for those intrepid and determined enough to seek them out.

    Keep them coming.

    • But if everyone reads blogs then we have the problem that everyone is in a silo or echo chamber. There is less public discourse or a public society. Crimes and abuse are not hidden anymore; that is good. However, deeper questions do not have a public forum outside echo chambers and FB sound bits are not sufficient.

      • Alan Jay Weisbard

        I completely agree. Law Prof and former Obama official Cass Sunstein wrote about this more than a decade ago. I was skeptical of his thesis at the time, but it has turned out to be prescient. I think many in the society, other than Internet trolls, are losing both the habit and the inclination to engage with those with whom they disagree on fundamental matters, and what engagement does take place is less and less civil or mutually respectful. I wish I had a better answer for these phenomena; perhaps some carefully curated websites dedicated to serious, respectful interchange will emerge, but I suspect these will serve a small minority.

      • The tendency to speak in echo chambers started not with the internet but with automobiles, suburbs and mobility (see Bill Bishop’s “The Big Sort”). Internet sound-bit-ification makes it worse.

        Just to demonstrate how difficult this problem is: Bishop’s depressing book, published in early 2008, ends on a hopeful note that in the first decade of the 21st century, many people were looking for unifying forces that would bring disagreeing citizens to common cause. He cites, as an example of a unifying force, the presidential candidacy of Barack Obama.

  2. I wouldn’t make too much of this. AP is talking of its need to serve local papers — and local newspapers are a dying breed, both because their non-local news is a commodity and because of the collapse of retail advertising. Newspapers are becoming more like television news, but the audience of both are increasingly the elderly. Those who want interesting news on any topic can find it. Those who don’t probably weren’t reading it anyways.

    Personally, I’m somewhat less informed about global political developments than I was in the days when I relied on the editors of the New York Times to be the gatekeepers of my news — but to be honest, given that I had to triage my NYT reading to get any work done at all, I tended to skip many of the world stories after glancing at the headlines. I am, however, better informed on several topics now that I’m getting the information straight from blogs and more technical news services.

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