Sunday, May 25, 2014

Sunday Musing: Comparing Local News to Local Church

Church services are like the local news and ministers are like journalists, so called. By this, I mean that while both are well intended and both purport to present their products with intensity and professionalism, both fall sadly short of the ideal they want their audiences to believe. Even sadder is the reality that their audiences do believe that what is presented is true and untainted.

Let's compare, shall we?

The news (read: "gospel") you see presented on the local station (read: "church) may or may not be "news". At the very most it has information that is true based on witnesses. At the very least it presents stories that will appear to inform when in fact the intention behind their selection for presentation is designed to keep the viewer tuned in to their station.

Today's viewership (read: "congregation") has been acculturated to believe that not only is the information and stories presented to be actual news, they believe that those presenting it are the journalists (read: "ministers") they claim to be. Would anyone really continue to watch a station that was honest enough to declare that journalistic expertise is trumped by good looks, endearing personality and the ability to read? Of course, we may have to allow that journalism schools only produce attractive and witty graduates these days. After all, its been a long time since I've seen an ugly journalist on TV.

To maintain viewership and therefore stay in business, local (and arguably national) news organizations have to select information, stories and "journalists" that will produce ratings that keep them viable. "Real" news- whatever that may be- is defined by that which will keep the viewer from switching channels to another station whose stories and "journalists" may be more to their liking. You see, for the typical viewer, a local news station is not generally selected because of the "news" as much as the way in which the "news" is both selected and more importantly, presented.

That's why "journalists" change or are changed by management. Rarely has it anything to do with expertise or experience. It may have more to do with viewership losing interest in a personality (as I have done with weathermen, so called, when their cuteness wears off) or deciding the personality lacks credibility (as happened to me when a sportscaster mispronounced the name of a professional golfer). Loyalty to a station can change as quickly as changing the personalities involved.

Granted, a television journalist probably believes they are true professionals who perform their craft with journalistic integrity. And that's fine. But while journalistic integrity may be present in the stories presented to the viewing public, it rarely holds a candle to the criteria of audience appeal.

And the audience does not notice these issues or does not care to investigate. Otherwise why wouldn't there be more outrage that during sweeps month there are more stories about local pet abuse than international human abuse. Audiences cry over Rover's starvation but go to the kitchen to get a snack when stories of starvation in third world countries are presented.

Which should be "news"? Both types of story are true but one has more chance of keeping an audience.

Then, of course, there is advertising. Once the team of "journalists" is in place, word must get out so that news-hungry viewers know who they can trust when it comes to the dissemination of "real" news. So billboards show attractive "professionals" who are easy on eyes and look trustworthy. (Sadly, an attractive news anchorman's trust was exposed recently as fraudulent when he was arrested for possessing child pornography. Interestingly, his good looks were unaffected.)

This "parable" is, in my opinion, tremendously analogous to today's local churches. Yes, there is some true spiritual activity and sincere presentation but behind it there are people selecting the "messages" and the ministers that will keep people coming back.

And the attendees think this is as authentic as the news they watch before they go to bed. They will pick and choose which church they attend with the same criteria with which they select a channel: Is what is being presented "true? Is the minister trustworthy, credible and unquestionably likeable? If these tests don't measure up to the consumers' personal interpretation and standard of quality, they will simply switch stations and ultimately land on the pew of another church in which the "gospel" is uncompromisingly presented through a "man of God" who "rightly divides the word of truth"....

.....according to them.  

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