Category Archives: Essay

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What It Is

(A six-minute read)

What is journalism? I asked this question back in April and then took almost fifteen hundred words to outline what it is not.

I broke my own rule, which is: define yourself by who you are, not by who you aren’t. After all, that’s what God does. Oh well, I’m only human.

To sum up my previous observations: self-proclaimed journalism today is unrecognizable to one who was trained in the craft forty years ago.

Please understand that, while I do have my own biases (as we all do), I offer the following analysis without regard to ‘left’ or ‘right’. No one is blameless in this – no, not even your favorite outlet, whatever it is. It’s the rotten state of a rotting industry.

And yet, in the midst of rot, new life springs up. There is still real journalism out there, and it’s worth paying for. Use some of the tools below and go find it. It’s worth the search.

Think For Yourself

If you look hard enough and spend time thinking about what you read, you can avoid falling into a pit of your own biases. Yes, I know how comfortable it is to consume things that reinforce what I already believe. But gaining knowledge means going where the information is, even into an unfamiliar neighborhood.

It’s like properly reading the Bible. I have to read what Jesus said about hell and my chances of going there just as much as I read about how much he loves me and will forgive me when I confess and repent. Picking and choosing only what I like leads me into error there, just as it does as I peruse what’s written, published and broadcast.

Back to journalism. A classic definition of journalism is, ‘writing characterized by a direct presentation of facts or description of events without an attempt at interpretation (emphasis mine).

In two short decades we’ve gone from that to almost endless presentations of opinion, without a necessary regard for the facts. Opinion used to be called opinion. Opinions were like a certain orifice: everybody had one. Now these orifices are on full display, relabeled as journalism.

Like so many other things, the definition has changed for the convenience of the People In Charge.

Our Upside-Down World

We live in an evil-is-good, Scripture-is-hate, man-is-woman, feelings-are-truth, subjective-is-final counterfeit-rainbow sort of world.1 And in this, opinion is now masked as journalism. What the People In Charge decide is right becomes truth.

I’ve said before that the term ‘echo chamber’ is a misnomer. The highly politicized social culture that has evolved in the absence of real journalism has moved us way past ‘echo chamber.’ We are now stuck in a copy machine, which cranks out page after endless page of an idealized version of real-time events as the People in Charge wish them to be.

There are now two things masking as journalism that call themselves journalism. And many of those who practice it are finally admitting that they must help you, Dear Reader, by interpreting the truth for you. But the occasional small glimmer of light isn’t enough – at the moment – to offset all the misdirection that’s out there.

Narrative and Myth

The vast majority of what we see, hear, read and are told now falls into two categories, Narrative and Myth.

Narrative is a political or social point of view that is pushed by unseen publishers and editors to influence what is reported, how it is reported and, much more important, what is not reported. Much of modern ‘news media’ product of all sorts falls into this category.

Myth is the construction of a narrative around a made-up point of view, i.e. so-called conspiracy theories or the assertion of conclusions as fact, without actually citing any facts. Myth-making is a convenient strategy for news media elites to underpin the narrative stories they tell for their own aggrandizement.

Ooooo-kay. What Now?

Here are some tips to help you know actual journalism from narrative or myth.

True journalism:

  • Presents information without bias. Look for headlines without the following: could, should, might, may, believe, possible, possibly, reports say.
  • Contains no clickbait.
  • Only makes an assertion with a quoted source, sometimes two.
  • Relies on named sources, not ‘sources say’.
  • Verifies every story independently, as opposed to simply republishing someone else’s work without checking it.
  • Has no ‘fact check’ column, because the checking of facts occurs in the writing and editing of stories before they are released.
  • Gives you information without labeling it as what you need to know about ___
  • Describes any criminal charge or accusation as ‘alleged’ until a court has rendered a verdict.
  • States any institutional point of view up front. To that point, carefully watch story selection for ‘slant’ or ‘exclusion.’ A true journalistic venture will have roughly equal numbers of stories (in aggregate) from various points of view.
  • Runs easily seen corrections when mistakes are made.
  • Doesn’t change copy without announcing it.
  • Publishes stories that go against the general editorial position of the outlet.
  • Has reporters follow the money and the paper trail, not the loudest voices.
  • Has publishers and editors make editorial policy, not a mob of junior line employees or worse, social media.
  • Doesn’t tell lies with a straight face.

Hope Remains

Pre-industrial, pre-scientific humanity had a myth-weaving culture. Stories were created to explain things people could not understand or fathom: creation, the nature of good and evil, the seeming impartiality of natural forces. These myths all reflected local biases and experience.

As civilizations advanced, each group developed its own version of these myths and told these stories over and over. Through this, narratives were born.

Eventually, as the rule of law superceded the rule of men (h/t John Adams) it seemed wise that a well-informed citizenry was crucial to maintenance of a stable pluralistic society. Journalism served this function. In the American republic (and indeed in all free Western nations), this free flow of information was available so people could make up their own minds about things.

Yes amazing as it seems, ordinary people were trusted with making up their own minds.

Incredibly, people were trusted with raw information.

Sadly, The People in Charge are afraid to do that now. If we know too much, we might throw them out. Well, as Mulder and Scully said, ‘the truth is out there.’ We’ll see how that works out for the People In Charge over the next few years. If it does work out for them: tyranny. If not, freedom may yet prevail.

In Conclusion

If wishes were fishes and cattle were kings, the world would be full of wonderful things. But they aren’t.

1. Go ahead. Cancel me. It will say more about the state of your heart than mine.

Image: Skitterphoto via Pexels

Newspaper clipping

What It’s Not

(A seven-minute read)

What is journalism? Like so many things in 2022, it’s not what we thought it was. But then, the world isn’t the same either. The classical, stable Christian underpinnings of Western society are being knocked about and we live in a world where the mob rules the roost. The loudest groups of fanatics drive the conversation, not rational, solid, considered thinkers, Christian or no.

Mainstream journalism has been ruined by these phenomena and also now encourages them. It’s no longer an echo chamber; it’s a copy machine. The craft itself hasn’t died. Rather, it’s only being practiced in a few select corners and must be sought out (more about this in an upcoming essay).

What’s being called ‘journalism’ today actually isn’t journalism at all. It’s myth-weaving for a post-Christian generation.

In 2020 I offered a sad timeline entitled ‘An Obituary’, bemoaning the fact that journalism was dead at last. The obituary nature of this is because the West now lives in a Narrative Culture, not a journalistic one. We still tell one another stories. But these now are only to reinforce our prejudices, rather than to learn what our beliefs might best be.

We are copying the East in this, most notably Communist China, where the official narrative is all. The official narrative is a god. The official narrative is the only acceptable truth. Truth itself has been slain there in the public square; it is dying by degrees here. But it’s not dead yet.

Here’s the distinction between narrative and journalism. In Narrative Culture, facts are chosen to fit a conclusion. In a journalistic culture, facts are gathered to develop a conclusion, independent of anyone’s motive.

A narrative is an ideological construct telling a story. It makes actual journalism impossible, because facts in a narrative are always subordinate to opinion. Hence, ‘myth-weaving.’ Elite thinkers, trapped in their own copy machines, now create an idealized version of real-time events as they wish them to be and they repeat.

Slap the story on the glass and press ‘copy.’ Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat Repeat.

Another major change is the media-maker’s love of money, whether news anchor, blogger, YouTube Influencer or TikTok star.

If you were born since 1980 this seems normal; you know nothing different.

In 1976, when I got my first gig in journalism, it was considered a ‘craft’ rather than a profession. Many of us were union members. I never expected to see more than a solid middle-class life, but that was okay. I was working for other purposes – not working to get rich.

In those days, the highest paid person at a national level was making well less than a million dollars a year. Cable TV stars today routinely command eight figure contracts, even those (perhaps especially those) who can’t write their way out of a simple declarative sentence.

My lifetime earnings in 35 years in and around broadcasting and journalism total less than $1.5 million. And I was one of the fortunate ones, one who was usually employed. No sour grapes here.

The Joy Reids and the Tucker Carlsons are not paid for being journalists, although they like to arrogate the title to themselves. They aren’t worthy of it. They are little more than water-carriers for the rich and the socially elite of their respective tribes. They carry no moral authority, only a narrative.

The main requirements for their success don’t lie in non-partisan fact collection and conclusion-making, that is, journalism. Rather, they are wildly successful because they can set inconvenient facts aside and view everything through an ideological lens. Having an ability to forget what one claimed the previous week also helps.

It’s critical for today’s self-proclaimed journalists to know what to think, never how to think critically, as a true journalist would.

In October 1928 my grandfather, William A Searle, became President and General Manager of the Camden Publishing Company. Radio was rare and television a generation in the future. Newspapers were the public conversation.

Granddad was like many publishers of the day, engaging in his craft with a view of public service. He believed that providing information was a sacred trust. He knew that honesty and integrity were his only products, and must be protected at all costs. He lived out his Christian faith in the workplace. He lived by the same values I was taught to respect in university seminars fifty years later. Those values have since fled university campuses, replaced by the pliable truths of moral relativism.

Today’s media, with very few exceptions, fail to adhere to a standard of moral integrity. The idea of public trust is mostly gone. The dollar is king – personal values have fallen into serfdom. Today’s media mavens don’t respect the public, revealing they don’t trust it. Their audience returns the favor, perhaps recognizing that media narratives are built on sand. Trust in the media is at an all-time low and sinking.

Media ownership itself is a small group and has been getting smaller. That concentrates the power of this Narrative Culture. This is not unique to the United States.

In the first edition under his leadership, Granddad told his readers he believed that publishing the Camden Post-Telegram meant ‘assuming a great public trust’.

What does that mean? It means that the only thing of value in the marketplace was his integrity and trustworthiness. That doesn’t mean integrity is for sale, rather that it is a commodity that people will pay to engage with.

In other words, if the public doesn’t trust you, you are out of business – but only in a business model that values fact-finding and conclusion-making.

The Narrative Culture business model values myth-making and selling ideology. It succeeds because people are starving for the truth and want something even if it’s not good for them. After all, the starving impoverished will even eat from a garbage can if they are hungry enough.

In 1928 (just as today) there were many publications that chose not to trade on their integrity. The practice was called ‘yellow journalism’, where sensationalism ruled over fact. The more lurid these tabloids the better. Selling copies was the only aim. Today these lurid stories are still around. You know them as ‘clickbait,’ designed to ‘deliver eyeballs.’

Some of the promises Granddad made to Post-Telegram readers stand in stark contrast:

  • Print the news promptly, completely and impartially;
  • Confine expressions of our opinions to the editorial columns;
  • Hold the Post-Telegram to such a standard of cleanliness that it will not offend nor embarrass to have the youngest child read it aloud to the family;
  • Follow our convictions in what we believe to be right rather than let this newspaper’s attitude be dictated by whim, or prejudice, by expediency or popularity, or influenced by any outside power or force;
  • Keep faith with our readers;
  • Be sincere and truthful, yet fair.

Am I naive to think that these values can still drive our public conversations, and reporting of same? Perhaps. But these values will always remain worth fighting for. I get to live them out in my own small corner of the world as best I can. And I have to let it be enough, at least for now.

However, as we look to (and hope for) a more honest future, let’s remember there are good lessons to be found peering back through time. The main one is the importance of questioning my own assumptions. Another is to remember there are bedrock values that bring hope and change. Yet another is to let the truth be the truth.

The truth is not what we may think it is, according to our narrative. No, that’s an opinion, and it’s a relative, subjective thing. Truth is unchanging. Truth is eternal. Truth will out. Truth provides those immutable values Granddad put in print. Truth is a Person.

Image by Skitterphoto via Pexels

Star Trek Toy

It’s Dead, Jim

When I was a child, I wanted unlimited power. I wanted to be like ‘Q’, who was a character in Star Trek: The Next Generation. Q was a supernatural being with unlimited power. He could be anything, do anything, and cause anything to occur. He could shift time or create alternate timelines. He could do things beyond imagination for his own amusement.

Decades before Q was written into the Star Trek Universe, I wanted to be Q. I wanted that type of unlimited power to make anything happen.

Why? Because I felt powerless and alone, abandoned by God and misunderstood by the grown-ups in my life. I was angry at what I couldn’t control and afraid of what others could. Being powerless, I needed a source of power.

I had the answer at the start, but threw it away: His name was Jesus. Jesus was my miracle-worker, He is the ultimate superhero, He is on beyond Superman, He is the best role-model in history, the only one of value.

After having my innocence ripped away through sexual abuse, and my childhood disrupted by endless seasons of isolation, I abandoned Jesus. After that, the only power I had was the power of imagination. This imagination was at first enhanced, but then quickly deceived by pornography, and then by drugs, and finally by alcohol.

In Paul’s letter to the Colossians you see Jesus for just this: a Super Man, the Firstborn from the dead, the forerunner of a people who will inherit God’s kingdom.1 Even better, Jesus doesn’t hold himself up as a seemingly impossible example to follow under my own power.

Instead, Jesus lifts Himself up as an example where, through faith in Him, I can become more like Him. He’s invested in my journey and not worried about my destination. It’s already assured.

If I look to Jesus, to be like Jesus, I can rely on Jesus. That’s His plan for all of us. But I ran up against evil forces I couldn’t address and abandoned all that.

The Illusion of Fairness

Oddly, hope remained even in my darkest days. Through it all, I still sought a whole-hearted redemption, a reconciliation, a world put to rights. We are all wired for this. We like saying, ‘It’s not fair!’ Made in God’s image, we desire justice because He does.

But justice isn’t justice unless it’s absolute. Anything less is inadequate and cosmically unfair. Let me explain.

Left to our own devices, you and I can’t achieve true justice, only justice based on the lie that somehow life should be “fair.” The unfixable flaw is that my sense of fairness may not align with yours or someone else’s, and so we are in conflict. The daily news provides endless proof of this. In God’s domain there is only absolute justice and it is measured by one standard only – His standard. Using our broken world’s standards, people can only contrive relative justice.

This relativity is the endless failure of all human systems: in order for one person to receive full justice, someone else has to be denied it, or it’s doled out without mercy. There are no true win-win resolutions in human conflicts. Relative justice may offer incremental change along the old spectrum, but doesn’t bring transformation into a new one. Only God can do that.

Justice Ain’t the Problem

For many years, I lived in the hope of a Star Trek future, where crime is history and poverty doesn’t exist and governance is altruistic, enlightened and universally just. In my 65 years I’ve seen enough political futility to know there will be no Star Trek future. Not ever. As human beings under our own power alone, we are incapable of pulling that off.

I’m not a wet blanket, just telling you the truth. It’s not that you and I aren’t capable of kindness and mercy and courage and heroic sacrifice. Individually, we are! It’s because we are made in God’s image, and that’s who He is! But we’ve proven ourselves incapable of this en masse, because the world is full of sin.

The world has a righteousness problem, not a justice problem. We try to find redemption under our own power, and we fail. We can make change, but little progress. We can ease poverty, but we will never cure it.2 We can create welcoming communities, but not welcoming societies. We will never truly beat our swords into plowshares. Not alone.

Even atheists can set up charities and spend billions to ‘do good.’ But in and of itself it isn’t enough. In the long term, it transforms nothing.

The Problem of Evil

There’s one final piece to consider: the problem of evil. Relative human systems all fight evil as they define it in their relative ways. But in God’s kingdom, evil is absolute just like everything else.

All the evil in this world comes from the devil, the enemy of God. He hates God. He hates me. He hates you. He wants us to look to ourselves for answers, not to God. Satan’s greatest delight is when you don’t believe he exists. Because then you are captive to him.

Ironically, the final piece of my faith puzzle years ago was not belief in Jesus, it was belief in the devil. Until I accepted that the devil really did exist, working evil in my life, I couldn’t come fully into my own as God’s man. The great lie of every age is that there is no Satan, not that there is no God. The second greatest lie is that God somehow contains or creates evil as well as good.

Have there been many evils perpetrated in the name of God? Of course! People are broken. Evil acts can come through people of every faith and by those of no faith. But think of this. If I went out and robbed a bank, and said I did it in your name, would you have any of the blame or responsibility? Of course not.

So, if you have been hurt or misled, or wounded or lied to by someone in the Church, leader or laity, mentor or friend, or if you’ve suffered at the hands of someone who claimed Christianity, don’t blame God. He didn’t do it. It was people – fallen, broken people who do bad things in His name, people tricked by the devil.

It’s easy, I suppose, for a secular mind to conclude that God doesn’t exist, because the mind alone is limited to its own powers of observation and reason. How can a human use finite resources to grasp something infinite? No, we have to tap in with our hearts, connect in faith in the face of what our senses tell us.

It’s Dead, Jim

There are great scientific leaps of understanding every year, and yet, there is always more to know. The secular scientist holds out these leaps as proof of a human delusion that the universe has evolved from nothing into an infinitely complex marvel, and that given enough tools and time, we’ll fully understand it. It’s another fallacy from the Star Trek Universe.

The Christian looks at these same things and instead sees how they all validate what’s written in Scripture about God’s creation. Every scientific breakthrough then bolsters faith, instead of being an argument against it. Reason is an important part of faith, but must be subordinate to it; the reverse cannot logically follow. Christian faith is not at odds with science and does not war against it. Rather, it is the scientific atheist who wars against Christ.

A veritable atheism industry has now sprung up. Books containing the apologetics of atheism top the best-seller lists, as do books about how to proselytize to make more atheists, books instructing Christians how best to reject their faith and books about why they should. The Case Against God by George H. Smith is my favorite of these.

I confess I haven’t read it, so won’t judge the content; for me, the title is enough to show the illogic of it. The title says that God exists, but the author will make a case against Him. This is atheism’s dilemma, claiming disbelief in God while actually waging war against Him.

Atheists can only argue their identity in a negative. Atheists are not nihilists – they don’t believe in nothing. Instead, they purport to believe against something. And that is not identity. It’s a sad form of circular logic.

Are you an atheist? I admire your perseverance. Keep listening.

Star Trek is dead.

It’s dead, Jim.

Jesus is alive, and He’s knocking at the door. And He will keep knocking until you either let Him in, or are yourself dead.

The final lie from the Star Trek Universe is that death is the ultimate end. Death is not the end, but when you pass through it, who you have faith in (and refuse to have faith in) will determine the train ticket you find in your pocket.

1 Colossians 1:15-18
2. Matthew 26:11

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