Monday, November 23, 2009

When Religions Control Newspapers and Magazines

When I was a child, my newspaper-and-magazine editing mother held The Christian Science Monitor in high esteem. The paper was indeed well-regarded in media circles, I would learn later on my own as I moved into the industry. This despite the fact indicated by its name: it's owned by the Christian Science religious sect. The paper was still known as a publication that kept its news reporting separate from the views of its owners, and that was good.

Today, watching the implosion of the Unification Church-controlled, right-wing Washington Times, one gets to read all kinds of allegations of interference from the church's leadership, including its self-styled messiah.

Today comes word from The New York Times that Governing magazine has been sold to a California company owned and run by Scientologists. This has worried a number of staffers, because the Florida company that sold the magazine also owns the St. Petersburg Times, a well-regarded newspaper that has won acclaim for its reporting -- most significantly, its reporting on the Scientology cult. I mean church. Read the Times article for some clues about what might be in store for the staff. Such as a book club, maybe. Catholic Online -- another media operation whose ownership link is pretty obvious from its name -- goes further, citing sources that suggest greater involvement of the cult -- er, church, I've got to get that right -- in the operations of e.Republic, the new owners of Governing.

I'll admit to being somewhat torn. Not by Scientology; I've read way too many exposes of that organization over the years to see it as anything but a serious danger. But I don't think a religious owner -- even one with wacky religious beliefs -- should be an automatic reason for rejection in the media world. We are coming out of a very ahistorical period where mass media was controlled by faceless, nonideological, nonreligious public corporations, and we've entered an era that is more normal for this country and possibly the world: People and organizations start up newspapers and web sites and conferences and magazines and book companies because they want to support a worldview. That worldview might be wacky, it might be dangerous, it might be sweet and good. There will be more of all beliefs and worldviews out there.

We just have to make it so that if your new boss tries to force you to read a book and take a creepy seminar, you are able to tell him or her to take a flying leap and still keep your job.

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