Wednesday, April 3, 2013

How Not to Do Journalism

When I start to get comfortable as a pagan, when I start to feel that it would be easy to just be fully open about it – “out” to my Christian relatives, “out” to my somewhat conservative and image-conscious employer, “out” to everyone – I run across something like this, and it reminds me why I need be cautious about openness.

It's an article about the arrest of Dan Halloran, a Republican New York state senator and a Theodish heathen, on bribery charges. But the article – admittedly from a publication that specializes in snark, Gawker – is less interested in the ethics of public service and more interested in making fun of his religion. The Village Voice also wrote a piece for no reason other than to remind people that one of the state lawmakers arrested in the sting is a wacky pagan who hosted blots and sumbles.

Can you imagine the Voice writing an article to remind people that an arrested politician is a Baptist deacon or the cantor at his synagogue? Me neither.

Granted, people make fun of other people's religion all the time. Anything that seems meaningful and sacred to some is going to look like nonsense to others, and even the majority religions have their cadres of critics. But paganism seems to still be seen as “fringe” enough that it's ok to publish articles that have no goal other than ridicule – not even factually substantive ridicule, just gratuitous potshots.

A thoughtful journalist who was willing to take Halloran's faith seriously could write a nice, informative article about how bribery and use of office for personal gain conflict with Heathen principles. But it's easier to mock him for worshiping the gods and playing "games that, to the outside eye, looked like something from Dungeons & Dragons or a Renaissance fair," and that also relieves the so-called journalist of having to do any real research or self-education.

(The Wild Hunt has another perspective on this, well worth a few minutes to read. Click here. Wild Hunt also had an earlier piece with a sharp analysis of an earlier Village Voice article on Halloran. Go here for that one.)

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