When Headlines Hurt (blog)

Blog posts directly related to the book, When Headlines Hurt: Do We Have a Prayer? — The Pope’s Words of Hope for Journalism, can be found in the OnWord.net front-page blog: purchase and links to resources, first publication, basic concept of the book.

The blog posts below represent ongoing reflections about the everyday connections between the Pope’s message and our world of information.

A News Media-tor for a “Peace Movement”

July 8, 2018

Riffing on the recent news that Jerry Springer is ceasing his violence-prone TV show after some 4,000 episodes, Greg Gutfeld of the Fox News Channel joked that, nowadays in our contentious political culture, “every day is the Jerry Springer Show.”

Gutfeld, in the monologue for his own program on July 7, went on to put that joke in a context echoing Pope Francis’ message for the 2018 World Communications Day (at least a little, if you take out the off-color remarks and humorous hyperlinks). He suggested that our society work harder at understanding and managing its contention.

“Politics always causes friction,” Gutfeld pointed out. “We just have more places to see it,” such as round-the-clock cable news and social media which seem to hold captive our thoughts and conversations.  “We get it. The country is divided. But that’s actually good: It’s better to have two sides than one.”

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He acknowledged that we see more friction because journalists’ cameras are attracted to it. Among news consumers, annoyance comes naturally because we think we’re right and the people who disagree with us think they’re right.

“We should admit that we see things through different filters” and temper our own discussions with politeness, compromise, and forgiveness, Gutfeld said. You can hear the noteworthy monologist say it in this video. He called for a “conservative peace movement” where those toward the right on the political spectrum proactively “take the high ground.”

This proposal might have been directed more toward the consumers of media content than toward the generators of it–after all, a lack of friction in the world could translate into a lack of viewers for Fox and all broadcasters.

But, as Gutfeld knows, and as Pope Francis pointed out in the message (plus accompanying prayer for journalism) he officially released on May 13, the line between producers and consumers in today’s information world is practically invisible. There are millions of self-publishers. Alas, I’m one of them.

All along the media spectrum, and the political spectrum, we do need to collaborate in a movement informed by the pope’s call for “a journalism of peace.” Cheers for Gutfeld–and perhaps for Springer!–as they contribute in different ways to this movement, which can benefit from the pope’s paraphrase of the Peace Prayer of Saint Francis of Assisi.

That’s the widely honored prayer which, in both its original and paraphrased forms, envisions all of us as “instruments of peace.”

The notes of wisdom in Gutfeld’s monologue made a sweet sound.

(With this post, I am beginning an additional blog at this site–intended as an ongoing expansion of the reflections in my book, When Headlines Hurt: Do We Have a Prayer? — The Pope’s Words of Hope for Journalism. Find the blog title as part of the main navbar at OnWord.net.)

No Civil War, but a “Civility” War?

July 9, 2018

“Civility, whatever that is.” That’s a phrase used in a recent post I found at the Columbia Journalism Review online. The June 27 piece by Matthew Ingram is an important, carefully considered collection of news and commentary where the use of the word “civility” is scrutinized. In some cases, the concept of “civility” as a value, or even as a thing, is called into question.

Is the term being manipulated, and perhaps weaponized, as society discusses whether our conversations in the pubic square–or, more typically, in the news media–have lost a sense of civility? Is it time to cast doubt on the meaning of civility, even though one can find many reputable online definitions, which usually include important ideas like politeness, courtesy, and respect? Should we stop using the word because it is starting to make some people uncomfortable or skeptical? I myself have heard “civility” criticized (perhaps in jest?) as an over-rated virtue or a display of false gentility that allows a speaker to sidestep questions or avoid reality. But where does the blame lie–with the word or the speaker, the meaning or the intent?

This makes me think of Marilyn McEntyre’s book, Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies, which I understand to be a call for honoring and preserving perfectly useful, time-tested words which can enhance everyday conversations among common folk. I don’t know how McEntyre would react to an attack on the word “civility,” but I’m guessing  she would deem it uncivil to rob people of a way of expressing their thoughts or to confuse people about whether a word–and therefore a thought–is good or bad, socially acceptable or intellectually ridiculed.

Pope Francis, in his message on journalism for the 2018 World Communications Day, does not appear to use the term civility (at least in the online English translation of his remarks) when he is calling for a journalism of peace or rebuking rhetorical trends toward defamation and prejudice. He uses the term “respect” a few times, including in his Peace Prayer of Saint Francis (version 2.0), when he says, “Where there is hostility, let us bring respect.” Words and news will thrive when they are used with good intent.

Well, “respect” may be a better, less ambiguous word than civility, but I for one hope we do not start a war against that latter term. Let it be. Let us ponder it. It has profound connections to words like “civilization,” terms like “civil society,” and fearful events like a “civil war.”  To start challenging a valid word is dangerously close to challenging a valid idea. There will be substitute synonyms, like “respect,” but if advocates or opponents of something or other can come against one word, they can come against other words.

Remember George Orwell’s warning about the “Newspeak” language used in his novel 1984.  He said it was “designed to diminish the range of thought.” A world where the range of thought is diminished is good neither for news consumers nor news generators–only for “newspeakers.”