Saturday, 28 July 2012

Is religion a necessary aspect of news content?

(Just in case my article is taken down, I shall copypasta it here for posterity.)

Whilst thisiscornwall's invitation to 'citizen journalism' is to be applauded, there have been numerous objections raised with regard to its value. Objectivity, professionalism and relevance are key aspects in all journalistic endeavours, and if these qualities are not met its value is diminished.

There has been a creeping incidence of non-news and non-community related articles that have slipped - either purposely or by editorial neglect - into people's news readers, and despite numerous comments highlighting the fact that these articles are not news, they continue to populate an otherwise excellent on-line news media product such as thisiscornwall.

Which way to go?

A recent case in point is the inclusion of an article that contained no news, negligible community information and no indication of its provenance beyond a 'trusted source' ribbon at the top of the page.

'Is church a museum for good people?', whilst naming Sid Harris, of the Lizard-Mount's Bay Methodist Circuit, it is anonymously written, and the inclusion of his religious entity's name is about as close as the entire article gets to an allusion of community.

It contains no news content whatsoever.

It is, in fact, nothing more than the melancholic musings of a particular Christian's outlook on 'love'; a sermon, if you like.

Set against the aspects of journalism as stated in the opening paragraph, this sort of content is neither objective - any religious point of view is by definition subjective - nor is it relevant - people's faith being important to the individual in no wise constitutes news. As for professional? Well, the author's ability to convey his thoughts is not in question here, but in allowing such content to be published as news, thisiscornwall is negligent in its duty as a news media outlet.

It is not the remit of this article to have religious thoughts and articles banished from the site - there is a very good case for developing blogs for people that wish to do so, and national newspapers do exactly this - but this content should be clearly defined as opinion or some such, and not presented as news.

So what is the purpose of this article? It is a challenge to thisiscornwall to outline guidelines for what is, and what isn't, considered news content for the 'citizen journalist'. If the publication of religious tracts is deemed to be compelling community news, then my upcoming articles on secularism and criticisms of religious thought should be warmly welcomed. However, if thisiscornwall decides that content like that mentioned (and, indeed, the content you are reading now) is not considered to be compelling community news, it should either create a separate space for public opinion - leaving the RSS news feed for news alone - or it should stop publishing content that is in counter-distinction to the site's purpose.

In anticipation of the backlash I am sure to receive in publishing this article. I am quite aware of the fact that my own musings in this post are not news-worthy, are of neglible community benefit and very likely unprofessional, but in the vein of 'what is good for the goose is good for the gander', it should be pointed out that if religious sermons are to be tolerated as valid community news, so too should criticism of it.

Tris Stock is a secular activist, pop philosopher and blogger. Follow his thoughts at MyGodlessLife

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