The following questions and answers are part of the full interview between freelance journalist Jennifer Neutel and executive television producer, Lorna Dueck, for the article on page 1, “Shifting media landscape shrinks the God-beat.”
Christian Courier: Thinking about your career, can you share a story of a time when you were faced with an obstacle in your work because of your faith?
Lorna Dueck: I do feel that the call we have as Christ-followers to exhibit the fruits of the Spirit affects my column writing at The Globe and Mail significantly. There are many issues I would like to rant and be polemic on, there is a sarcasm and biting wit that would make for energy in a column, but I most often hit delete on these impulses because, in my mind, it is incompatible with Gospel witness.
Can you share your impetus to build your own media company?
This decision came very reluctantly to me; ultimately it was a “by my Spirit” move upon my heart. I responded to an inner call I believe was from God, a call to tell the story of Canadians and God interacting in all dimensions of life and culture. A few very significant things aligned, which could only have been the work of God in my life; I had been given a broadcast-quality pitch in my voice, and an innate curiosity that was tailor-made for journalism. After a season of working in secular media, being home and raising our two young children, I had been approached, without applying, by 100 Huntley Street and given a daily, live TV platform to be mentored by Canada’s leading broadcast evangelist, David Mainse. After eight years, both David and a generous philanthropist offered me a platform to create an independent media ministry. The Globe and Mail was asking me to be a commentary writer on faith and public life, my denominational president, Dr. Franklin Pyles, agreed to lead a new media charity as our founding board Chair, Preston Manning, served as his co- chair, and, well, with a prayer team of 40 people, the media charity has grown.
What changes have you seen in the media landscape regarding religion?
I think the entertainment and advertising world of media is the most influential dimension of the media landscape. I’d like to quote from Prof. John Stackhouse here, a Canadian expert on culture, who has said it would appear that we have a great need for artists who know their Christian faith deeply, and can infuse that into beautiful craft.
But let me talk next about the media landscape I know best: news and information programming.
Three issues here. First, privatization of faith has been a great loss. A story that illustrates that change to me occurred again this week. We were producing a broadcast episode on “what makes Canada great?” so we approached an iconic Canadian business because we knew the owner was a Christian, asking to hear the full expression of what this CEO brings to the job and our country via their firm. The CEO’s son was the corporate gatekeeper and said we could interview the owner, provided we not ask anything about the CEO’s faith in God. It was simply off limits. We declined the interview and are looking for another, but such reluctance of Christians to express their faith in public is an alarming change I have seen over the 25 years I have been reporting Christian story. As Canada has become more secularized, fewer media outlets are asking the Christian questions, and I don’t think it is a result of hostility to faith, it is truly a honest ignorance; the Canadian media simply does not know what about religion matters. This week I asked a media executive, “what would you like to know about God?” He replied, “I don’t even know what I don’t know.” Here was an open, informed, 50-year-old, not hostile to religion, just completely unaware of how to access religion. We have to break the privatized world of our faith communities and get speaking about our belief and trust in God. When people share their faith, it still makes news; I think of Calgary’s Lavalle family, or Monty Williams – both recent stories that went viral in mainstream news because the actions of faith were newsworthy. I think of Jean Vanier or Cardinal Collins sharing their faith views on Canada’s proposals shaping our Physician Assisted Death legislation; both made mainstream news on public policy because they spoke out on their God-shaped beliefs.
Second, there is now a widely held belief amongst news agencies that religion equals violence and an attempt for political power. This is the aftermath of ISIS, and there is no avoiding that terrorism’s legacy has altered how Islam and Christianity will be positioned in West vs. East. Media understands “power blocs,” such as the reporting you see around the U.S. Presidential election and religion. These colourful factors mean there is a great media push that power blocs of religion are scary and dangerous, which is simply the low hanging fruit that is easy and quick for news agencies to gather. But unfortunately, it will dominate religion coverage in the press. The 2016 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion this year was recently given to Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks – who wrote Not In God’s Name: Confronting Religious Violence – I am looking forward to interviewing Rabbi Sacks. Perhaps he will be part of changing the global narrative. [Lorna’s interview with Sacks can be viewed at http://goo.gl/fl014O.]
Third, Pope Francis has shown us the power of putting leadership into media. The Vatican has been deeply strategic in creating media channels, and messages in their own brand, on their own time, and they play by an other-worldly confidence. The Catholic Church has maximized the globalization media creates in a brilliant way; one pastor for the planet. The crowds tell all media that they dare not ignore reporting on the words and travels of Pope Francis. This globalization of seeing such popularity for the Pope, of China – where we have reportedly more Christians in China than there are members in the Communist Party – the great rise of the global south in Christianity, will be present in the media landscape.
With the media markets becoming more fragmented and the decline of religious reporters on staff in mainstream newsrooms, how do you think religious stories can best be told?
Social media that goes viral is now the best way to tell our stories, with the hope that mainstream media gets the spillover. However, I do still believe that leaders are influencers and we must do all we can to get to the leadership positions in the cultural elite of media ownership, and bring our faith there as a needed part of God’s love and grace to the world.
What changes would you like to see happen in the media (that could open up more faith dialogues)?
Faith-filled media employees working in all dimensions of media.
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