Northern California's latest attempt to re-invent journalism, the Bay Citizen, went on-line May 26, and as someone who covered the Godbeat in that neighborhood for 25 years, I was happy to see an entertaining religion story prominently displayed on Day One.
The story was headlined "At Episco Disco – The Sacred and the Profane – a young priest puts on the best party in town." Four days later, over the Memorial Day weekend, the Sunday "Datebook" section of the San Francisco Chronicle(where I used to cover the religion beat) devoted its cover to a broader piecetitled "Night Church – Places of worship get social with after-hours yoga, art, music and more."
The Bay Citizen is a regional, on-line news hub started with $5 million in seed money from philanthropist Warren Hellman. It is brought to you by the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of California at Berkeley and the New York Times, which will feature some Bay Citizen stories on its Friday and Sunday print editions in Northern California. The original plan had been for this regional news hub to produce radio and TV content as well, but those pieces of the new-media puzzle fell off the table when KQED (which runs the two leading public radio and television stations in this media market) pulled out of the partnership.
These two stories on the Episcopal Church's latest attempts to draw in the young and the hip reveal some of the strengths and weaknesses of old (Chronicle) and new (Bay Citizen) media. Reyhan Harmanci, the Culture Editor/Writer at the Bay Citizen, focuses more on the Episcopal priest who runs these monthly art and music happenings inside Grace Cathedral, the neo-Gothic jewel that crowns the city's Nob Hill neighborhood. Harmanci, a former rock critic at the Chronicle, doesn't put the event in the broader context of the post-denominational church's efforts to reach out to people who consider themselves "spiritual but not religious." The best thing about this piece is the on-line presentation of video and music, which gives us a sense of what it's like to be at one of the events.
The Chronicle story, written by staff writer Meredith May, is a better piece of journalism. She uses less space to set the scene and quickly broadens the story to report on other efforts by Bay Area churches and synagogues to "take the fear factor out of church and to embrace young people's religious fluidity." May, who is not a religion specialist, scores points by referencing a recent study by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, a survey showing us that this event is part of a fundamental reshaping of the American religious landscape.
The story in the Sunday Datebook (a popular tabloid-sized Chronicle insert known by most readers as "the pink section" because of the offbeat color of its newsprint) was graced with six fantastic color photos by two of the newspaper's best staff photographers, Michael Macor and Carlos Avila Gonzales. And the Chronicle, unlike the Bay Citizen, remembered to be reader-friendly and give us the date and time of the next Episco Disco event.
News done well is good news indeed.