By Tom Ehrich
When I was a staff reporter for The Wall Street Journal, our competition in breaking news was Reuters.
It was a black day if Reuters moved a news story before we did. I once kept a long-distance telephone line open from Pittsburgh to New York for 30 minutes, so that I could be first to report a change in US Steel Corp.’s dividend.
In this age of digital news, the Journal’s competition is The New York Times. I had assumed The Times normally won, because their overall coverage is so much more substantial and balanced than Murdoch Madness.
But the Journal broke the news of a papal election 11 minutes before The Times did — an eternity in news time, if not in church time. Just now the Journal ran a brief on the Pentagon beefing up West Coast missile defenses a full 46 minutes ahead of The Times.
My hunch is that The Times hasn’t yet raised the performance bar for its digital staff. They did a superb job of analyzing the election of Pope Francis, and that matters. But do does timeliness. In this realm, speed means quality, and being first conveys trustworthiness.
Now, at this point, you might be asking, Who in the world cares about those eleven minutes of lost news time? Surely getting it deeply and correctly matters more than getting it first.
No, not more than. Just as much, perhaps, but not more than. And that is a point I wish religious folks could grasp.
People insist on defining what matters to them. If given any opening, they will assert their interests and needs, and you can be sure you haven’t guessed everything on their list.
To some news readers, speed matters more than depth, and that’s just the way it is. To some Christians, a presentation of God who looks like them conveys truth — female, dark-skinned, young, tolerant — and your presentation of God as male, white, old and narrow doesn’t convey truth. You can accept that and show an open mind to all, or reject it and drive much of the population away.
Does this mean God is a commercial product designed by shallow focus groups? No, it means God isn’t just one thing, but many things, each containing a piece of God’s truth, and none containing all of that truth.
You can try to talk someone out of their interests, needs and beliefs. Or you can respect them and treasure the other person for seeing what you are unable to see.
Now that would be an interesting sight: people thanking each other for being different.