Building a Connection Between Faith and Media | 2022 Concordia Annual Summit
Building a Connection Between Faith and Media | 2022 Concordia Annual Summit – powered by Happy Scribe
Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Sheri Dew of the Deserett Management Corporation, Simran Singh of the Aspen Institute, Stephanie Linus of Nextpage Productions, and Mike Allen of Axios.
We’re here to have a discussion about the intersection, maybe the unique intersection between faith and media.
Each of us on this stage have a compelling interest in this topic for a number of different reasons.
Beginning with myself, I would just say I’m a woman of faith.
My faith is very important to me. On the other side of the equation, I’ve worked in media, all kinds of media throughout my career. So I have an interest in this topic from kind of A to Z. The company that I work for is helping sponsor or helping support the Faith and Media initiative that has released some information. Today, Faith and Media Initiative commissioned a major study by Harris X, a global study to try to say what is the truth about how media various kinds of media journalism, entertainment, and everything in between. How does it treat faith? How does it treat people of faith? How does it treat religion? That’s what we want to talk about today with these three experts. So, Simon, let’s begin with you. And here’s the first question. The first question is this global study conducted by Harris said that more than 60% of people globally say that when media covers faith or people of faith or religions in specific, they tend to result very quickly and resort very quickly to stereotype, even to exploitation.
So the question for you is, what do you think the responsibility is of faith leaders and faith communities to try to help make it so that media has better information to use and more access to accuracy?
In 2012, a white supremacist entered a Sikh place of worship in Oak Creek, Wisconsin, and massacred the congregation as they prayed. I was doing my PhD here in New York City at Columbia at the time, and I found out about it because my mom called. She said, Turn on the news. And it was a shocking moment because here we were, a community that’s been in this country for more than 100 years, and very clearly, nobody knows who we are. The news anchors who are describing the massacre as it was unfolding referred to six as Muslims, thought it was a mosque, described our tradition as an offshoot of Hinduism. I mean, consistently, it became very clear to me that we had a lot of work to do. And what I want to say here is that this is the story of minorities in this country and around the world that we feel hypervisible, people notice us, and yet we feel unseen. We’re not represented, at least not authentically, and usually not at all. And so I made it my mission then to start telling our stories. And I started writing and appearing on television and radio.
But it was bootstrapped. I didn’t really know what I was doing. And I met someone who is a colleague and since an adviser who taught me something that we all know, and that is life is about relationships, media is about relationships. I mean, these are people and so often we paint them as a broad brush and say those guys over there. And I think part of the challenge is to open up these conversations with people. And that’s what I did. I started reaching out to reporters who cover religion and said let me be a resource for you. Let me give you story ideas. And over time that really increased the coverage of a community that had up until this time in our country had never been seen. And so that’s my message for what I think faith communities and faith leaders can do, think about relationships. And we know also that the best relationships are the ones that are selfless, not transactional. So offer yourself, create a connection and that’s where you will see the fruit really develop.
I think that is profound. Every bit of communication is about relationships if we really want to connect. So Stephanie, let’s build on that. Also in the study it said that more than 60% of global respondents said we want better content, we want more high quality content that actually has to do with and is more authentic about faith and about faith communities and about people of faith. You have a lot of experience in entertainment. What would you say? What can you do? And how can those like you help make this better?
Well, for sure I do agree with the research because I also remember when I’m flipping through the cartoons and I’m looking for Christ or whatever based cartoon for my kids and I’m like, oh, this quality is not so good. You find them tilting to the one that is more shiny. The animation they spent a lot of money making. But I also can understand why people say that because there’s a perception about when you think about faith based films or content, people feel is preachy, people feel is predictable, safe, family friendly. Each different part of it has its own space. But I think that’s one of the perception that people have. And a lot of filmmakers who play in that space feel very frustrated because they feel they don’t have enough budgets to do something as wonderful as that or maybe they don’t have enough training to be able to compare to their other counterparts. And they all feel that their hands are tied when they are telling the stories because there are so many restrictions and eyes looking at them like are you going this way? Are you going that way? This is the way to go.
And they don’t know how to tell complex stories that are very engaging, human complex stories. And also on the other hand, you have the religious people who feel like, well, I have to be a custodian here. I have to make sure that you’re saying the right things and people are not tilted to the other side and just making sure that especially when you’re also trying to tell historical piece that you’re not staring the pot too far away. You can find, for instance, this film called Enoch. When they did the movie, got a lot of criticism. I also watched it because I was trying to figure out what were they trying to say? I really didn’t understand what they were trying to say. Maybe that’s why I feel that they didn’t really accomplish whatever thing they were trying to say properly. But we could watch film with Mel Gibson where he did the film, we saw the effect because the filmmaker knew exactly what his intention was when he was doing the film. And another film that I came across that I really loved was chosen. The first time I was chosen, I’m a believer. I was chosen.
I saw the first time, I’m like, oh, my God, this is a love story to Jesus because it was so tenderly told. And if you’re a Christian, if you’re reading the Scriptures, there’s so many things you feel that is missing. And they sort of, like, brought it to life. They were able to give us interesting characters. They have complex stories. They had wives, they have arguments amongst themselves. But we know when you’re learning the Bible to be clean. But with this film, we were able to see how they dived into the oliver of these people, but they didn’t lose the essence. And that’s why maybe a lot of people could relate to this film and their Martin. How they marketed the film was genius. And as me, myself, I don’t only consume content, I also make content. So, for instance, as a real estate show that I do back home in Nigeria, it’s called Make Me Fabulous. So over the Internet, I see a lot of young people. I don’t want to get married. Marriage is a scam, a lot of misconception. I’m like, what do I do? How do I make it more interesting for young people to see marriage in a different way?
So I started this reality show called Make Me Fabulous, where I get couples who have challenges in their lives, and I try to give them a fabulous lifestyle. So I take them to a five star resort. I do the massage, I do the home makeover. I do, like, wonderful deal. I just make them focus on them and the reason why they got married. And then on the show, they get to tackle their problems, their situations and everything. And at the end of the show, they kind of like, see how this new leap of faith that, okay, I can continue on this journey to commit to this thing. And we’ve seen marriages, people who are on the verge of divorce changing their mind, people getting pregnant after the show, and so many good things that happen from the show and people just see any different. And people can relate. Whether you’re rich or poor, you can actually relate to those people. And I think the intention has to be right for the filmmakers. The faith based community needs to come up to the standard that everyone expects them to come up to because filmmakers want to make money as well.
And at the end of the day, we have all the things that bind us together, which is a valued system that we all want to uphold.
What a great foundation. Now let’s go to the elephant in the room.
Why, thank you. No offense.
The topic that is the elephant in the room. We’ve talked about entertainment and some of these other things. Let’s talk about journalism. Part of the study said journalists tend to either exploit or just avoid the topic altogether. You have absolutely done amazing work in journalism. How can we better equip our journalists to be more authentic in the reporting?
Well, Sherry, it’s a great question, and it axios. The approach that we take to reporting is clinical, and that is we want to be a clean, well lighted space that understands all sides, listens to all sides, holds all sides accountable. And that’s a great model for covering faith in general. I was very interested in the research from the Faith and Media initiative that showed that either actively ignoring or making it worse. And speaking as a journalist, I can tell you that a lot of the actively ignoring part is that journalists are afraid of getting it wrong. But that doesn’t cause us to shy away from other hotbutton topics. There’s other topics that are just as high stakes, just as nuanced, just as complex, and yet we can’t afford to get to ignore them. So with faith, an important phrase that I picked up when we were having a little pregame in this group and by the way, I knew this was a fancy event when there was a green room for the green room. In our pre green room, I picked up a great phrase which was faith fluency. And it’s a great term because it speaks to understanding, speaking the language and being able to cover it.
And what we see from this research is that there is demand that people want to see it, and there’s no question about its importance in our society and culture.
Beautiful. We would just conclude by saying there clearly is an issue here. More than 80% of the people in the world say that they identify with some kind of faith or faith beliefs. And yet in media, we don’t seem to be meeting that demand. And the hope is that everybody here would consider, what can I do? What can we each do to make this better? We invite you to check out the Faith and Media initiative to see if there’s something in that regard.
Can I put in a 32nd plug? And it’s on the media to do the research, understand. And from the other side, as a journalist, I would say, please assume positive intent. If a journalist comes to you as an expert, we’re wanting to understand and we don’t want to get it wrong. And so anything that you can do to help us get the lingo right and help us get the nuance right, journalists will say thank you, and there will be more and better coverage.
Perfect conclusion. Thank you.
Thanks. Your career.