Archives For new media

Today, at the Patheos Pagan Channel, Christine Kraemer interviews Anne Newkirk Niven, editor and publisher of Witches & Pagans Magazine, about the current state of Pagan media (among other things). During the interview, Niven expounds on blogs within the umbrella of Pagan media, and the role they serve.

Anne Newkirk Niven

Anne Newkirk Niven

Today, blogs fill a specific niche: real-time, fast-paced information. No print media can keep up with the blogosphere; on the other hoof, even the most super-heated debate in the legendary Green Egg forum (letters to the editor) never got as crazily divisive as what happens in the comment-rich, disinhibited atmosphere of the Web.

Pagans are an information-hungry group of people; reading led many, if not most, of us onto our paths. (Most of our magazine readers are solitaries, which I suspect is true of Pagan culture as a whole.) The purpose of a magazine is to gather together a group of collated, vetted, and edited articles in a way that makes sense as a set and which forms a non-evolving collection of knowledge; blogs, on the other hoof, are radically individualized by their nature and are constantly evolving. I see these two modalities as fundamentally complementary—what one does well, the other does poorly. I hope we can see the continuance of literary paper-based culture even as the digital culture continues to grow, which is why I publish magazines (both in digital and paper formats) as well as hosting a rapidly-growing Pagan blogosphere.

XKCD comic by Randall Munroe

XKCD comic by Randall Munroe

When I started The Wild Hunt nearly 10 years ago, there wasn’t really a “blogosphere” to speak of. Most Pagan content on the Internet existed in the form of bulletin boards, static (sporadically updated) sites, and e-lists. There were literally only a handful of Pagan blogs when I started this site, and many folks used the new technology at places like LiveJournal for personal journaling, not a soapbox per-se. I was a fairly early adopter of blogging technology when it emerged, and was fascinated by the possibilities of the medium. Like many others, I quickly recognized that the “blog” had capabilities far beyond listing updates to a large website, or writing short personal entires. While some feared the disruptive nature of blogging technology, I realized that it could be used to prove a point. I could use it to prove that people wanted to read about Pagan news every day, and that there was enough news to write about something every day.

Ten years later, The Wild Hunt has more than enough to write about. More, in fact, than our small team can conceivably do justice to. We’ve grown from a one-person personal project into a media outlet that employes several columnists, and one staff writer. We have a yearly budget, one that we raise from donations, and our traffic continues to grow at a steady rate each year. So I see Niven’s generalizations as not only limiting, but subtly insulting. A blog, at its heart, is simply a technology, like the printing press. When you say you read “a blog” that today says almost nothing about what you’ll get (it’s like someone saying they read “books” and nothing more). The biggest media empires use blogging technology on their sites, and the content can range from celebrity gossip to ultra-professional, edited, and vetted, content. Meanwhile, picking up a magazine gives you zero guarantee that you’ll receive “collated, vetted, and edited articles in a way that makes sense as a set and which forms a non-evolving collection of knowledge.” 

A medium is a medium, not the content within it. Mediums can be stretched, changed, challenged, and redefined over the course of different generations. A “real” magazine can be experimental and radical, produced on a shoestring budget, or it can be a well-funded venture that engages in the current norms of editorial and news gathering. Anyone who grew up during the ‘zine revolution of the 1990s knows well enough that mediums aren’t limited by the dominant culture’s standards. Likewise, while many tried to pigeonhole blogs in the early years as the tool of the lone opinionated crank (usually writing about politics), the reality is that many different people used the technology for many different things. Is Talking Points Memo a mere “blog,” or is it a news and political commentary site? If we call it a blog, does that mean it isn’t collated, vetted, and subject to editorial oversight? Is The Wild Hunt still a blog? Are we a part of a blogosphere? We use blogging technology, certainly, but I also think we’ve grown outside the expectations that seem to inform the Patheos interview.

Finally, let me talk briefly about the Pagan magazine. Another reason I started The Wild Hunt was because I was hungry for news about my community, and couldn’t find any in Pagan magazines. They had interviews, and columns, and short stories, and poetry, and recipes, and a letters column, but they rarely tackled actual events happening in and around our lives. When they did, it was often long after the dust had settled. It created the sense that modern Paganism should be handled by the professional Pagans, the “Big Name Pagans,” and that the rest of us should simply give our support. It didn’t have to be that way, even a quarterly magazine can write about big issues, can at least inform their readership of all the things that happened in the last few months, but a reliance on “evergreen” content, and a hesitance to embrace these new technologies left the door wide open for The Wild Hunt’s success. When people ask me why my blog got so big, I tell them the truth: no one else wanted to do what I was doing. At least not on the daily schedule I maintained.

Blogging may have been disruptive, but it also empowered all sorts of people to speak up, to insert themselves into the process of how our community is defined and presented. It rejected the old “club” mentality that had held sway from the 1980s, and demanded a more responsive, more inclusive, community. If things are so “divisive” now, perhaps that is simply because there’s 20 years of frustration built up from having no voice at all in national and international Pagan affairs. Now, we can’t be shut up, because our news isn’t centralized into a handful of vetted and edited publications. If someone doesn’t like something in The Wild Hunt (or any media outlet), they can (and do) publish about it. They can rally their own corner of our community, they can create alternatives, they can have the public discussions they want to have. I sometimes bemoan how uncivil things can get sometimes, but I would never, ever, roll us back to some simpler time before this technology existed. We are collectively better for it.

Digital Pagan media is the dominant format today, and I don’t think anyone could convincingly argue otherwise. The separations between a published print magazine, and, say, The Wild Hunt, is only in the format. I would certainly place may content on the same plain of quality as anything in print, perhaps even better (though I may be biased). It is no longer acceptable to generalize about the “blog” without providing a list of caveats that make the comparisons almost meaningless. The larger Pagan blogosphere is many things, and has many manifestations, but it is no longer some ascendent disruptive format, it has become a ubiquitous tool used by every manifestation of the content we consume. From commerce to hard news. We are the media now. 

Every single Pagan organization that aspires to serve its chosen community, whether that community is local, regional, national, or even international, needs someone who will interact with the press (and social media). If you don’t, or if it’s seen as an odious task that’s always last on the list, or it it takes months to craft a statement, you become as good as mute to the very people you wish to serve. Your organization defaults to letting other people shape the discourse on issues that your community may have strong opinions about.  If you look at any well-organized religious organization, like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, one thing that becomes obviously very quickly is that they are constantly framing discussions that concern them for their audience.

Everything on the site is an effort to define themselves to visitors so that others have a harder time defining them in ways they can’t control (or don’t like).  Cognitive linguist George Lakoff has noted time and time again that groups who don’t take time to frame themselves, have it done for them.

“It’s a general principle: Unless you frame yourself, others will frame you — the media, your enemies, your competitors, your well-meaning friends. […]  ultimately, framing is about ideas, about how we see the world, which determines how we act. […] In short, framing is a moral enterprise: it says what the character of a movement is.”

Let’s repeat that: “Framing is a moral enterprise: it says what the character of a movement is.” So it is more than vital for Pagan organizations of all kinds to be increasingly media savvy, and to always frame their actions (and reactions) with a mind towards how it will shape perceptions. We must be ever-responsive to media narratives that sow confusion or misinformation about our faiths, because you never know which story will “stick” and be the one that inadvertently shapes how other people perceive our moral universe. For example, the recent story of infamous child-murderer Charles Jaynes asking to change his name to Manasseh-Invictus Auric Thutmose V because he claims to be a Wiccan now.

“Court documents show that child murderer Charles Jaynes wants to go by the name Manasseh-Invictus Auric Thutmose V. Jaynes is serving a life sentence for the 1997 kidnapping, molestation and murder of Jeffrey Curley. He won’t be eligible for parole until 2021. […] A filing with the Plymouth division of the Probate and Family Court Department says Jaynes is seeking the change due to his Wiccan beliefs. Wicca is a religion that incorporates the practice of witchcraft.”

That story is currently the number two result when you search Google News for “Wicca” (thankfully the #1 result is a positive piece in the New York Times). Heading into Pagan Pride season, when many Pagans are getting interviewed by the media, it’s very possible that Pagans might be asked about this, and they’ll need to have a good answer. Off-the-cuff responses can sometimes be disastrous, which is where Pagan and Wiccan groups can step up and begin framing the response should this become more than an isolated blip. Obviously we shouldn’t try to interject ourselves into the actual debate, which is fraught with deep emotional pain, but we can offer good information about what Wicca is and isn’t, and what our morals are. For example, if asked, a Pagan representative could say:

“Many Wiccans do decide to adopt a new name to reflect their changed outlook on life, a phenomenon often found in many adult conversions to a wide variety of religious traditions. Wicca abhors the kind of crimes committed by Mr. Jaynes, as many of us believe in an ethic of reciprocity that places harming none central to our lives. We pray for the families hurt in this terrible tragedy, and hope that Mr. Jaynes has truly embraced a philosophy of empathy and non-violence.” 

Or some variant thereof, whatever works best theologically and culturally for the organization or group presented with such a scenario. Another tactic is to pivot away from controversy towards a recent positive development that better reflects what your group/religion/movement is about. If asked about the above name-change story, one could give a shorter variant of my answer above, but then pivot to a still-emerging story about how a Wiccan group in Arkansas won a grant from Home Depot to repair the homes of elderly and aging individuals in their community.

“It’s tragic that so much sorrow and pain has been caused by this situation, as Wicca is a religion devoted to healing, communing with the natural world, and being of service to our communities. An excellent example is The Southern Delta Church of Wicca winning a grant from Home Depot to repair the homes of the elderly in their community. That’s the kind of world our faith tradition is trying to build, one where we are accountable to our neighbors and work to improve the lives of those around us.”

Again, with changes depending on who’s saying it, and in what context.

No matter what the tone or tenor of the news, good or bad, a responsive organization will work to frame both for their members, and for any who come to their site seeking more information. It’s a lot of work, but necessary work if you want to help shape how our faiths are experienced by outsiders and the media. You can’t let anyone else do that work for you, even if they are supportive of your goals. No matter how much you may like The Wild Hunt, never let me or any other media outlet have the only say into a project or action that you’re involved with. A positive article is the beginning of a conversation, not the end of one, and you’ll want to make sure that people understand exactly what your stance is in case important details are omitted. At the very least, you’ll want to post regular updates for those introduced to you by media attention.

Before I end this post, one more example: I recently reported on what a bad idea it is for Mitt Romney and Barack Obama to participate in what is a de facto religious test held by Christian mega-church pastor Rick Warren. Shortly after several media outlets started discussing the issue, Obama campaign officials announced that they weren’t going to participate. This left a lot of egg on Warren’s face since he’d told reporters that both campaigns had already signed off on participating (never say something is going to happen unless you know it’s going to happen), so to re-frame this blow to his stature as a moral heavyweight, he’s taking the high-road and claiming the event is cancelled due to all the mud-slinging the campaigns are engaging in.

“In his announcement, Warren said the campaign’s current climate, highlighted by “irresponsible personal attacks, mean-spirited slander, and flat-out dishonest attack ads,” is not what a civil forum aims to promote: respect between those with differences. He said he does not expect that climate of incivility to change before the election. “It would be hypocritical to pretend civility for one evening only to have the name-calling return the next day,” he said.”

So Warren gets to flounce out of his dilemma with a Shakespearean “plague on both your houses,” shifting the blame onto the nasty campaigns instead of the fact that Warren may not be trustworthy, and both candidates wanted to avoid being caught in a “gotcha” moment by a pastor with his own agenda. Warren understood that he had to frame the collapse of his event in a way that bolstered his image instead of tarnishing it. Hopefully no Wiccan or Pagan organization will be in a situation as embarrassing, but all the same a useful example of how to use media narratives to define your “brand” to the wider public. So make sure you have a media person, that you understand social media, that you’re constantly updating your site and satellite  pages on social networking hubs, and that you understand the power of framing the news (both good and bad) in furthering your goals and message.

This year Pagan Spirit Gathering (PSG), a Midwest Pagan festival that’s been running for more than 30 years, broke attendance records, drawing over 1000 people to the week-long event. The West Coast Pagan convention PantheaCon, held each February in San Jose, California, has gotten so popular that they’ve introduced a new reservations system to prevent individuals from gaming the system. Pagan-friendly fantasy-oriented events like Faerieworlds are anticipating record-breaking numbers this Summer, and even brand-new Pagan events like Paganicon in Minnesota are growing at a healthy rate. It seems like Pagan festivals and conventions, at least in the United States, are doing great, but are the days of the large Pagan event that draws a national or even international audience numbered? That’s what Frater Barrabbas Tiresius at the Talking About Ritual Magick blog argues.

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

Solstice Fire at Pagan Spirit Gathering

“There are many factors that are shaping the future in which we will live and they will probably have a profound impact on Pagans and Wiccans being able to assemble in large groups, unless of course, those groups are local and sustainable in the long term […] times are indeed changing and the need for such large gatherings may have achieved the upper limit in terms of both usefulness and sustainability. By usefulness I am saying that merely getting together for what would seem to be mostly a social gathering with sprinkling of some workshops, presentations, rituals, live music and the selling of obscure books and goods may not represent what is really needed or relevant for our growing population of practitioners and followers. By sustainability, I am thinking of the availability of resources to gather together in large regional or even international groups. Traveling by car or plane does impact the environment with pollutants and it also uses up precious resources, namely fossil fuels. These resources will probably become a lot more expensive in the decades ahead.”

In short, if I’m reading Frater Barrabbas’ argument correctly, the looming reality of peak oil, the effects of global warming, along with other factors, will eventually make the larger gatherings too expensive for anyone outside the immediate area to attend. That right now we are witnessing the upper limit of the Pagan festival phenomenon, one that might continue for several more years, but will eventually crumble. Is this prediction accurate? We are certainly seeing hotter summers each year, and scientists predict this will be the norm, with some areas seeing “the permanent emergence of unprecedented summer heat” in the next 20 years. Already, the record-breaking heatwaves being experienced in many parts of the United States are causing disruptions in all aspects of our transportation grid, a situation that could worsen as average summer temperatures increase. If long-range transportation becomes unreliable during the summer months, that would certainly keep many people close to home.

Airplane stuck on melted tarmac.

Airplane stuck on melted tarmac.

Environmental shifts changing the way we live our lives was recently discussed here at The Wild Hunt in a review of John Michael Greer’s new book “The Blood of the Earth.” Greer reminds us, and has been reminding us for years, that things will eventually change. That we cannot be forever insulated from the reality many parts of the world already face, resource shortages, and ever-inflating prices for the kind of travel we once took for granted. That we as Pagans, many of whom claim a special connection to the natural world, need to be ready to experience and live in this shift. This is echoed by Barrabbas, who advocates that Pagans start acting like those days are already here, and plan their events accordingly.

“As followers of earth-based spirituality, we should not only be aware of these facts, but actually embrace them and start planning and acting as if those times were already here.”

Barrabbas’ post is just the first in a series, one that I look forward to reading, especially his conclusions and recommendations, but I can take a few guesses of my own at where this line of thinking will go. Primarily, face-to-face Pagan events will become either regional or hyper-local affairs, and that national and international figures in the Pagan community will increasingly have to “attend” such events virtually. That “Pagan community” will increasingly lean on the powers of social networking to bind itself together. This reality is, in many respects, already here. Sociologist Helen A. Berger, in a revisitation of her Pagan Census project from the late 1990’s, noted that we are becoming increasingly solitary and eclectic, and that a majority of us already depend on the Internet as our main interaction with co-religionists and adherents of other Pagan faiths.

How often do we communicate with other Pagans?

How often do we communicate with other Pagans?

“Solitary practice and training outside of groups, most likely through books and the Internet, appears to be the future of the religion.”Helen A. Berger

Noted figures in our community, like T. Thorn Coyle, have already begun embracing a model that integrates virtual communication into their teaching. Producing a subscription web-series that students can use, including a private forum, giving access to Thorn and her teachings, without the need for her to travel constantly. The next step would seem to be virtual panels and virtual presentations at Pagan conventions and events that couldn’t afford to fly in a “big-name” Pagan. This would not only be “greener” but will ultimately be the only practical way to host such an event on a limited budget.

I think the age of the virtual and the hyper-local are upon us, and the quicker we accept that and learn to adapt, the better. Larger Pagan events can prepare now by investing in the infrastructure necessary to have a virtual component to all indoor events that used to welcome several noted teachers or religious leaders (projection screens, audio equipment, computers). We should set a goal so that in the next ten years, we will be ready for when these shifts in lifestyle become mandatory, rather than a lifestyle option. As Pagans, we can set an example for how to keep our communities close-knit and vibrant while dealing with the ramifications of our society’s choices. In a way, our heavy reliance on social networking, on virtual communication, to bind us together gives us a necessary head start. One we should exploit to make our events as environmentally sustainable as possible.

For more on this subject, stay tuned to the Talking About Ritual Magick blog, and I hope to revisit this topic after his series is completed, talking with some festival and convention organizers about what they think will be sustainable in the coming decades.

Recently, the magazine Witches & Pagans, a print periodical that has served the Pagan community for many years (albeit under a different name), added the feed for this site (with my permission) to their website. I see this as somewhat momentous, as it cements, at least in my mind, the new normal of Pagan-oriented media in the 21st century. There will always be a place for print magazines and journals in our community, see newer efforts like Modern Witch Magazine or Abraxas as proof, but of-the-moment breaking news and updates on developing stories has moved to the Internet. This isn’t a criticism of magazines, simply a statement that our strengths lie in different directions. Today, a large percentage of Pagans find out about what’s happening regarding their co-religionists online, either from blogs like mine, or on email lists and social networking sites.

This rapid change in the way we get our news has happened in less than a decade. When I started The Wild Hunt in 2004 there were only a handful of Pagan blogs, and most of them were more personal journals than news sources. While message boards and e-mail lists had been a growing source of news-sharing for years (not to mention the amazing Witches’ Voice), periodicals still acted as the official “record” of our community, a hold-over from a earlier time when that form of media was truly the only way Pagans in California could find out what was happening in New York (and vice versa). While a lot of attention has been paid to the magazine Green Egg’s important role in our community, it should be noted that they didn’t exist in a vacuum. It was preceded by small newsletters like The Pentagram and The Waxing Moon (publicized in magazines like Fate), and by the 1970s, Green Egg co-existed with Llewellyn’s Gnostica and Herman Slater’s Earth Religion News.

Earth Religion News (1974)

Earth Religion News (1974)

For a blast from the past, you can read the entirety of volume 1, issue 4 of Earth Religion News, here. In it are articles like “Wither Witchcraft? Spiritual Leadership or Oblivion,” “My Satanic Adventures” (by Isaac Bonewits), a report on the (short-lived) California Pagan Council (an anti-sexual discrimination stand was on the agenda), and book reviews (because all Pagan magazines are contractually required to include a book review section). It’s the next best thing to time-travel in finding out what Pagans were thinking, fighting over, and planning a generation ago, without the filter of hindsight or revisionism.

While I think that Pagan media has only gotten better and better, creating a culture of news, interview, and commentary that is surprisingly mature for a community that is still as (relatively) small as we are, we must also ensure that this treasure-trove of knowledge, this archive of our own history, is not lost. There should be a digital indexed archive of these periodicals, one easily accessible to scholars, historians, and curious members of the Pagan community. We’re lucky in that magazines like PanGaia (the precursor to Witches & Pagans) have made digital versions of their entire run available for purchase, but there are huge gaps with the older magazines. As the creators of these magazines age, and pass on, it becomes harder and harder to create such an archive.

I’m hoping that as initiatives like the New Alexandrian Library Project and the OHF Pagan Library mature, perhaps a joint initiative between Pagan organizations and learning institutions can be created to make real headway on this before the task becomes insurmountable. Likewise, I think that those of us creating news and media now should look to how will will archive and make accessible our own work for future generations. There should be an agreed-on standard for how we’ll do this, and how we’ll make it available to researchers. Things are moving pretty fast, and what form our media will take in 20 years may be radically different from how we consume it now. These proposals may seem like huge tasks, but the longer we wait, the more we risk losing. How Pagans get their news, and what news they feel is important is a vital window into how a community, a movement, functions. As Pagans, we know that preserving our history is important, let’s not lose sight of that.

Today the Atlanta Journal Constitution’s education blogger, Maureen Downey, took notice of the now-resolved difficulties faced by the Turner family of Bowden, Georgia, whose son, Christopher (11), was facing religiously-motivated harassment by his school.

Turner Family Support Team

Turner Family Support Team (from left to right): Rev. Charissa Iskiwitch, Stephanie Turner, Rev. Ginger Wages, Lisa Palmer, and Rev. Michelle Boshears

“… some argue that not all religions are met with hostility in the classroom, only those far outside the mainstream. That complaint was made this month via an Internet campaign on behalf of a pagan family in Carroll County. Stephanie Turner said her 11-year-old son was singled out and punished after he took off the neopagan holiday of Samhain. Once the boy returned to class, his teacher allegedly questioned him and said,  ‘Paganism is not a religion.'”

While this issue has been resolved since December 14th, I’m certainly not going to begrudge the AJC for jumping on this story so late, any mainstream press attention to victories for the equal rights and treatment of Pagans is welcome. I keenly understand how hard it is to cover everything of note when you’re a solo news-blogger covering a wide and complex beat, so I’m glad this story is reaching more people, even after the fact. That said, I think Downey’s blog post provides a perfect example of how Pagan stories eventually get noticed by the upper echelons of our news media. Simply put, how does Pagan news get wider attention?

The saga of the Turner family was first covered, so far as I can tell, by the Atlanta Independent Media Center (IMC), who wrote about the story on December 3rd. Indymedia/IMC is a progressive grassroots journalism organization that rose up during the WTO “Battle of Seattle” protests of 1999. Their focus is on social and economic justice, and the network can be a rich source of local news. Once this story was written, people started sharing it on social media networks like Facebook, where it was brought to my attention. My first mention of the story was in a link roundup on December 5th. That same day, a representative from Dogwood Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess, which covers Georgia, was also responding the social media buzz and reached out to the Turner family. By December 8th a coalition of local and national Pagan groups was formed, were working with the Turner family, and had released their first joint statement.

“In addition, a Task Force of local and national Pagan organizations have come together to help resolve issues between the Turners and BES. The Task Force also hopes to provide the school with Pagan accommodation information and materials with the hopes of avoiding misunderstandings and other problems in the future. Represented in this group are the North Georgia Solitaries (NGS), both the localand national chapters of the Covenant of the Goddess, Circle Sanctuary and Lady Liberty League.”

A Facebook page was created by this coalition to focus and coordinate support, which was spread far and wide. Now there was a centralized coalition that was sending out regular updates to press and supporters. This combination of coordination, social media buzz, and Pagan media outlets reporting on the story culminated on December 14th with the successful settlement of the matter, which I reported (and thus it appeared on Google News searches), and it was crowned by an interview with the mother, Stephanie Turner, by Coalition member Selena Fox of the Lady Liberty League on her Pagan Warrior Radio show. After that I did one follow-up link to a coalition statement, and moved on to other stories.

So what, exactly, led AJC blogger Maureen Downey to the story? It seems likely that she was tipped off by a local reader to the Facebook page and by the time she was ready to write about it, the issue was resolved. Her narrative was certainly influenced by direct contact with Selena Fox, and its clear she read “websites and pagan organizations that took up the Turner family cause,” though she oddly links to a petition that was shut down on December 9th at the request of the Turner family support coalition as an example of those “websites and organizations”. Perhaps if the matter was still unresolved, this might have led to more ongoing and serious coverage from the mainstream media. Which leaves us with a perfect example of how the Pagan news ecosystem works.

The Pagan News Ecosystem

The Pagan News Ecosystem

Far from a hierarchical top-down or bottom-up system, today news builds momentum by generating more and more discussion and reporting until it is noticed at a national or international level.  In the Turner family story, almost all the “spokes” of this ecosystem came into play. Locally-focused grassroots news sites, social media, national Pagan media, Pagan blogs and podcasts, information and coordination from Pagan organizations, and finally, reporting from mainstream news outlets. The more the various elements of the ecosystem coordinate and communicate, the faster news disseminates and goes “viral”. Not every element is necessary every time, but usually most “big” stories about modern Pagans involved many of the players seen in my graphic above.

The point? The point is that media coordination works to not only spread awareness, but also motivates for change and, in the case of the Turner family, produces results. This is why a healthy and robust Pagan media is important, and why Pagan organizations need to take their PR and media outreach seriously. Because we were all paying attention when a local Indymedia bureau wrote about this story, some measure of justice was achieved. Without social networking or a growing Pagan media, this issue might have incubated for months, or even years, before in maintained enough momentum to gain the attention needed. Now, it can be achieved in less than two weeks. That’s good for the Turners, and good for modern Paganism.

One of my distinct pleasures at this year’s PantheaCon was moderating a distinguished panel on how different modern Pagans are using, utilizing, and benefiting (or not benefiting) from new media. On the panel was author, organizer, and teacher T. Thorn Coyle, Star Foster, Managing Editor at the Pagan Portal of Patheos.com, Brandi Palechek, Online Marketing Specialist at Llewellyn, and Christine Hoff Kraemer, Department Chair, Theology and Religious History at Cherry Hill Seminary, each exploring how they use and navigate new media in their respective careers.

PantheaCon New Media Panel

The new media panel. Photo by Heron Herodias.

The entire panel was recorded, and T. Thorn Coyle has graciously posted the audio through her Elemental Castings podcast. You can directly download the show, here. I think this presentation is particularly vital right now because much of the talk goes beyond mere introduction to the topic and explores issues of money, promotional benefits, e-publishing, trolls, and piracy.

I hope you’ll download the podcast, and give it a listen. I think it can spark some needed conversations as our community becomes ever-more enmeshed with various new media technologies. Thank you to PantheaCon for hosting the panel, and to all the panelists for giving of their time and experience.

I’m pleased to announce that I’ll be teaching a 4-week Foundations course at Cherry Hill Seminary starting on September 14th.

Media Outreach for Pagan Groups and Organizations
September 14 – October 5

In an age of ubiquitous social media, conveying your organization’s goals and values in an effective manner is more important than ever.

Pagan groups and organizations used to have to deal with exploitative, uneducated, or even hostile mainstream media outlets in order to get the word out, but now we’re lucky if the local paper or television station even has time for any religion-oriented story.

The last decade has seen some major upheavals and cutbacks in the areas of traditional media, with religion beats being cut back or eliminated across the United States. However, while traditional media outlets have been cutting back, there’s been an expansion on the Internet. As a result, its never been easier for small groups to create and disseminate information to the wider world.

This is a hands-on course that will familiarize you with the latest tools and ideas, using a simple, easy-to-remember system based on the traditional “Witches’ Pyramid” (aka Four Powers of the Magus or Four Powers of the Sphinx) to walk you through the process:

Week 1: To Know

The first week we’ll look at why understanding the importance of new/social media is vital to furthering your organization’s message, and explore who you are actually trying to reach.

Week 2: To Will

We’ll discuss why having a dedicated media/press liaison is important, why organizational support is vital, and how to stay committed to outreach for the long haul.

Week 3: To Dare

We’ll explore trying new methods of outreach, why being bold is an asset on the Internet, and why you shouldn’t be afraid to change things that aren’t working.

Week 4: To Keep Silent

Issues of transparency, secrecy, dirty laundry, drama, and flame wars will be touched on.

Each week includes special exercises and assignments that prepare you and your group for the future.

You can register for the course, here. I feel this is a useful extension of the work I do with the Pagan Newswire Collective, and the talks I’ve been giving at events and festivals over the past year. If you are part of a group or organization that is looking to improve its media outreach and strategy, this may be the class for you.

As I’ve traveled the country speaking at various events I’ve had a two-fold message. First, that traditional mainstream media, going through a period of contraction and reorganization, has little time for in-depth religion news. Secondly, that if modern Pagans want to be informed about important events within their communities, and possibly influence the narrative of stories that do reach traditional media outlets, we have to do it ourselves. This isn’t going to be a surprising message for anyone who’s been reading my blog for any length of time, but it bears repeating, and this time around I’ve got some new developments to share.

For the last year or so I’ve been working on a new project, The Pagan Newswire Collective; an effort to build a real, vibrant, Pagan-oriented news-gathering body. While the PNC has launched some topic-focused group blogs, that was only one element of a larger vision. Today I’m happy to announce that the PNC is embarking on a much larger initiative, the formation of local news-gathering bureaus that will help create a new Pagan media ecosystem. I’m proud to also announce the launching of what I’m hoping will be the flagship of this effort: The PNC-Minnesota Bureau. Coordinated by three Minnesota residents, Heather Biedermann, Nels Linde, and Cara Schulz, they’ve already started reporting local news, and providing a local, Pagan, perspective on nationally reported stories.

“The first controversy in Minnesota over the Supreme Court ruling allowing Corporations to donate money to political candidates is under way. Target Corporation’s contributions are linked by some Gay Rights activists to an anti-gay marriage Gubernatorial candidate who is associated with a Christian rock band that lauds the execution of homosexuals in Muslim countries. Target, headquartered in Bloomington,  says its donations to political candidates are based on economic considerations and points to its history of supporting GLBT causes. A Minneapolis GLBT Pagan says that Target is being wrongly portrayed as hostile towards diversity issues.”

They’ve also posted follow-ups to the Target story, and they’re currently recruiting more local writers to deliver more local voices and more local-oriented content. Since Minnesota houses Paganistan, and is also home to one of the largest Pagan-oriented businesses, we can be sure to see quite a bit of activity from that bureau. PNC-Minnesota joins the already formed PNC-Atlanta and PNC-Maine bureaus, both of which are still in development and are actively looking for local contributors.

Why is this important? Because we need to start treating what happens in our communities as important. We take it for granted when religious journalists tell us that a speech made to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church is newsworthy, but isn’t then the installation of a new Archdruid of the ADF equally newsworthy? At least to us? I remember quite vividly having a discussion at Pagan Spirit Gathering on this issue, about how many of our Pagan organizations rarely send out press releases. Partially because there hasn’t been a “press” to send it to, but also because they didn’t think what was happening to them was newsworthy in the first place. We need to change that impression, because what happens in our organizations, and in our local communities is important, and they need to be covered.

Media outlets like The Wild Hunt, Patheos, Witchvox, Witches & Pagans, Proud Pagan Podcasters, About.com: Paganism & Wicca, and others are all filling niches within a national/international context for our communities, but without original reporting coming from the local level we become overly dependent on a news industry that increasingly doesn’t have the time or inclination to cover what we feel is important. Without our own journalism we miss newsworthy events that aren’t covered by traditional media, and become over-reliant on editorial, rumor, and rants. We need to build a new Pagan journalism from the grass-roots up, and PNC-Minnesota is a first step down that road.

The Pagan Newswire Collective is in the process of organizing a meet-and-greet at the 2011 Pantheacon in San Jose. Several active PNC coordinators, volunteers, and bureau members will be there, and I hope that we’ll be able to showcase a growing network of bureaus, a newly-launched main PNC site, and a new ethos of Pagan organizations communicating with its own burgeoning news media. I hope you’ll join us, and be a part of building a new Pagan news ecosystem. If you would like to start a bureau in your local community, please contact the PNC’s Bureau Coordinator, Danielle LeBrun. We also have a starter packet that you can download.

Saudi Arabia’s Internal War Against Other Faiths: A few quick notes for you on this Saturday, starting with another story out of Saudi Arabia of a foreign national being held on dubious charges. This time a Hindu Indian woman and her newborn child are being kept in solitary confinement after being accused of poisoning her husband for converting to Islam.

“An Indian doctor in Saudi Arabia has been in solitary confinement with her infant child for nearly 18 days pending investigations into her husband’s suspected murder, after he allegedly converted to Islam. Her husband, also a doctor in Najran, died on January 31. Suspicion that he was poisoned was raised a month later despite certification by a legal medical specialist under the health ministry that cause of death was “myocardial infarction” (heart attack). The spanner came while the family was preparing to leave for India with the body following clearance by the Indian Consulate General in Jeddah … On March 1, the doctor was summoned to a local police station and told that her husband had embraced Islam before his death and for that reason she could not carry the body to India. A fortnight later, she was again made to report to the police and put in solitary confinement with her infant son, born to her on February 18.”

Despite there being no proof of the husband’s conversion, no proof that his wife poisoned him, and no documentation of the supposed “new evidence” being provided to the Indian Consul, she’s been held now for nearly three months, with local authorities engaging in the now-familiar strong-arm tactics.

“The doctor told her mother on being allowed a meeting that investigators had asked her who else was involved with her in the alleged crime.”

No doubt she’s been asked to write a “confession” as well, just like Lebanese citizen Ali Sibat, currently on death row for being a television psychic, and making the mistake of traveling through Saudi Arabia. However, unlike Lebanon, India is a rising economic and nuclear power, and it remains to be seen if Saudi Arabian government will allow this to become an international incident. It’s one thing for a government to oppress its people, this is fairly commonplace, even today. It’s quite another thing for a government to start randomly seizing foreign nationals on trumped-up charges, especially when it seems those being seized are adherents to faiths or beliefs that place them outside the semi-protected “people of the book”. Eventually the crazed religious police and heretic hunters will seize the wrong man or woman, and they’ll find themselves unprotected by the realpolitik that keep the voices crying out about their human rights abuses muffled.

Margot Adler on Journalism and Blogs: The Colorado Daily Camera asks “Drawing Down the Moon” author and NPR journalist Margot Adler five questions while she’s in town for the Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado, and she says some smart (and nice) things about journalism and new media.

I don’t believe in objectivity, but I do believe deeply in fairness, and what that means to me is that when I interview any person, no matter what their politics or views, I try to stand in their shoes. Because I’m very aware of what I believe, I bend absolutely backwards when I talk to (someone I don’t agree with) … I am very excited by some of the new media stuff, I’m very excited by the potential of blogs and I’m excited by some of the independent radio stuff that’s happening. I think that communities talking to each other are really important.

What to say other than I agree with Margot Adler? I too think that fairness is more important than a false objectivity, especially today, and that new media options are empowering communities to inform themselves.

Hindu Voting Power in the UK: In a final note, now that the next general election in the UK has been scheduled for May 6th, The Hindu Forum of Britain (HFB) is encouraging the 3/4 of a million British Hindus to use their votes strategically in order to elect candidates that are responsive to their needs.

“Though dispersed throughout UK, sizeable number of Hindus are concentrated in certain areas like the suburbs of London and the south east, Leicester, West Midlands, Greater Manchester and Yorkshire. In some of these areas, Hindu vote may have a significant impact on who represents them and addresses their concerns in Parliamen … The Forum is implementing a campaign to encourage the community to engage with their prospective parliamentary candidates and to air their views before making an informed decision as to which party to vote for. As part of the campaign, the Forum will be organizing local hustings, distributing information through temples, community centres and other mediums to raise awareness on the importance of voting.”

What’s interesting about this campaign is that it isn’t centered around a blanket endorsement of Labour or the Tories, but is instead asking individuals to evaluate local candidates and to vote for the one most responsive to Hindu issues and concerns. With many predicting a “hung Parliament” due to the race being so close, they may be able to press this situation to gain attention and concessions they never have before. I think religious minorities, especially Pagans, should pay close attention to this campaign, and see if a similar non-partisan issues-focused strategy could benefit us.

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!

The Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life have released a study that analyzes news coverage of religion for 2009. The take-home message? Mainstream media coverage of religion continues to shrink (0.8% of the news, as opposed to 1% last year), and new media (blogs, web sites, podcasts, etc) is taking up the slack, and becoming the primary outlet for religion news, debate, and discussion.

In 2009, religion attracted significantly more attention in new media sources than in the mainstream media.in a sample drawn from millions of blogs and social media finds that religion was a top story in nearly a quarter of the weeks studied (11 out of 45 weeks) … The blogosphere and other social media tools have grown over the past few years. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 51% of internet users post online content that they have created themselves. Eleven percent of all adults use blogs. The use of Twitter has tripled since 2008. At the same time, the number of reporters assigned to the religion beat in the mainstream media has been shrinking. According to Debra Mason, executive director of the Religion Newswriters Association, at least 16 major print news outlets have reduced or abandoned their religion beats since 2007. At the same time, she says, online newspapers such as The Huffington Post and Politics Daily have increased their religion staff. “We’re in the midst of growth of the [religion] beat online,” Mason says, “but newspapers haven’t kept up with the trend and have instead let religion coverage languish.” An analysis of nearly a year’s worth of commentary

Not only is new media now dominating in coverage of religious news, we’re more diverse as well. While MSM religion coverage, when it happened, was primarily focused on Pope Benedict or religious angles to developments within the Obama Administration, new media religion stories “were broad in scope”, and wildly successful in engaging their audience.

Another interesting tidbit I found is that while new media sources continue to rely heavily on mainstream media as a jumping-off point for opinion and analysis, a growing number of bloggers are creating their own content.

“The blogosphere and other social media tools have grown over the past few years. According to the Pew Internet & American Life Project, 51% of internet users post online content that they have created themselves. Eleven percent of all adults use blogs. The use of Twitter has tripled since 2008.”

As this shift to new media continues, you’ll continue to see the professionalization of the religious blogosphere. If you take a quick look at the Social Science Research Council‘s study “The New Landscape of the Religion Blogosphere”, you’ll see that a good number of the leading blogs and web sites driving religion coverage on the web are either run by journalism professionals, are extensions of non-profits, or are part of for-profit ventures (even The Wild Hunt is attempting to evolve into an NPR donation-supported model).

There’s a reason why The Huffington Post has dived into religion coverage, the public is hungry for news and analysis on this large and unwieldy subject, and the mainstream media doesn’t seem to have the inclination or resources to do the job properly. In the future, the “big” religious stories will be reported on the Internet first, and “trickle up” to cable news and newspapers. So it makes sense that we’ll see more new media start-ups, like HuffPost and Patheos.com who want to be a part of driving that discussion. For minority faiths (and minority groups in general), it’ll be more important than ever to have a strong Internet news-making and reporting presence. Without one, we’ll have little to no say in how news about our communities gets reported, and groups that have no desire to participate in a link-based economy will find themselves increasingly marginalized.