Preaching in a changing media landscape

preaching in a changing media landscape

This reflection on spiritual care was written by The Rev. Dr. Jesse Zink for this week’s Wingèd Ox, a weekly news digest distributed to the college community. You will find reflections from previous weeks here.

Dear colleagues, 


Last week, one of Quebec’s major private media companies, TVA, announced a significant restructuring plan. The plan effectively ends TVA’s production of entertainment content, significantly reduces its commitment to news, and will lead to a reduction of real estate dedicated to production studios.  


On one level, this is not surprising. We live in a time of major change for the news and media industry. Many of us are consumers of streaming services that bring us content from around the world in a way that would have been considered unusual or exceptional even a decade ago. Meanwhile, the federal government is locked in a dispute with major American Internet companies that for now is making it impossible to share certain links on some social media platforms. More broadly, we are seeing the diminution and in some cases the disappearance of local news. Earlier this fall, Métro Media, which was known for hyper-local news coverage in Quebec, declared bankruptcy. Just a few years ago, another major media organization, CJAD, basically eliminated its new division.  


Before I was ordained, I worked as a news reporter and I continue to have an active interest in the news industry. But I appreciate not everyone shares this passion and you might be asking yourself: who cares? But I’d like to suggest that the dramatic changes taking place in our media landscape matter for Christian ministry for at least two reasons. 


First, there is compelling evidence that the decline of local news is connected to a decline in social trust, an increase in corruption, and a general polarization of our politics. Christian ministry thrives, I think, in the context of rich relationships in diverse communities. Local news and media are a crucial way of developing and sustaining these relationships. As they disappear, the church’s job gets harder. 


Second, to Karl Barth is attributed the saying that goes something like this: “A preacher should preach with a Bible in one hand and the newspaper in another.” But what happens when the local newspaper (or radio station or television channel) disappears? Yes, there are many vibrant sources of international news. But for many people the news that matters most is local. Our task of preaching the Gospel becomes harder when local news disappears. 


The forces that are reshaping our media landscape are beyond the control of any individual. Nonetheless, I’d like to suggest one step all of us can take that may enrich our ministries: perform a media consumption audit. Ask yourself: Where do I get my news? Are these sources a mix of local, national, and international, or are they primarily one of these? Am I paying for this news or do I expect for it to be free? I would hope that all of us can be in a position where we are consuming news from a variety of sources and, as resources permit, paying for it.  


The changing media landscape is one of the major forces of our time. The health of our communities and the health of our churches may be related to how Christians respond to this changing landscape.  


Faithfully yours, 


Jesse Zink