Matt Driscoll

Matt Driscoll: A prayer for the media? Oh boy ...

Hundreds gather under a tent in 2012 at Cheney Stadium’s parking lot for the National Day of Prayer. The National Day of Prayer Task Force has identified seven “spheres of influence” this year as particularly worthy of national orison. The list includes the media.
Hundreds gather under a tent in 2012 at Cheney Stadium’s parking lot for the National Day of Prayer. The National Day of Prayer Task Force has identified seven “spheres of influence” this year as particularly worthy of national orison. The list includes the media. Staff file, 2012

This will not be the first time I’ve been prayed for.

Growing up in Puyallup, with a single mom who swung night shifts at Harborview to make sure we had rent money and my sister and I had shoes on our feet, it wasn’t uncommon to hear that some family down the block had taken up praying for us.

We weren’t precisely heathens, but we were certainly unwashed much of the time, so the gesture always made some sense to me. And, once I got beyond the unspoken implication that our family was viewed as at risk of fiery, eternal damnation, I suppose it was appreciated.

On Thursday, people from this community will once again say a prayer on my behalf.

Or, more accurately, on behalf of my chosen profession.

Thursday, you see, is the National Day of Prayer — an event that dates back to the early 1950s and the Harry Truman administration. Officially created by a joint resolution of Congress, the simple, powerful idea is to inspire people of all faiths to pray for our nation.

It’s blossomed into quite a day. Here in Pierce County, events large and small — from a noontime service at Cheney Stadium to smaller gatherings at churches far and wide — will contribute to an estimated 30,000 local prayer services across the country.

Associated Ministries will hold its National Day of Prayer “interfaith observance” at Pacific Lutheran University. Now in its fifth year, Executive Director Michael Yoder describes it as one of the few interfaith National Day of Prayer services in the United States.

“We thought, you know, so many things are so divided,” Yoder told me of his agency’s decision to produce an interfaith service. “Especially at such a time like this, a time of otherness, and us and them, it seems more appropriate than ever that we come together across faith lines.”

We thought, you know, so many things are so divided. Especially as such a time like this, a time of otherness, and us and them. It seems more appropriate than ever that we come together across faith lines.

Associated Ministries Executive Director Michael Yoder, on the decision to hold an “interfaith observation” of the National Day of Prayer

It will likely come as no shock to the people I grew with in Puyallup that, when it comes to praying, or participating in the National Day of Prayer, I’m not exactly seasoned.

But Yoder invited me, nonetheless, because of the seven “spheres of influence” that the National Day of Prayer Task Force has identified as particularly worthy of national orison.

Most are obvious. Families, education, businesses, the military, government and faith communities have all been singled out.

Then there’s the “sphere of influence” where I fit in: the media.

Oh boy.

Per Yoder’s instructions, I will be given three minutes to tell those on hand why they should pray for journalists and the important work they do.

With all due respect to Yoder, and Thursday’s event — which is scheduled for only an hour — accurately describing why the media could benefit in times like these from a few bowed heads and words directed upward might take more than my allotted time.

Still, I’ve promised to try my best.

The threats to journalism as we know it — that great and demanded upholder of democracy and power, the worthy passion of professional storytellers, the valiant occupation of those who weren’t smart enough to choose a more stable career path — are everywhere, from outside and within, from Internet comments sections to the highest political office in the land.

If you’re reading this, in a newspaper — in print or online — you likely already know much of the story. Sadly, it’s not Fake News. Greased by the Internet revolution, since the Great Recession newsrooms across the country have been hemorrhaging jobs.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Employment Statistics program, the number of reporters and editors working at newspapers in the United States dropped by 38 percent between 2005 and 2015, from 66,490 warm, capable, trained bodies to a mere 41,400. And while jobs in digital journalism have picked up some of the slack, these positions tend to be concentrated in a handful of urban cities. The result is a media landscape increasingly out of touch with a large chunk of more rural populations and one that often misses important, if not click-generating, stories for smaller communities that have historically depended on this coverage.

Locally, as newspapers in the Pacific Northwest continue to grapple with what it means to be a newspaper in a digital age, that downward trend has showed little sign of slowing. The Oregonian, The Seattle Times, and — yes, sadly — The News Tribune have all been touched (or thwacked) by it.

Like I said, I’m not an expert on all of this, but something tells me praying for enhanced revenue sources is likely frowned upon. So I’ll need to show some restraint.

Perhaps, I’ll focus instead on why journalism, and the media, matters. Or why it should matter. Perhaps I’ll reiterate our need to find a way to continue to serve the communities we call home, despite all the outward pressures and shrinking budgets. Perhaps I’ll mention the prescient words of a recently departed editor, who told me to “Keep up the fight, and never lose faith that a well-told tale can help change the world.”

On Tuesday, I spoke with Yoder, expressing my appreciation for his invitation. I also noted my uncertainty about what, exactly, I’d say in just three minutes that might do justice to the situation.

Lastly, I thanked him.

He told me that the media was, “One of the most important things that we’re going to be praying for this year.”

I’m biased, but I tend to agree.

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