THERE are two big stories this week; so let’s start instead with a wonderful Daily Mail headline: “Could Pokemon Go revive the Church of England?” This is coverage of a perfectly sensible and well-timed note from Tallie Proud, at the Archbishops’ Council, pointing out that many churches play a part
in the game, and members of the clergy should be alert to the possibilities, both good and bad.
”Perfectly sensible” is not meant as faint praise. It would have been wrong either to miss this story, or to freak out because churches are now infested with imaginary and possibly demonic beings. But “perfectly sensible” does not sell papers; so the headline suggests that this one game could have a huge effect. I happily look forward to further headlines in this direction: “Will the latest Android update break the Church of England?” perhaps.
There are also some quite serious possibilities. Have any churches experimented with location-based advertising on mobiles yet? I can see a market for that in December: shoppers near a church could be invited by their phones to drop in for some peace and quiet. It has to be technically possible.
THIS is the kind of advertising that is destroying the traditional business of journalism, and a couple of stories this week showed what is happening, and why it matters. The first was a prolonged sequence of tweets (and, yes, the medium is the message) about the demise of the Croydon Advertiser, a local paper that now consists entirely of stories written for the website.
The former chief reporter there, Gareth Davies, let rip in a series of tweets that read like a tabloid story (and why not? 140 chars a paragraph makes sense). Reporters no longer had any input into what appeared on the page, he said; no one was allowed to entertain a contact unless a story was certain to come out of it, and special permission must be sought to work on a story that would get less than 1000 hits.
At the other end of the market, The Guardian made a loss of £63 million last year. The Financial Times ran a story pegged on the acquisition of Yahoo by Verizon. The company was valued at $128 billion in 2000, and has just been sold for less than $5 billion. There is no third place on the internet. Meanwhile, Facebook and Google between them control nearly 70 per cent of the online ad market, leaving all the newspapers in the world to fight over a 30-per-cent share.
No wonder the FT story concluded with the claim that “Some analysts argue that the social network’s superior data about its users will make it more profitable for publishers to take Facebook’s advertising alongside their articles than sell their own, even after Facebook takes its cut.”
This is not just a story about money. You might think, looking at the progress of Donald Trump, that newspapers can tell the truth all they like, and it won’t affect the success of a really dedicated liar. But this is not the view of the powerful.
One of the less reported aspects of the coup in Turkey has been the zeal with which the government has clamped down on the media there. More than 100 outlets have been shut down in the past week. Journalists have been jailed. Someone out there thinks that what we do is important. That still won’t pay the rent.
THE ECONOMIST remains one of the few truly profitable media brands, and its coverage of the Pope’s visit to Poland was exemplary. The magazine had a long consideration of Francis’s struggles with the traditionalists, starting with the extraordinary episode of Cardinal Sarah’s call for priests to return to the pre-Vatican II position of celebrating mass with their backs to the people. I did enjoy the way the Pope slapped this down: with an article in a Vatican newspaper saying that the Cardinal’s words had been “misinterpreted” — as in, misinterpreted to mean what he actually said.
The article continued, however, with a look at Pope Francis’s struggles over finance, sexual morality, and Vatican bureaucracy. One paragraph was really memorable: “Amoris Laetitia . . . takes a notably liberal line on divorced and remarried Catholics: ‘It is possible that in an objective situation of sin,’ [the Pope] wrote, ‘a person can be living in God’s grace . . . while receiving the church’s help to this end.’ In a footnote that outraged traditionalists, he added that ‘this can include the help of the sacraments.’ He might not have been able to go further without splitting the church.”
When you think what a formal schism would entail, it is remarkable that the possibility is raised at all in a serious magazine. But then, so was Cardinal Sarah’s defiance, and so was the Pope’s rebuke to the nationalism of the Polish Church. This might turn out to be the big religious story of next year, perhaps even larger than the excitements of Brexit.