Biased


October 01, 2017

I’m biased. I’ll admit it. You caught me. If you look at any of the Festival of Sharing stories I’ve put out in the past 16 years, you’ll read United Methodist quotes, get United Methodist stories and see United Methodists in the pictures. I won’t claim that was an accident. I confess, when I would cover this event, I would intentionally seek out United Methodists to interview, while I pretty much ignored friends, disciples, brothers, sisters, brethren and followers of different flavors. It’s an ecumenical event, but I focused on the United Methodist among them.

The reason is my readers are all United Methodist, and for the most part enjoy seeing people from their own church featured in stories like this. Our good partners in the other denominations don’t read this magazine at all. They would have a hard time finding it even if they wanted to.

Also, we are the big man on campus. The ecumenical nature of the Festival of Sharing is a beautiful thing, but as United Methodist we are not simply one of many. It was founded by United Methodists, has been staffed by United Methodists and the large majority of the participants are United Methodists. So although I probably failed to paint an accurate picture of just how ecumenical the event is, if you considered the percentage of United Methodists participating, and the fact that I did give occasional mention to our partners, I don’t think our coverage was too far off from reality.

This month you’ll read about how the upcoming Festival of Sharing will be traditionally in Sedalia this year, but in 2018 it will be a regional event rather than a statewide gathering. This decision was made by the ecumenical Festival of Sharing board and was a unanimous vote. I get a couple of them in this story.

When I went to cover the tornado damage at Oak Grove for the May issue of The Missouri Methodists, our disaster response coordinator told me that most people had a distorted view of the damage, and thought it was much worse than it was. He blamed this on the media, saying their photos and videos zoomed in on a few devastated homes, giving the impression that the entire town was wiped out, when in many cases homes just down the block, or even across the street, weren’t damaged at all.

He was right, and I’ll admit, when I was a daily newspaper journalist I wasn’t much better. If I was sent out to cover storm damage, my quotes were going to come from the guy who has lost everything. As an editor, I was not going to run a photo the next day of a great looking house with a cutline that said: Like the majority of the homes in the area, this one was undamaged.

Even after having that conversation, when I shot photos and made my selections for the magazine, I showed destruction, not the whole picture. I hope when you read the story you understood that not all of the community was wiped out.

And of course, my United Methodist bias comes into play in disaster coverage. If The Missouri Methodists was your only news source, you might believe that tornadoes and fires only happen at United Methodist Churches, and the only people who respond to them are United Methodist volunteer teams. This month, you’ll get just a little glimpse of some Missouri Methodists who responded to Hurricane Harvey. When a disaster strikes, I always feel a little guilty focusing on only how United Methodists were impacted by or are responding to the disaster, but I trust the readers of this publication have ample opportunities to get news from the tradition secular media sources. This publication exists to give you the United Methodist take on things.

The pro-United Methodist angle is intentional bias on my part. Your Missouri Conference staff recently participated in a half-day training on implicit bias. This one is a lot harder to handle. There’s an online test you can take to measure your own implicit bias in certain areas. It was developed at Harvard and can be found at https://implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/takeatest.html. It can be kind of fun and also rather unsettling. I hope you give it a try and reflect on your results