Here we go again

Believe it not, I hadn’t planned to say much more about the SN and its idiosyncratic ethos for reporting and coverage, but this whole Sickness at Sea Saga really is too good to pass up. You’ll recall that the Jubilee at Sea cruise was beset with a rash of sicknesses - most prominently among the beleaguered was Brian Free who, by some accounts, passed out ill on board the MS Celebration and was taken off the ship in a wheelchair when it docked earlier this week. What is striking about this is the utter silence of the SN. No, I don’t expect them to write full-on yak-by-yak expose of the calamitous cruise. The SN is, as many of you have pointed out repeatedly, primarily a promotional vehicle with a very particular vision of what Christian journalism means and the magazine shouldn’t be looked to for harder-edged news. Fine. You’ll find no ponderous rant this time about the SN based on standards they have no intention of using or ever aspiring to. Instead, let’s go by the SN’s own standards, which can, I think, be discerned from their daily coverage on the website. Take a look at a handful of the most recent SN news pages online (scroll through three or four) and you’ll see an overwhelming emphasis on the health, healthcare, and general physical condition of not only sg stars, but their families, extended families, support staff and former colleagues. Once again. Fine. I’m perfectly happy for now to stipulate this is the way SN does it. So be it. Amen.But wait. Here we have the mother lode of health stories, witnessed (presumably) by the SN’s man on scene, Danny Jones, who sent back almost daily dispatches from on aboard the MS Celebration and has been following up back on dry land with photos from the cruise. Not only does Jones and the rest of the SN not mention the outbreak of illness; Jones conspicuously posts a picture of … wait for it … BRIAN FREE, chatting amiably about golf with a another Jubileer on the cruise. In Danny’s world, no one gets sick, I guess. So, though SN and Jones usually faithfully report every ailment that befalls anyone close to the inner circle, this Sickness at Sea has gone unreported, either in SN’s news department or Jones’ blog. One would surmise that any event at which numerous sg artists and fans become concurrently ill would be newsworthy, even and especially by SN’s own standard of “all Sickness, all the time” (Talent agencies should forget press releases and get right down to bidness with their artists: “Want losta free coverage? Get sick”). Further, one would think that any concert event (on land or sea) where a multiple of performers couldn’t take the stage for whatever reason (but especially in the SN’s case, for health reasons) would also be at least noteworthy. Not in this case.

Why? Well, one can only guess. But though the race is not always to the swift and battle not always to the strong, that’s how the smart money bets. And if I were a betting man, I’d put some money where the money is in this case: Templeton Tours. Yes, that Templeton. As in Maurice, owner of the SN as well as the agency that books, promotes (in the SN, among other places), and profits from the cruise and the many more upcoming trips like the Jubilee at Sea. NOTHING hinders cruise bookings more than reports of mass illnesses onboard a ship. It’s safe to say, I think, that the fear of getting sick (seasick or otherwise) keeps more people from taking cruises than anything else. Reports of multiple illnesses only confirm people’s worst fears about the sea-going mode of vacationizing (correctly or not). Here’s where the soft coercion I wrote about a while back kicks in. It’s not that I think Templeton necessarily called up Jones and Kirksey and said, “put a happy face on the cruise fiasco.” But one would expect an observant, experienced reporter like Jones to be well aware of the dynamics of the cruise business, given his exposure to it for more than a decade now at the SN. How directly this awareness did or did not play into his decision to put a happy face on the cruise and flood the zone, so to speak, with sweetness-and-light stories of merry making and much mirth on the good ship Celebration … well, that’s for you to decide. But I don’t think the SN’s silence is because there’s no truth to the sogo board’s reports of massive sickness. Jones and Co. never misses a chance to take a good pot-shot or two at the muck of misinformation one gets online about sg, and you can bet Jones and/or Kirskey would come out and dispute the claims about the Sickness at Sea if they were false - for the same reason that they are probably staying mum about the situation now.

The bottom line then: if the SN is willing to throw over even its own journalistic ethos at will and without any obvious compunction, doesn’t it call into question the reliability and accuracy of even the most straightforward, uncontroversial, soft-ball story that Jones and his staff write? Notice what I’m not saying: I’m not saying that Jones et al have a credibility crisis because they don’t adhere to standards of coverage and journalism that generally apply to most (read “secular”) news organizations. I’m saying that here we have a pretty clear case of the SN selectively deviating from its own reliable modus operandi for reasons that, so long as they remain implied by the SN’s silence, seem to derive from the self-dealing network of overlapping (one might also say “conflicting”) business interests that converge with particular clarity in the Jubilee at Sea. This is, then, a bit of a wheat and chaff moment, no? Will the SN step up and repudiate the appearance of journalistic opportunism? Or will Danny Jones give another self-righteously indignant rebuke to anyone who dare suggest “the printed voice of southern gospel music” speak from a position other than one of self-interest? Or neither?

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