...a fruitless activity, because all the lad can see down there is himself. I haven’t seen a paper all week, but finding myself in Darwin on Saturday, I thought I'd get a look at a Church of England Newspaper. I opened straight up to the middle. On the right, an intelligent article by Douglas Alexander, secretary of state for development, about reducing poverty. It told the government story, of course, but it was basically well informed and gave background to last Thursday.
The other side of the page was Ruth Gledhill’s, expressing frustration about the way the media are being handled. She couldn't get into an indaba group about the media. But hang on there aren’t any indaba groups about the media. And to think there could be reveals a complete misunderstanding of what an indaba group is. I tried the sweeping statement that “Indaba isn’t working” out on a table of people who have actually been in such groups for a week, and all 16 strongly disagreed, although they had differing views about how it was working. Groups that felt they wanted to press on were using the liberty in the process to do so. Some bishops, inevitably, are better listeners than others. We are all anxious to get a substantial result. The views of the senior bishop she quoted are very different from those of most younger bishops. Perhaps she hasn’t spoken to any of those.
Perhaps the view from Fleet Street is rather self-absorbed. Riazat Butt had a forty year old scoop, that the architect who designed the University of Kent had also designed prisons. Her point being that if this were taking place in a campus designed by an architect who had never designed a prison, er, this would be taking place in a campus designed by an architect who had never designed a prison. And... ? The fact this hides, apart from the way university staff have gone out of their way to be welcoming, friendly and efficient, is that the campus is a public space — the whole thing is open anyway, apart from the Big Top with all the gizmos in that had to be fenced to be insurable.
I turned to the Guardian blog to see if I’d missed something, there to find a hilarious piece built around the fact that bishops were stuffing themselves at breakfast with £1·95 waffles (waffles, geddit?) in the canteen. Hang on, I thought. Bishops’ food is all free, and in the place we eat they don’t have any waffles. What on earth this is suposed to have to do with anything that matters beats me, but the premise of the whole story is simply wrong.
Back to the Church of England Newspaper where I learn on page 23 “blogging bishops are causing the organizers most nightmares.” Now that one’s easy to check out. I collar a few organizers and ask them whether any blogging bishop has caused any organizer they know any anxiety whatsoever. They can’t think of any. It’s flattering, though, to be told the Bishop who has taken best to blogging is the Bishop of Buckingham, Alan Smith. Alan Smith?*
I don’t know if people are being paid to produce this stuff, but to someone who is part of this event, it all seems rather trivial and factually off piste. Many reported facts are misunderstood or less than half true. Some are just plain wrong. It’s a comlex and subtle event, and the journaists understanding of what is going on here is, to put it kindly, rather limited. The value of generalisations built on their limited grasp of what is going on is questionable. If anyone really wants to know what’s been going on in indaba groups, my advice is to click round a few blogs from people who have actually been to one, or at least know what they are.
Catching up this evening with some acidic press comment about bible study groups and their materials, I cannot echo them. I am in a fantastic group, largely African and African led. Compared to conventional Western studies, I’ve found ours direct and easy, with our different cultures, contexts and educational backgrounds, to be personal about. There’s not much opportunity to show off academic notions about the text, but that’s not what this is about anyway. My advice to anyone who doesn’t like the material is to go back to the text.
So my general impression from a trip to the media centre is that, sadly, you get more reliable information from people on the inside than from journos trying to be clever about information they don’t really understand, without the time, perhaps, to check their facts. Sadly, because I rather like the people concened and usually enjoy their stuff, this all rather bears out the Flat Earth News hypothesis.
Alan Smith is my highly esteemed colleague the Bishop of Shrewsbury. Me, I’m Alan Wilson (another bog standard name, I’m afraid). Time was, checking names was something journos learnt how to do on day 1 at the Snodsbury Chronicle, when they covered their first flower show. Flat earth hacks can’t be bothered, or aren’t up to it, apparently.