Lessons from the pulpit
The World at One interviewed the Archbishop of Canterbury last week. You may have heard about it (or you can listen to it here).
It's common when an interview provokes such a huge reaction, most of it negative, for the messenger to get a bit of flak too. To his credit the Archbishop has not used this tactic (as his speech yesterday proved). Lambeth Palace was aware the speech needed to be handled carefully. So were we. Our reporter, Christopher Landau (MA Theology, MPhil Elizabethan Church History) knows what he is talking about and framed the interview very carefully and precisely to make sure we accurately reflected the Archbishop's view.
There has been some criticism of the 'tabloids' and media more widely for mangling the message. I am not convinced that goes very far in explaining the public reaction either. When the interview went out, nine minutes long, we broadcast no criticism of it. Within minutes we had a huge, overwhelmingly negative, e-mail and text response to what he said. That's hours before any newspapers had gone to print.
A lot of comment has rightly focused on the culture clash between the cloistered academic world of theological debate and the crass, clumsy demands of the 24-hour mass media.
There's an old adage in TV that the key to good storytelling is to simplify and exaggerate. In radio there is an apocryphal story about the seasoned old hack who when asked to cut a crafted minute long despatch to 40 seconds responded. "My dear chap, I can do the Second World War in 40 seconds if you like, but you might lose a bit of detail."
However, it would be wrong to conclude it is only the media who can learn from this. As Martha Kearney points out in her World at One newsletter, the speech was very high fibre. If the Archbishop insists on writing in sentences that are 146 words long he will not get many shifts on our Newsdesk.