On Tuesday afternoon, prize winning journalist Tony Carnes spoke to a group of Wheaton College students, in the famous Billy Graham Center. Carnes is an online reporter for NYCreligion, an online publication that takes a “man on the street” approach to covering stories concerning, or of interest to people of all religions in New York City and whose goal is to “create a public square for all faiths.” The staff of the publication make an effort to visit as many churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship as they can, and Carnes himself claims to have visited every mosque in New York. Carnes himself is a jovial, and friendly man, who above all else seems to have a passion for people. He and his crew produce much of their material by simply walking around the streets of New York with a camera, going up to various people, and asking them for an interview. He calls this “community journalism” and claims that it is the highest form of journalism. “Around every corner, there are stories that aren’t being told…” he said “all we have to do to find those stories, is go out on the street, and walk”
In his talk, Carnes gave students a lot of background info and history on the state of religion in New York. He started by painting a grim picture of what New York used to be like. A city with homelessness, drugs, and prostitutes on every corner, and block after block of burned out, abandoned buildings, leading him to compare it to the biblical cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. However, the city has since made a significant recovery, and although these issues may still be present, the city itself has become much more vibrant than in the past.
He then gave some background on religion in New York, explaining that the city had vigorously embraced the ideals of secularism for most of the twentieth century, and how religion had slowly declined accordingly. However, all of that changed in 1978, when church growth finally outstripped loss, and religion in New York began a dramatic comeback. Now, Carnes sees religion growing rapidly in the city, and thinks we have moved past the secular mindset of the twentieth century, and into what he calls the “post-secular” era. He believes the media has failed to keep up with this change in mindset, and have begun reporting on things that may reflect their own reality, but not the reality of the common man. This seems to be a driving force behind his work at NYCreligion, to gain an understanding of, and report on stories that affect the everyman, the man on the street.
He finished by fielding questions from students on topics ranging from Islamophobia, to his favorite type of worship music, and answered each of them with the same enthusiasm as the last. He left the students with a quote, “Jesus didn’t say tolerate your enemies, he said bless them”, and a challenge to students to care for the people they write about.