A peculiar thing about journalism conferences like the one I just left is the way they force people who seek out interesting situations for a living into the most uninteresting situation imaginable. I met one writer recently back from Eritrea; another who spent months among the Deadhead doomsday cult known as the Twelve Tribes; another who uprooted his family to write a book (a great book, in fact) about amateur baseball on Cape Cod. All these folks with the dirt of strange lands under their fingernails, and I met them while waiting for the cellophane to come off the cheese plates at the opening reception.
I've been to my fair share of conferences, of many sorts, and looking back now they all seem more or less interchangeable. My weekend among journalists didn't feel so different from the dental technologies convention I crashed a few years ago in Nashville. Every field has its stars and conferences as a rule seem to involve the many chasing the one. Philip Gourevitch, for example, drew a big crowd each of the several times he spoke. I know this because I was crammed into the room like everyone else. Had I known when I was in Nashville who the stars of dental technologies were, I'm sure I would have tried to hear them too. That's what all conferences have in common ? same scenes, different stories.
One new thing I did learn, though: As a class, journalists are not the hard drinkers they are often said to be. Three days and two nights of conferencing, and there was not a drunken newspaperman in sight. Not that I was disappointed, just surprised. I am also a frequent attendee of an annual religious studies convention, and I can report that the religion scholars of the world have writers and editors beat hands down.
You heard it here first: Theologians drink more than journalists. I'm open to suggestions as to what that might mean.