5Q+1 e-visits with Russell Chandler

London Eye 1Everyone needs heroes. Back in 1980 or so, when I was trying to break into religion reporting, I decided that one of my journalistic heroes was going to be Russell Chandler of the Los Angeles Times.

If you know anything about the history of religion news in American, you know that this was a very predictable choice. Chandler’s work on the beat was winning every award known to humanity — often two or three times. There has never been a stronger advocate of basic, old-school, hard news journalism on this beat than Russ and, to push toward the future, he has helped create a national award for religion writing at the college-newspaper level.

Chandler earned a B.S. in Business Administration from UCLA, a master’s degree from the University of Southern California’s Graduate School of Religion and an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister in the mainline Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), but has always been known for his fairness and rigor on both sides of various religious divides. With retirement on the horizon, he launched into writing books that focused on trends in American religion. To read a copy of a speech by Chandler, click here.

All of this is to say that Chandler is the first person to take part in our ongoing and still evolving 5Q+1 feature. As you can tell, he answered the questions via email. I’ve added some links. I am sorry about his kind first reference, but I have not censored him:

(1) Where do you get your news about religion?

Tmatt weekly columns; ReligionLink, a service of the Religion Newswriters Association; Christianity Today magazine; daily papers (local and The Wall Street Journal); Leadership Network postings; The Gathering newsletter (online); Commonweal magazine (some); TV specials (some), and AOL news items (some).

(2) What is the most important religion story right now that you think the mainstream media just don’t get?

Evangelical Christians (of whatever denominational affiliation, if any) are not necessarily right-wing fundamentalists; militant extremists; or pre-trib, anti-environmentalists. The usual conservative, right-wing “Christian” spokespersons often quoted by elite and/or un-savvy reporters don’t necessarily speak for the majority of any group, only for themselves. Same for the “super-libs.”

(3) What is the story that you’ll be watching carefully in the next year or two?

How the ongoing religion/culture/power wars between Islamic groups in the Middle East play out.

(4) Why is it important for journalists to understand the role of religion in our world today?

What people believe has profound influence on how they behave.

(5) What’s the funniest, most ironic twist that you’ve seen in a religion news story lately?

School Renames Easter Bunny ‘Peter Rabbit’

ABC News

(April 7) — A Rhode Island public school has decided the Easter bunny is too Christian and renamed him Peter Rabbit, and a state legislator is so hopping mad he has introduced an “Easter Bunny Act” to save the bunny’s good name.

Chandler comment: PC gone to seed!

BONUS: Do you have anything else you want to tell us about religion coverage in the mainstream news media?

Why limit it to mainstream news media? We should be alert to how religion, ethics and values are covered by all media — the good, bad, right, left, ignorant and ugly.

Religion watchers’ eyes should rove to and fro throughout the entire spiritual landscape.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://www.geocities.com/frgregacca/stfel.html Fr. Greg

    …[W]atchers’ eyes should rove to and fro throughout the entire…landscape.

    A good recommendation for ALL journalists.

  • Eli

    What people believe has profound influence on how they behave.

    Too true. Easy to see why he’d be one your heroes and really great choice for the first installment.

  • Tom Schaefer

    I had the good fortune of sharing a cab with Russell in 1984 at the United Methodist General Conference in Baltimore. I had been a religion reporter for only four months. What a gracious person to this novice — and a source of invaluable information.

  • ira rifkin

    Allow me to add to what Tom Schaefer and tmatt have said about Russell’s willingness to help new religion writers.

    When I joined the beat in 1985, while working for the Los Angeles Daily News, Russell and John Dart were my competition at the Los Angeles Times. What a reportorial twosome they were! I was really no competition at all.

    Both men were always gracious and helpful. Through their example, and directly by their willingness to share sources, they taught me what I needed to know to survive, and eventually gain my footing.

    tmatt: Thanks for bringing me up to date on Russell.

  • http://usefulstringband.blogspot.com/ cbrady

    I’m thinking it should be Peter Cottontail (Gene Autry’s P.C.) if it’s any Peter at all. Peter Rabbit, a Beatrix Potter creation, had nothing to do with Easter. Sheesh.


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