GetReligion wants your local religion news

I want youAs a detour from our usual fare here at GetReligion, I wanted to drop this personal note and give you all an update on life in the Midwest and my life as a law student. Needless to say, the first semester of law school was quite a challenge. The most peculiar aspect of the experience was the Darwinian grading system we all knew we were up against. It mattered less how well you learned the material and more whether you knew how to apply that knowledge better than the person next to you.

As for the religion and journalism aspect of the experience, the two subjects were frequent topics of class discussion. Journalists were given surprisingly deferential treatment (part of this has to do with their First Amendment protections) and respect for religious freedom went unquestioned. Perhaps this doesn’t come as a surprise to many readers, but the fact that countries such as France are banning headscarves and other religious apparel has many American legal scholars considering whether that type of restriction could pass constitutional scrutiny.

As for the Midwest, being outside of Washington, D.C., has been a breath of fresh air in many ways. Journalism is taken just as seriously and the stories tend to hit closer to home. Religious issues remain of critical interest, but are not the flashpoint they tend to be in politically charged D.C. News coverage of religious issues focuses less on politics and more on what is actually happening in communities.

As many of you know, I am trying to carve out a “Heartland” beat of sorts. Some have raised compelling objections to the use of the term “Heartland” and would prefer that the term be eliminated in favor of a simple geographic terms like “the Midwest.” For a bit of perspective, here is what Wikipedia has to say about the term:

Heartland is used in geography to refer to the central areas of a country. This occurs in many nations and areas, such as Eurasia and the United States.

In Eurasia, the Heartland is remote and inaccessible from the periphery. The term Heartland has a particular importance in the works of Sir Halford Mackinder. He believed that the Heartland was the strategic region of the foremost importance in the world. See Heartland (geopolitics). In Canada, the “Heart land” area stretches from the City of Québec in the south-west to Windsor on the south-western peak of the Ontario Peninsula. That is one reason the area is sometimes called “Québec-Windsor-Axis”.

The term Heartland is also frequently used to describe the Midwestern region of the United States. It is also used for other areas of the US which are culturally similar to the Heartland; for example, the Stater Bros. supermarket chain, which is concentrated in the Inland Empire counties of southern and central California, ran TV commercials for many years using the slogan “in the Heartland” to refer to inland counties such as San Bernardino County, Kern County and Riverside County being culturally more similar to the central United States than to coastal California. In the state of Florida is a region called the Florida Heartland, a six county region that is rural and in the south central part of the state.

With that definition in mind, I want to encourage story submissions from “the Heartland.” In the couple of months that I have been working with this concept, I have found that the best stories come from small, local newspapers, often unknown to me. Since I am limited in the number of these I can cover daily, I need you to send me the best from your local newspaper.

In addition to individual news stories and newspapers that excel when it comes to covering religion, please suggest religion reporters who do an outstanding (or not so outstanding) job on their beat. If your local newspaper is failing to cover an important religion story, give us a heads up on that as well.

One of the things I greatly appreciate about Indianapolis in particular, and I am sure it is true throughout the country, is the strong local blogging community that has sprouted since I last lived here. If there are exceptional local bloggers that cover religion and/or journalism, submit those as well.

With that, I hope you all have a joyous holiday season, and thanks for reading GetReligion.

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  • Chris Bolinger

    As for the Midwest, being outside of Washington, D.C., has been a breathe of fresh air in many ways.


  • Julia

    Living in the St Louis area, I often find the “mid-west” and “heartland” monikers peculiar.

    1) If you look at the map, it becomes evident that St Louis is not in the middle of the Western part of the US. That’s just in the minds of East coast denizens. To them, mid-west often even includes Ohio !!!! which was once part of the frontier area known as the Northwest Territory.

    The current real West doesn’t start until you get to Western Kansas where my people are from. Especially if you are thinking about the mythic “West” of cowboy movies, and not only about actual geography.

    2) “Heartland” connotes quintissential America to me. So that’s much preferable to “fly-over country”, but has a flavor of the land of naive and sweet simpletons to it. Kind of a back-handed compliment.

    More appropriate might be “mid-continental” or “central”.
    It’s hysterical to think of the folks in Chicagoland as Mid-Westerners, much less as Heartlanders.

    You aren’t at Washington U, are you?

  • Julia

    Sorry, I just noticed that you are in Indianapolis, which surely is not in the middle of the US West any more than is St Louis.

    One of the premier US Catholic bloggers on religion and culture is Amy Welborn, right near you in Ft Wayne.

  • Jay

    Why only newspapers? Do you have some preference for newsprint and ink (or ink-stained wretches)?

    It’s not the heartland, but the CBS news radio station in San Francisco ran a two part “investigative” report on controversy in the local Catholic church:

    The focus was on the conflict between priests seen as sympathetic to gay parishioners, and conservatives wanting Rome to enforce its standards in San Francisco. Here’s a summary from the website

    Some angry Bay Area Catholics, including one secretive sect, have started shadowing church leaders to document what they consider sacrilege and heresy. They may be a minority among American Catholics, but they say they have a sympathetic ear in Vatican City and, thanks to the Internet, their influence is growing.

    So if you want the international religious standards enforced, are you “secretive” fringe group, or a loyal Catholic? It appears as though the broadcast is inserting its own opinion into the story — unusual for news radio, but not for KCBS which generally considers there to be only one legitimate side to most gay rights issues.

  • amy

    Oh, hush, Julia!

    Actually I was going to tell you (David) about a couple of things.

    First, in today’s Fort Wayne AM paper (yes, we still have 2), there is an article on local Muslims marking the end of the Hajj here.

    It is notable to me because in the 7 years I have lived here, there has been so little media coverage of “minorities” in this community, from the Burmese, to Buddhists in general, to Muslims, to the Hispanic community – populations which are steadily growing in this city. I’ve seen a slight uptick in coverage over the past year, but in general, if you depended on the local media, this area is basically nothing but Lutherans, Catholics (but not HIspanic or Vietnamese of the latter) and a few Amish.

    And note the reporter who wrote the story, and keep her on your Google Alert. Rosa Salter Rodriguez. I really believe she is one of the most talented, sensitive and just all-around excellent journalists writing on religion in US papers these days, the equal of, for example, Simon of the LA Times. (She occasionally writes other features, but her main beat seems to be religion.) She interviewed me for a profile a while back, and I was impressed by the depth and range of her questions, and every article she writes has a distinctive touch of understanding and thoroughness in getting the story right and telling it well.

  • Dale


    What’s the attrition rate at IU Indianapolis? The whole concept of planning to fail a percentage of students always struck me as a bit immoral. “Yeah, we want your tuition . . . so, feeling lucky, punk?”

    If you’re feeling a bit worn down by the first set of exams, rest assured you’re not alone in the experience. I left my last final for the first semester, Criminal Law, sure that I failed, and so stressed out that I went home and vomited all night. I waited with dread for the grades to be posted. (This was before the more dignified and private notification by e-mail that students get now. We were given a ticket number for each examination, and our “anonymous” grade was posted next to the corresponding ticket number on a wall in the classroom building–known, of course, as the wailing wall– with everyone else’s grade; so everyone got to see your facial expression when you got the news). After an agonizing two month wait, my Crim Law grade was posted, and I got . . . a B+.

    Chances are that you’re not so neurotic.

    That taught me to ignore my gut instinct when it came to law school grades. Don’t bother to second-guess, and don’t listen to your classmates talk about the test questions. Those who think they know, don’t, and those who think they don’t know, do. That’s pretty much the point of the exercise.

  • Chris Bolinger

    That’s just in the minds of East coast denizens. To them, mid-west often even includes Ohio !!!! which was once part of the frontier area known as the Northwest Territory.

    Actually, Ohioans refer to themselves as Midwesterners and consider their state part of the Heartland. Ohio’s own Michael Stanley Band’s album “Heartland” had the group’s only Top 40 hit nearly 30 years ago.

    It’s hysterical to think of the folks in Chicagoland as Mid-Westerners, much less as Heartlanders.

    Yep. Absolutely hysterical.

    When people say Midwest, they are not looking at a map of the U.S. and trying to find the exact geographic center. I suspect that the inclusion of Ohio in the Midwest and the Heartland goes back over 100 years, to the era when eight U.S. presidents were Ohioans. Until a few decades ago and the boom of West and Southwest, I imagine that the majority of people in the U.S. lived east of the Mississippi.

    After 12 years in the D.C. area and six more working for a California-based company, I’d prefer if East and West Coasters just refer to us as Flyover Country and leave us alone.

  • Peggy

    First one must ask what “holiday”, dpulliam?

    Also in STL Metro area near Julia: I have for years thought of the midwest as being the (now former) 5 Ameritech (bought by SBC and now reconstituted ATT) states: IL, IN, OH, MI, & WI. [I have worked in telecom regulation since 1990.] It’s about right. I might consider adding MO or IA to it. Below the OH river is the south. Northwest of IL is great plains/great northwest roughly, I’d say.

    I lived in DC Metro for years and folks there thought the midwest started as far east as PA (mid-Altantic/Bell Atlantic) and went to KS or NE, which I’d consider the plain states, which precede the mountain states (also a name for some Qwest state operations (another former Bell System Co).

    I shook my head when the national press would refer to OK City as the midwest or heartland–at the time of the Murrah building explosion. OK is clearly the southwest. [It was a Southwestern Bell state, after all.]

    [My use of old Bell System, even post-divestiture names (until recently) have worked very well in categorizing regions of the continental US.]

  • Darren

    My local paper in rural Virginia has lots of good articles on local churches. Here’s a recent one that I enjoyed: