We spend a lot of time here emphasizing the importance of considering religion when journalists cover a beat (ghost anyone?). But there are reporters out there who dig for and pounce on those religion angles, either in national news stories, denominational news or maybe in an entrepreneurial story.
Adelle M. Banks is one who uses words carefully, strives to be objective, and finds the next angle, among her other reporter qualities. She is the senior correspondent at Religion News Service, a Washington-based wire service owned by Advance Publications that covers religion and ethics for secular and religious publications. RNS’ staff also includes editor Kevin Eckstrom, senior editor David Anderson, and national correspondent Daniel Burke and international correspondents.
Before she started at RNS in 1995, Banks worked at The Orlando Sentinel, the Providence Journal and upstate New York newspapers in Syracuse and Binghamton. A native of Rhode Island, she graduated from Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts. She was a third-place winner in the Religion Newswriters Association’s Templeton Religion Reporter of the Year contest in 1997 and was a finalist last year in the association’s Supple Religion Writer of the Year contest.
We asked her to weigh in on our usual 5Q+1.
Where do you get your news about religion?
I read numerous sources, starting with The Washington Post. I usually check out USA Today, including the Faith & Reason blog, and The Gazette in Colorado Springs and its “The Pulpit” blog. I also read Baptist Press and Associated Baptist Press. Articles in publications like Christianity Today, Charisma and Christian Century are also helpful, along with news releases from various organizations, both denominational ones and groups that care about religious matters. And, of course, reading Religion News Service’s daily roundup of news, which appears on our website, is a daily ritual.
What is the most important religion story right now that you think the mainstream media just do not get?
Instead of one particular story, I’m more concerned about the sweeping generalizations and stereotypes that sometimes come with stories about religion. Despite our 24/7 news cycle, nuance is often needed to explain that groups of people ranging from evangelicals to African-Americans to atheists are not monolithic.
What is the story that you will be watching carefully in the next year or two?
I’m curious about what will come of the new commission formed by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, following the conclusion of the three-year investigation of prominent ministries by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa and his staff. It may be a little while before they come to any conclusions or recommendations, but I wonder if there might be some interim steps that lead to the so-called “self-reform” that Grassley was seeking. Though both the ECFA and Grassley say they want to avoid additional legislation, it would be really dramatic if this work ends with churches having to file more information with the Internal Revenue Service, as other nonprofits do.
Why is it important for journalists to understand the role of religion in our world today?
Religion touches so many of the topics journalists cover today–from the economy (houses of worship receiving less money even as more people seek their assistance) to the environment (the growth in the past decade in evangelicals going green) to education (the goal of some African-American churches to mentor youth and help them improve academically). Sometimes religion is the whole story and sometimes it’s just a piece of it. Even if journalists aren’t experts on religion–and most aren’t–it’s important to know who the go-to people are or how to find them.
What is the funniest, most ironic twist that you have seen in a religion news story lately?
The story I immediately think of is not funny but is ironic. As national leaders reacted to the tragic shootings in Tucson, Ariz., with calls for more civility, evangelical public relations executive Mark DeMoss announced that he had just ended “The Civility Project” he started two years ago because only three members of Congress signed on to its three-point pledge for people to be civil to those with whom they disagree.
Do you have anything else you want to tell us about religion coverage in the mainstream news media?
I think good religion coverage is needed now more than ever. Despite the declines in newspaper staffs and the loss of some excellent reporters at our nation’s publications, we need to continue to support and improve this beat–whether it’s online or on the printed page.