Quick glance back at 2010

It’s that time of year when we tend to reflect on the good, bad or ugly in 2010 and resolve to do something better in the next 12 months. Earlier I wondered whether sites like Facebook downplay the value of reflection as it feeds us update after update about our friends’ birthdays and such. Through RSS feeds, Twitter and other mediums, I find stories after stories after stories worth reading, and one of my friends and I sometimes joke: “the Internet had a really good day today.”

Here we attempt to highlight religion coverage, suggest critiques, offer ideas for further coverage, point out religion ghosts, but I want to (drawing on David Brooks’ idea) take a minute to look back at some of the better pieces we’ve read this past year. My list may be a bit partial to long-form writing because I know how much time and energy goes into an in-depth feature.

The New Yorker‘s Peter Boyer received my unofficial “rock star religion reporting of the month” back in September for his two pieces on The Fellowship, a quiet group in DC, and Dr. Francis Collins. His piece on The Fellowship offered specific anecdotes, addressed politics without being political, subtly looking at underlying questions about the group without falling into generalizations. His story on Collins showed how the head of the National Institutes of Health is in an awkward position with some of his fellow scientists who might discredit him for his faith while some of his fellow Christians dislike his stance on embryonic stem-cell research. Those are two fantastic pieces worth reading if you didn’t get a chance already.

Just before the Associated Press’ Eric Gorski’s (unfortunate for us) shift from the religion beat earlier this year, he produced a moving piece on Matt Chandler, a young megachurch pastor in Texas who faced a brain tumor. Gorski captured the drama, emotion and faith in details, giving readers us a clear picture of Chandler’s thought process in dealing with cancer.

Earlier this month, we looked at The Wichita Eagle‘s series “Promise Not to Tell,” a lengthy series of two girls’ rescue from their family’s abuse with the help of their neighbors. The story wasn’t focused on religion, but Roy Wenzl skillfully showed when and where faith became relevant.

There were also compelling stories with the caveat that I would have liked to see more religion details. Paul Schwartzman wrote a moving piece for the Washington Post about a father’s care for his son after a horrible beating. We also saw an interesting front-page piece on Confucianism in China and a later piece in the New York Times magazine on the rise of Taoism in the country. Talk about a collide of religion and politics. We also saw Devin Friedman’s lengthy GQ piece on the man who shot abortion doctor George Tiller. These stories are difficult to write, though, and these are good ones to read.

On the other hand, we had a few flops this year, including Newsweek‘s cover story on Sarah Palin as the new leader of the religious right. And then the magazine changed its mind and made Jim Wallis a leader. Then we saw the unfortunate shift of Krista Tippett’s radio show away from “Speaking of Faith” to (drumroll) ” Krista Tippett on being.” Seriously, friends, religion/faith is still worth covering.

Finally, one of my favorite features here has been talking with religion reporting pros like the Chicago Tribune‘s Manya Brachear, USA Today‘s Cathy Lynn Grossman, The Times-Picayune‘s Bruce Nolan, the Courier-Journal‘s Peter Smith, and more and more. I also enjoyed our larger discussion over Archbishop Charles Chaput’s boycott of the New York Times.

If you’re like me, you might star a piece, add it to Instapaper, e-mail it to yourself to read later, but you never find the time. Hopefully this will give you a chance to look back at some of the excellent pieces this year. Despite my best efforts, I have been unable to read the entire Internet, so by all means, share links to ones I may have missed. (As I raise the exciting glass of water next to me) Here’s to excellent religion reporting to come in 2011.

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  • Daniel

    One of my favorites was this interview with Condoleezza Rice.

    http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2011/january/1.71.html

  • Dan

    Very cute cartoon.

  • Jerry

    One of my favorites in what I think was an outstanding year for public broadcasting from Religion & Ethics Newsweekly etc was tonight’s PBS NewsHour report Monastery Works to Preserve Ancient Christian Texts. They allowed people to talk from themselves and taught me something.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Many of the texts were handwritten long before printing presses. Some, like this Koran, were created soon after, this one commissioned for study by some of the first Protestant scholars.

    FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: It’s the first printed copy of the Koran. It was published in 1543, with a preface by Martin Luther.

    FRED DE SAM LAZARO: Father Columba says these ancient texts echo with relevance to our time.

    FATHER COLUMBA STEWART: Christians were — were dealing with Islam and there was a real desire to understand it better. So the result was they wanted a translation of the Koran into Latin, so that Christians could read it. And, of course, it wasn’t for the sake of religious understanding, it was for the sake of refutation.

    And this whole question of how Western, predominantly Christian countries, dialog with or relate to majority of Muslim countries is something we’ve been talking about since 9/11. But what we forget is there are centuries — centuries of experience of Christians and Muslims

  • Dave

    For a different perspective the owner of The Wild Hunt featured on 12/30 and 12/31 the top ten stories of 2010 from a Pagan viewpoint.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Thanks for more links, though Daniel might be pandering a bit. :) Happy new year.

  • Jay

    C’mon, how could you leave out the story by Reid Forgrave of the Des Moines Register that Sarah wrote about two weeks ago? http://www.getreligion.org/2010/12/mother-of-5-widowed-at-31/

    Yes, there could be more specifics on the religion, but it’s hard to imagine a more positive or respectful portrayal of a deep faith.

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Jay, I did think about that one. I liked the story, though after a few weeks, I’ve though about how the story could have been re-arranged. I didn’t want to give away the ending in my post, but I thought finishing on the engagement was a bit cheesy. I was torn because I didn’t want to be a stinker but I wasn’t completely satisfied.

  • Jerry

    I just finished watching the end of decade Religion and Ethics Newsweekly program and highly recommend it. First, they chose to look back at the last decade which I think provides some much needed perspective. They also tried to look ahead to 2011 with the humility that comes from knowing how history has a way of confounding predictions: http://www.pbs.org/wnet/religionandethics/episodes/december-31-2010/look-ahead-2011/7719/

  • http://onbeing.org Kate Moos

    I’m sorry to see you giving more attention to the wrong-headed idea that “Krista Tippett on Being” is no longer a program that is covering religion. That is simply not true, which is immediately apparent if you look at our shows produced since the name change. Richard Mouw, President of Fuller Theological Seminary, for example, is among the recent guests. We also offered a show recorded live at the Summit on Happiness at Emory in October with the Dalai Lama, as well as another show offering an hour of conversation with the Chief Rabbi of the UK, Jonathan Sacks, and a full show with the Dalai Lama’s translator, Thupten Jinpa.

    To be sure these voices were joined by people like Nicholas Kristof and Dan Barber — both of them deeply thoughtful and important voices addressing moral, ethical, and religious questions in their wide-ranging conversations with Krista.

    Of course, you may not like the name change; that’s your prerogative, but the idea that “Krista Tippett on Being” is no longer covering religion, or that it has radically shifted its editorial focus just isn’t true.

    Kate Moos
    Executive Producer
    Krista Tippett on Being

  • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

    Kate, thanks for your response. My mention was so brief that it probably was not fully explained. I did not mean to imply that Krista is no longer covering religion/faith. However, if you look back at my earlier post (http://www.getreligion.org/2010/11/faith-is-now-a-dirty-word/), you’ll see that I was frustrated by her explanation of the shift. I don’t really necessarily care about the title of the show, but I thought her explanation made it seem like “being” is superior to “faith.” Here’s what she wrote:

    “Faith” has its place in that, but it is too limiting a word even to describe the Christian contribution to it.
    And letting go of a word, after all, doesn’t mean letting go of its content. It frees and compels us, rather, to find fresh, vivid language to communicate the deepest sense of our convictions.

    As I said then, since when did “religion” or “faith” become a dirty word? I’m glad to see that she is still covering religion. I just hope others don’t follow suit by suggesting “being” is somehow more “hospitable.” I hope that makes more sense. Thanks again for pointing us to Krista’s further coverage.

  • Daniel Shelley

    What’s the point of the name change of “Krista Tippett on Being”? If there is no point in the name change, then discussion of the name change is moot. If the name were changed for some reason, then discussion is relevant. You can’t have it both ways.


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