Nah-nah-nah-nah: Navel-gazing at ninth anniversary

So tmatt kicked off the GetReligion ninth anniversary celebration over the weekend.

As we contemplate the future of this site dedicated to critiquing the mass media’s coverage of religion news, we want to hand the microphone to you, kind reader.

Why do you read GetReligion?

Yes, we’re fishing for compliments. But hey, it’s our birthday, so indulge us, OK?

And if you’ll say something nice, we’ll let you offer a little constructive criticism, too.

Here are a few questions to consider:

What kinds of posts do you enjoy most? Least?

What could we do to increase our number of comments and foster better conversations?

What improvements could we make in our content, approach or presentation?

The microphone is all yours.

Image via Shutterstock

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • Darrell Turner

    Mollie’s postings are often unnecessarily snarky, and she often states her personal opinion about a topic of news coverage, which I thought was a no-no for Get Religion, which often tells commenters to focus on the journalism issues.
    Having said that, I value Mollie’s postings for the depth of background she brings to the issues on which she comments. I often learn a great deal from her and the other Get Religionistas.

    • Mollie

      These are fair criticisms. I am way too snarky and I do put my opinion in there. It’s funny because I used to steadfastly avoid this and it caused so many problems. People would accuse me of defending evangelicals or Catholics or liberals or conservatives or whatever because, they assumed, I was one of them. I got so sick of it that I just began heading it off at the pass by mentioning my Lutheranism or libertarianism. It has fixed the problem of people accusing me of defending a group against bad coverage in bad faith but it does cause problems, as you note. I’ll endeavor to improve.

      • deiseach

        Just for you, Mollie :-)

  • http://derekjohnsonmuses.com DerekJohnsonMuses

    As someone who writes about sports a lot, I was glad you took on Manti Te’o and Ray Lewis, because those are posts I can tweet to my followers. I basically read this site so I know what kind of news I can trust, because, as you say, the media is never objective on certain issues, most notably gay marriage. I also appreciate that you pay attention to detail the religious stories you cover and don’t try to group denominations and all the Baptists together. As theological un-shifting Lutheran, I’m glad that one news body will distinguish between the ELCA and my more faithful LCMS. Thanks, and God’s continued blessings on your work.

  • Dave

    I read GR because I share the premise, if not the theology or politics of most GetReligionistas. What I like most is the occasional story about a genuine relgious element overlooked by journalists. What I like least is posts larded with opinion about the matter at hand while commenters are told to “stick to the journalism.” My very least favorite posts are those that mis-identify an editorial slant about homosexuality or abortion as “failing to get religion.”

    In other words, GR would improve enormously if it lived up to its own billing. But it’s still the first or second blog I hit ever morning.

  • John M.

    Like: links to articles that highlight religion’s impact on daily lives, especially relating to Muslims (props to the recent Timbuktu story Mollie linked to); abortion articles; almost anything Mollie writes.

    Dislikes: anything about the Roman Catholic Church that doesn’t directly link to politics (links to good exploration of religion’s impact on interesting individuals excepted); being harangued about not posting on certain types of articles (tmatt and I traded good emails about this a couple of months ago).

    Overall, nice work and thanks.

    -John

  • tmatt

    DAVE:

    Of course, unbalanced coverage of abortion and sexuality is almost always linked to questions about religion. I’ve been studying media bias since 1978 or so and that has always been the case.

    Also, in America, these two issues are almost always debated in terms heavily laden with religious content — as the courts have noted.

    If you find a post in which GR folks do not — as the bottom line — argue for balanced and accurate coverage on these kinds of issues, please let us know.

    • Dave

      I’ve never doubted that GR stands for balanced and accurate coverage, nor iirc have I ever said so. What I’m talking about is mission creep arising from bias. (And everyone has biases.) Style section coverage of a lesbian cruise in non-condemnatory terms is not a failure to get religion.

  • http://www.opinionatedcatholic.blogspot.com jh

    I liek the the stories that highlight local reporting on religion. In a day and age where Corporate that wons these paers are looking to eliminate reporter jobs sadly the religion beat is at the top of the list. SO I think highlighting these reporters are good

  • Martha

    What I like is the inside look at why the media covers the things it does in the way it does; it explains a lot when you have working journalists who can say “This is why X, Y or Z”.

  • Darren Blair

    I first came here because someone on a religion & current events board I go to linked to a few articles as part of larger conversations.

    From there, I found myself involved in a number of conversations. I’m an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and apparently I’m the only such Mormon some people here have met. As a result, this has led to a fair bit of new understanding and comprehension.

  • http://www.herbely.com Herbert Ely

    There are a number of just war issues that should be raised by the press, particularly since the Catholic bishops seem reluctant. Consider this statement by Leon Panetta on drone strikes against US citizens:” The Pentagon chief says he realized when he became CIA director that he was “making life-and-death decisions.” As a Catholic, he says, he’s “got to really think about it.” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/panetta-says-decisions-to-use-unmanned-drone-strikes-dont-come-lightly/2013/02/03/7906e7c8-6e73-11e2-b35a-0ee56f0518d2_story.html?tid=wp_ipad) There are, it seems to me a few religious and constitutional ghosts here.

  • Jerry

    1. When I first found GR the posts were very helpful for me to understand how bad most coverage is but now it’s different. Right now I enjoy the laudatory posts. I’ve read enough critiques of badly covered stories to assign them numbers in my mind #1 for ghosts and so forth. So unless the topic is of special interest to me, I often skip those kinds of posts.

    2. Increasing participation – that’s a tricky one. Patheos seems to have a very restrictive set of capabilities and the system is technically worse than the old site where we could see how what we were typing would look, add display directives and vote on comments. So add all three of those back as well as allowing us to vote up or down on a story. But DON’T link it to Facebook/twitter etc at least if you want me to participate.

    3. Improvements. I think some naval gazing is in order. There are certain topics that you just can’t resist commenting on such as the recent march whereas others get ignored. I could basically predict that Mollie would disparage the new health care proposed rules on birth control. By the choice of what she quoted, she disparaged both the new proposal and the serious response by the Catholic church. This is bias by quote selection.

    You’re all over stories where conservative theology is being ignored or misrepresented by the media but too often ignore stories where there is no political or theological controversy. In that you resembled the media you cover – attracted to conflict.

    Perhaps that is what most of your readers want. But I’ve become tired of such stories and look for well-written positive stories. And, unlike what you folk too often look for, I find stories like this to be really worth reading without a critique about what church she attends and so forth. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sarah-jackson/my-journey-from-abuse-to-_b_2584771.html?utm_hp_ref=good-news&ir=Good%20News I think that story can be critiqued because it does not go deep enough for me in how God is part of her life, but it’s basically a positive story that could be better than it is rather than yet another tired story about the same political/religious conflicts that have been going on for years and will probably continue for more years.

  • Kristen inDallas

    My favorites are generally peices where a specific article, especially one that gets top billing in a major newspaper, is taken apart – with links to other sources that provide more detail, a counter argument, or the original studies that the article has (most likely) misrepresented. Mollie and Geo do a good job of this. And I don’t mind a little snark, overshooting or characaturizing the problem helps us see it better sometimes. And if you go over the line, the commenters here will set us all straight. I don’t typically find it over the line though… bad journalism needs a little shaking up.

    I’m not a huge fan of pointing out grammar misses (unless it directly contributes to the article in question being less comprehensible). So discussing the implications of improperly placed quotation marks = good, but pointing out that a copy editor let the wrong form of there/their out the door seems a bit of a waste of space. Also not big on direct questions at the end of the piece, if I had a more nuanced comment I’m less likely to share it, and it reminds me of being in school again. Or maybe it reminds me of those pages on facebook that will conduct fake polls of their fans in order to drum up page hits. At any rate, seems like false interest and a bit patronizing, but that’s just a personal preference thing, not going to drive me away ultimately.

    If you are genuinely interested in more hits and comments, you might consider being less restrictive in the comment space. I recognize that certain topics (especially abortion and gay marriage) can devolve pretty quickly when left open, but there may be a balance to strike. Maybe devoting one thread to comments related to “how could journalism handle this better?” and a seperate thread for “factual corrections or further information” While engaging everyone’s opinions on the morality of a particular topic is probably a step too far, there is something to the idea that the best journalism is the journalism that gets all the facts (or more of the anyway). So the ability to expound on some of these issues that get covered by linking to a relevant study or account to broaden the general scope of knowledge would not be a horrible thing, in my opinion.

  • Kristen inDallas

    Also… more video journalism please. There’s a lot going on behind what we are shown but not told.

  • Laura

    I was first drawn to this web site from a Catholic blog I used to read. I don’t know why I don’t read it anymore. Anyway, I love this site because it does what most media don’t do, it takes religion seriously. I love the articles pertaining to Catholicism especially because I appreciate the fair coverage shown here without the accusation of bias which could be drummed up on specificly Catholic blogs. I also love reading about Eastern Orthodoxy and other ancient faiths. I wish reporters would cover Eastern Rite Catholics living in the US. I doubt most people even realize there are other rites besides the Roman/Latin rite. Also, I love, well, how you bloggers keep us fair. You praise good stories, even when they’re from the New yourk Times and I really appreciate that. This blog has also really helped my critical thinking skills and has taught me to look for things in articles or essays with assertions in them. I don’t just swallow things whole.

  • sari

    Like: Exposure to a variety of news articles from a broad range of sources. Learning from different posters about their respective belief systems–many, many tangential posts are quite illuminating.

    Dislike: Occasional advocacy journalism in lieu of adhering to GR’s purported goals, bloggers’ sometimes limited knowledge of non-Christian religions, overfocus on certain topics (athletics, abortion, homosexuality) to the exclusion of others–for instance, how religion informs rapper Kendrick Lamar’s anti-drug, anti-gang position; lots of articles allude to it, but none seek to elucidate it.

    Inc. Comments/Foster Conversation: moderate less tightly and admit that many groups have valid reasons for disliking Christianity or Christian’s behavior. What seems incendiary to some may be actual truth; attempting to whitewash history serves no purpose. Give more space to discussions of how people practice. LDS members, for instance, have done a fine job of educating GR readers on their beliefs and practices, even if they fail to address the journalistic aspect.

    Improvements: a greater breadth of articles outside the areas of sports, the Catholic Church, abortion (incl. the annual march), and gay rights, particularly the last two. More coverage of Atheists, Buddhists and Jews. These groups are routinely misrepresented by the media (see mollie’s eruv post) but rarely make it to these pages. Articles on Muslims, otoh, are well-represented.

    • Darren Blair

      Thank you.

      One of the issues that we Mormons keep running into in the media is the fact that because there are so few Mormons who are in the actual media, a lot of times reporters don’t know the church’s theology or how it works. As a result, they sometimes miss the mark.

      For example, TMatt noted that there appeared to be a Holy Ghost in the wake of the Newton shooting; there was a rumor that one set of parents were Mormon, but the media didn’t seem to pick up on that because there were no reports of Mormon clergy.

      As I pointed out to him, the LDS faith uses a “lay” clergy, in which ministers are unpaid and culled from the body of believers. Because of this, if the parents were indeed members of the church, the local clergy could have easily come and gone several times over without the media even knowing what was happening; they would have blended into the group of friends and well-wishers who would have stopped by. Thus, instead of “family visited by Mormon minister”, the media could well have just seen “local barber stops by to pay respects” or something similar.

  • FW Ken

    GR both stimulates and restrains my natural cynicism. Posts about blatant lies and manipulation by reporters set me off, but then the forthright honesty of the bloggers pulls me back to reality. And Mollie: snark away. You are ok by me.

    Like others, I miss the capabilities of the old software, especially the ease of linking. And yes, it would be nice to vote on a post, about which I might not have a specific comment.

    And Darren Blair, you are far from the only Mormon to hold forth here. Being Catholic, I have benefited a great deal from those discussions.

    • Darren Blair

      Thank you.

  • Patrick

    I love this blog – just about every post, I have the chance to realize that I know absolutely nothing about religion. Anglicans, Hindus, Orthodox Jews, fellow Catholics, even atheists – I’ve been reading for years and I don’t have a clue.

    Keep blogging forever. You guys rule.

  • MJBubba

    I have been following regularly here since your early days. Y’all do good work; I have learned a lot, both about other faiths and also about how journalism works.
    I see your frequent posts on abortion and homosexuality as a direct reflection of how the mass media are actively promoting one side of the culture wars in these two areas of conflict. The very poor quality of the journalism is related to the topic; journalism this bad on business pages or police blotter stories would not be tolerated by editors who let advocacy run rampant on social issues. Keep calling them out. And, thanks for the careful work you do to make sure that your criticisms are based in the journalism.
    In particular I think the body of GetReligion posts regarding shabby media treatment of the Roman Catholic Church is deserving of an award from the religion newswriters or somebody, and I say that as a Lutheran who carries no water for the papists.

  • Daniel

    I, as Dave and Laura do, like noticing any religious element overlooked by journalists. For more on this, see comments regarding “Ugh — when ‘reality’ TV looks inside clergy homes.”

  • John M.

    MJBubba–hear hear on the abortion/homosexuality posts. They do sometimes get repetitive, but there’s a huge (IMHO malicious) hole in MSM coverage of these topics, and I’m glad real journalists (aka the GetReligionistas) are here to point it out. Nixon was never a credible media critic as far as the media were concerned.

    -John

  • http://paulwilkinson.wordpress.com Paul Wilkinson

    While I only drop by two or three times per month, I’ve been reading GR for about six years now. With so many reporters assigned religion stories that are outside their field of expertise or personal experience, a site like this is badly needed. Also, I sometimes find that I missed the original story in the first place, so I doubly appreciate GR being here. This should be required reading for any attempting religious journalism; conversely, it should be presented as evidence to local media outlets as to why they might want to hand off faith-based stories to faith-based bloggers and writers in their community if existing staff are out of their league or insider understanding is needed.

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  • Ruth and Jooseppi

    Our family has been reading GetReligion for a few years. We homeschool and find GetReligion to be a helpful training resource in thinking more about what we read, recognizing when points are poorly presented, and learning about different viewpoints. We miss the ability to vote on comments that the old site had and don’t care for all the ads that will pop up on Patheos. We usually find reading the comments to be as helpful as reading the original post, with our favorite commenters including Martha, Sari, and The Old Bill.

  • Jay

    I like to come onto the blog to learn. Lots of very informative pieces. Especially like reading about pieces with the Catholic Church but I’m a Catholic planning to start a prenovitiate year in just a few months, so it kind of is a topic of preference for me :)

    I’m always a fan of learning about the different tenants of different religions, but do not always know where Get Religion gets their sources. Blog writers sometimes put links to where they get their information about different religions, but not always. Being more consistent about putting in more links so that readers can go look at where you get some of your information and be able to evaluate themselves whether or not it’s a reliable source of information (Sorry! Wikipedia just isn’t the most reliable source in the world) would be very beneficial.

  • Chris Bolinger

    I like how you analyze pieces without too much “inside baseball” stuff, so that journalists and non-journalists can understand and appreciate the analyses. I appreciate how much time each of you spends on your posts and marvel at the fact that you (collectively) post at least one item nearly every day. I manage a blog at work, and my team has trouble getting a few short posts out there every week.
    A few years ago, Terry was too confrontational with me and some other people who posted comments with which he disagreed, and I essentially stopped commenting as a result. It took me a long time to start commenting again. Now, I rarely comment simply because I simply don’t have time. But I do read, especially Mollie’s posts.
    Keep up the good work, crew. You help keep us sane out here in Readerland.

  • Bob Smietana

    Is it really 9 years?
    Wow.
    Have read Getreligion on and off for most of that time and have had more than my share of disagreements with Terry and Mollie in particular and have signed off as a reader more than once.
    I keep coming back because GR often finds good religion stories that are under-reported. And the writers on the site usually have something interesting to say, even if I disagree with them.
    At its best, GR reminds readers that good religion writing needs context – history, facts, doctrine, lots of sources.
    But at time GR has an incomplete view of what it means to “get religion.”
    Facts, doctrine, and history matter. But so does lived religion. GR at times appears to think that “official version religion” found in church structure, history and doctrine is more real that the experience of religion, found in the day to day emotions, opinions, and behavior of ordinary believers.
    GR writers also at times seem to assume that if a story paints their side in a bad light, it must be bad journalism, caused by a biased reporter.
    But enough complaining.
    Congrats on 9 years.

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