Religion journalists save the day for young scribes

Last night I had the privilege of moderating a panel discussion for The Fund for American Studies’ Institute on Political Journalism. This summer program gives students internships at media organizations, coursework in politics and economics, and other features (such as mentors to guide you as you start your career).

Anywho, the director asked me to put together a panel of religion journalists and I was thrilled that both Kevin Eckstrom, editor of Religion News Service, and Kim Lawton, managing editor of Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly, graciously gave their time and wisdom to the students of the program.

First, here’s a bit of a scene-setter.

In high school, my journalism teacher told us a story about a horrible interview she once watched. A major flood had swept through a canyon in Colorado. A reporter approached a man who’d just seen his wife and kids swept away and asked him how he felt. Everyone was understandably appalled at the lack of humanity that reporter displayed in putting a man on camera and asking such a question at the worst moment of his life. I try to keep that in mind when I’m talking to people who have undergone some tragedy. And it makes me reticent to approach some people or ask too many questions.

Lawton told a wonderful story about reporting on a disaster zone that really moved me.

Arriving after some horrific travel delays, she had to rush to complete her interviews. As she got to the village where her interviews would take place, she said she just felt icky about the work she was about to do — like a vulture descending on these poor people. But she had to do her work and so she began asking people about how they felt regarding the tragedy they’d endured. As she got going, the crowd of people wishing to tell their stories grew and grew. She ended up unhooking the microphone from the camera so the camera man could complete the footage they needed to gather and just stayed there long after her own purposes, letting people speak into the microphone about their story.

I’m probably doing a disservice to the story, but it was such a wonderful reminder that journalism need not be invasive or an unwelcome necessity. It can also be healing and a beautiful way to connect with our fellow man.

Eckstrom gave great advice to the young whippersnappers — all college-aged kids — about the importance of mastering multimedia journalism. Basic reporting and writing skills are essential, but you can’t just be a writer these days, you have to figure out how to shoot and cut video, too. He also encouraged the students to be creative about how they present information.

Which is all a long way of getting to what I wanted to highlight.

Our own Bobby has already pointed out that Calvinism quiz that Religion News Service ran. Eckstrom noted the popularity of this quiz on RNS’ site. And as one of the many people who took the quiz, I absolutely agree. I’m always lamenting the absence of doctrine or substance in many stories.

Well, in the last week we’ve seen multiple outlets cover Arminianism and Calvinism. And it wasn’t dry or boring. These stories have been wildly popular. By way of example, I write about religion every day, obviously. I can’t remember the last time that casual acquaintances, colleagues, family members, etc. all discussed doctrinal debates. Particularly doctrinal debates that aren’t related to our own church bodies. And yet I had discussions about Calvinism far and wide.

Stories about doctrine do not need to be boring and they can be presented in interesting ways, as that quiz exemplified.

A final shout-out to the creators of the quiz is for this most excellent question:

Which individual was NOT an early Reformed theologian?

John Knox
Ulrich Zwingli
Martin Luther
Martin Bucer

It’s almost a trick question, as I’m sure many people assumed that Luther was “Reformed.”

Nope, even though he was a Reformer. Reformed theologians at the time even respected Luther, but as the Institute for Reformed Theology notes:

Generally, all the churches that grew from the sixteenth-century revolt against the Roman church, can be called reformed. However, the term “Reformed” specifically designates that branch of the Reformation of the western church originally characterized by a distinctively non-Lutheran, Augustinian sacramental theology with a high ecclesiology but little regard for ecclesiatical tradition that is not traceable to the Scriptures or the earliest church. Those churches in the “Reformed tradition” are regarded as being in the line of churches that grew from the Reform in certain Swiss free cities and cantons, in non-Lutheran Germany, and in Hungary, Bohemia, and southern France in the early and mid sixteenth century.

So kudos to RNS for accurately navigating this tricky point — in a fun quiz no less. We like accuracy, around here.

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  • Jerry

    I’m curious about the reactions from the students to the presentation? Did they find the discussions helpful? Were they up-to-speed about the current problems with religion coverage in the media?


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