Through the years, your GetReligionistas tended to offer rather mixed views of the “On Faith” project at The Washington Post.
First of all, it had tremendous potential as a religion-news hub, in part because of the presence of several writers in the Post newsroom — in a variety of departments — who clearly were interested in religion topics and showed ability when dealing with religious subjects. I mean, in addition to the obvious scribes, I would put entertainment writer Hank Stuever in that crowd, along with Hamil Harris, my long-time friend over in Metro.
Throw in the obvious resources of Religion News Service and you had a big head start on being a serious religion-news hub.
However, from the beginning, the “On Faith” project founders appeared to believe that religion is a corner of life that is dominated by emotion and opinions, not facts and reporting.
You do recall that first “On Faith” question to the commentators in its Parliament of Religions panel?
If some religious people believe they have a monopoly on truth, then are conversation and common ground possible? If so, what would be the difficulties and benefits of such a conversation?
The basic question back then, for me, was this: Is religion a topic that, for journalists, is uniquely rooted in opinion? As I wrote in one rather urgent post called “On Fog — A Meditation,” back in 2008:
There are facts that matter here. Facts about history, doctrine and courtesy. Facts matter when you are covering religion news and trends. Facts matter when you are interviewing religious people — left and right, members of major world religions and members of lesser known bodies that some would be tempted to call “fringe.” Facts and doctrine matter to religious people, even to people who are very specific and highly creedal about the doctrines that they reject. I have interviewed many an atheist who had more doctrines in his anti-creed than I recite in the Nicene Creed.
This isn’t about emotions and feelings. It’s about getting the facts right and showing respect for the people for whom those facts, doctrines and rituals are a matter of eternal life and death. Facts matter in journalism, religion and journalism about religion. Amen.
Recently, a veteran religion-writer type send me a copy of a note that editor Patton Dodd at FaithStreet sent out, seeking contributions to the new site.
Here is a key chunk of the letter:
Starting in late January, OnFaith will publish one main feature each weekday — a reported story, essay, long interview, series of photos, video, infographic, or something else — organized around a Weekly Issue. …
Our range of topics will be broad and usually selected far in advance. Some issues will be tied to events on the cultural/political/religious/seasonal calendar, some to perennially intriguing religion topics, and some just to themes or questions that provoke our curiosity or that we believe will generate great storytelling.
That’s the main thing we want: great storytelling. Also: interesting ideas and arguments expressed in interesting ways.
Some of the initial topics include:
* Faith in the White House (religion and the U.S. presidency through history and now)
* God’s Football League (the religion-soaked National Football League — 5 takes on the spirituality of pro football in the week before the Super Bowl)
* The Ministry of Marriage (especially interested in interfaith marriage stories, including stories where that means just two distinct approaches to Christianity, Judaism, etc.)
* What Do Ministers Believe? (Those guys and gals who preach and teach the stuff — do they actually believe it?)
All very interesting subjects for news coverage, if the stories are actually built on hard reporting.
Any reactions out there, GetReligion readers? What is your take on the pledge to pursue “storytelling” as job one?
Meanwhile, I, for one, continue to wonder about the role of actual religion NEWS at such a site. Am I being unrealistic?