Building religion IQ in reporters? We say, ‘Amen!’


Usually, GetReligion focuses on critiquing mainstream media coverage of religion and pointing out holy ghosts.

Occasionally, we share news on personnel changes on the Godbeat — such as Jim Davis’ must-read interview this week with laid-off Tampa Tribune religion writer Michelle Bearden.

And sometimes — as with this post — we can’t resist recommending an article or essay that hits at the core of our passion for informed, thoughtful religion reporting.

“Building Religion IQ in Reporters” is the title of the piece that Andrea Scott — a former Washington Journalism Center student of GetReligion editor tmatt — wrote for the spring 2014 issue of Philanthropy magazine:

Much news today is somehow related to religion, as a glance at the headlines reveals: Turmoil in the Middle East. Church relief missions after a natural disaster. The actions of Pope Francis. Challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. The ebb and flow of local religious programs that feed the hungry, operate schools, fight addictions, and run hospitals. Statements by the Dalai Lama. Same-sex marriage and abortion debates. Jihadist terror. Differences in community life and politics that link to spiritual perspective. Many of today’s evolving stories are intricately entwined with religious issues.

And beyond its role as a factor in news events, faith is of deep and urgent personal relevance to many citizens. According to the Pew Research Center, 56 percent of Americans say that religion is “very important” to them, while another 26 percent say it’s “somewhat important.” This can powerfully influence both private and public actions.

Despite its pervasive importance, religion is a foreign land to many, perhaps most, reporters. “I was practically born and raised in the news business, and know firsthand that newsrooms are exceedingly secular places,” says veteran journalist Carl Cannon, Washington bureau chief of RealClearPolitics. “But the people we cover—and our audiences—are steeped in religious faith of all kinds. So to accurately cover the political and civic life of this country, journalists need to know what’s going on in the spiritual life of their fellow Americans.” This, however, is a struggle for under-informed reporters.

Amen. Amen. Amen.

The article goes on to describe the development of a conference designed to improve reporters’ religion IQ, as the title indicates:

Luis Lugo, then director of the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, says he also wanted to “educate the press on religion.” Initially, the two joined forces to offer local lunchtime seminars, a staple of the D.C. think-tank world. But Lugo prodded Cromartie to “think outside the box as if money were not an issue.” Cromartie proposed getting the journalists out of Washington and “away from their deadlines, to actually have a reflective two days with serious scholars.” In 2002, they launched a series of weekend conferences, now hosted semiannually near Miami, featuring experts and believers like megachurch pastors Tim Keller and Rick Warren, National Institutes of Health director Francis Collins, Pakistani ambassador Husain Haqqani, and others.

Each invitation-only conference is limited to about 20 influential correspondents, columnists, producers, and opinion leaders from both print and broadcast media. The Faith Angle Forum, as it came to be called, has welcomed David Brooks and Ross Douthat of the New York Times, Christopher Hitchens of Vanity Fair, Mike Allen ofPolitico, Rachel Zoll of the Associated Press, Clare Duffy of “NBC Nightly News,” Nina Easton of Fortune, Malcolm Gladwell and Peter Boyer of the New Yorker, Lisa Miller of New York magazine, Nancy Gibbs and David van Biema of Time, and more than 200 other journalists from 40 media outlets.

Later, there’s even a mention of former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey. What’s not to like about that?

By all means, read it. Read it all.

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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.

  • Julia B

    SO – is this conference meant to introduce reporters to the who of various religious entities and the what of their teachings OR are presenters trying to win over reporters to their points of view? I’m always suspicious when people say they are trying to “educate” the public about an issue – as if their position is the only one that smart people will adopt.

    I thought the conference would have explained factual things like what “Ephesians” means – Letter from the apostle Paul to the Christian community in Ephesus – and other essential info like that. Not dissertations on forgiveness and atonement. Is that really the kind of thing the speakers go on about? You could have a thousand different Christian opinions on that kind of thing. How does that help the reporter?

    “His intention is not to convert anyone, but to help journalists better their craft by exposing them to excellent speakers purveying ideas with which they may not be familiar.”

    How does this help with religious illiteracy? These reporters first need the basic facts, not dissertations on forgiveness according to one sliver of Christianity. I don’t see many occasions for discussing “forgiveness” in straight news stories.


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