For several decades now, I have been telling mainstream newsroom managers that all they have to do to improve religion-news coverage is to approach the beat the same way they approach any other major news beat that they respect, such as politics, sports, politics, education, politics and, of course, entertainment gossip.
What’s the magic formula? Here is what I had to say in a 1995 lecture to the editors of Scripps Howard newspapers:
So, you’re a manager in a newsroom and you’ve decided to improve religion coverage. What can you do?
There are only three ways that editors show what they think about a subject: what kind of reporter covers it, how much coverage it receives and where the stories appear in the newspaper. Thus, the solution is obvious: hire one or more quality journalists who are committed to covering religion and give their work the kind of display that is granted to subjects editors consider important.
Religion is a stunningly complicated beat, with dozens of major and minor religious groups and institutions dotting the intellectual and emotional landscape. Buddhists don’t talk, pray or do business like Baptists. Catholics and Pentecostals have totally different concepts of what it means to be a “charismatic” leader, except, of course, for Catholics who also happen to Pentecostals. It’s impossible to navigate these waters without a working knowledge of the charts.
So with that in mind, faithful GetReligion readers will join me in celebrating this tweet:
Breaking news, this time not about Pope or Vatican but yours truly … John Allen to join Boston Globe: http://t.co/yO4PaJ6xtG
— John L. Allen, Jr. (@JohnLAllenJr) January 7, 2014
In recent years, your GetReligionistas have sadly published more than a few “black flag” notices marking the closing of a religion-beat job in a major newsroom or the departure of a skilled Godbeat veteran from active duty in the news biz. Every now and then, we can cheer when a Cathy Grossman, after an exit from USA Today, is able to make a much-deserved comeback in a shop like Religion News Service.
So now we need to ask, what is the opposite of a black flag?
Obviously, a white flag represents surrender.
That’s not what people who care about solid religion-news reporting should be feeling after that tweet from Allen, who — while writing for the progressive National Catholic Reporter — has won wide respect on both sides of Catholic sanctuary aisles for his informed and accurate coverage.