July 7, 2014

Let’s see: a meaty, 3,200-word religion story — part profile, part trend piece.

Quick, name the national news organizations producing such in-depth journalism on the Godbeat these days. Did Al Jazeera America make your list?

That relatively new U.S. media organization spotlighted “Downwardly mobile for Jesus” over the weekend. The superb feature drew praise from ordinary readers and journalism pros alike.

“Good reporting,” said the subject line on an email from a GetReligion reader.

The reader wrote:

This article could have been much more cursory but instead goes the distance on showing motivations, pitfalls, wins and losses along the way in this report on attempts to live a ministry in distressed urban areas.

Godbeat pro Eric Marrapodi of CNN complimented the story, too:

The piece introduces readers to Matthew Loftus, a 27-year-old white man who moved into a poor, high-crime, nearly all-black neighborhood in Baltimore.

This section up high makes it clear that holy ghosts won’t haunt this report:

(more…)

June 5, 2014

I’m on the road this week, sunburned and tuckered out.

So rather than do a normal GetReligion critique, I’m going to ask a couple of journalism questions that are related to what we do here.

First question: Do you know any journalists who could benefit from advanced study of religion?

If so, I have terrific news. The Religion Newswriters Association invites journalists to apply to its Lilly Scholarships in Religion Program. According to an RNA news release, the scholarships give full-time journalists up to $5,000 to take any college religion courses at any accredited institution at any time.

What a deal!

More from the news release:

Religion headlines are dominating news coverage—politics, religion, Islam in America — now is the perfect time to dig deeper into today’s hottest stories. More than 290 people have already taken advantage of RELIGION | NEWSWRITERS’ Lilly Scholarships in Religion Program for Journalists.

Topics reporters have studied include: Religion & Politics in the 20th Century and Beyond, God & Politics, Buddhism in the Modern World, Politics of International Religious Freedom, Religion and Social Justice, Violence and Liberation, Muslim-Christian Relations in World History and many more.

“The courses led to dozens of story ideas and new resources. I came out a sharper researcher and writer, two benefits I was not expecting going in,” said Eric Marrapodi of CNN who took four Lilly scholarship courses in three years at Georgetown University.

The scholarships can be used at accredited colleges, universities, seminaries or similar institutions.

Read on for more info.

(more…)

October 10, 2013

As a reporter, I’m always amazed by how much I learn when I actually pick up the phone and talk to somebody.

As opposed to, say, relying on my vast personal knowledge (and Googling ability) and preparing a news report without ever making contact with a real, live human.

Speaking of which …

The New York Times had a story this week (at least I’m 95 percent sure it’s not supposed to be a column or news analysis) on a creationist organization targeting atheists with a billboard in Times Square. The peculiar thing is that the story quoted absolutely no one — except, strangely enough, for Pope Francis, who as far as I know has nothing to do with the billboard campaign.

It was difficult to tell if the Times wrote the story on deadline and didn’t have time to quote any humans or if the newspaper simply didn’t see a need to expand beyond the reporter’s own wisdom.

Alas, conjecture words such as “if,” “perhaps” and “seems” dominated the source-free story, starting at the top:

If the evangelical organization Answers in Genesis was looking to take its message to a secular audience, it would be hard to do better than the heart of Times Square at noon on Monday.

Wedged amid an advertisement urging revelers to take a trip to Atlantic City, promotions for the new CBS drama “Hostages” and a promotion from Google was a 15-second video directed at New York City’s atheists.

“To all of our atheist friends: Thank God you’re wrong,” the digital billboard blared on the corner of 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue.

As the lunchtime crowd passed by on the streets below, few gave it more than a passing glance, perhaps distracted by the frightening, blood-soaked photograph promoting the horror movie “Carrie” above the theater next door.

Or, perhaps, religious billboard battles between believers and nonbelievers just do not have the punch they once did.

My basic reaction to the story: Ho-hum, with a heavy dose of “So what?”

The only reason I even bring up the Times story is because CNN’s Belief Blog co-editor Eric Marrapodi took the same scenario and produced a meaty religion story — in large part because he actually quoted key figures such as the head of the Young Earth creationism group behind the billboard:

Ken Ham, president of Answers in Genesis, said the idea for the advertisements came from an atheist billboard in Times Square at Christmas.

During the holidays, the American Atheists put up a billboard with images of Santa Claus and Jesus that read: “Keep the Merry, dump the myth.”

“The Bible says to contend for the faith,” Ham said. “We thought we should come up with something that would make a statement in the culture, a bold statement, and direct them to our website.

“We’re not against them personally. We’re not trying to attack them personally, but we do believe they’re wrong,” he said.

“From an atheist’s perspective, they believe when they die, they cease to exist. And we say ‘no, you’re not going to cease to exist; you’re going to spend eternity with God or without God. And if you’re an atheist, you’re going to be spending it without God.’ “

And yes, Marrapodi quoted the other side, too:

(more…)

September 20, 2013

Last night the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty honored Eric Marrapodi, manager of CNN’s Belief Blog, with its first Vine & Fig Tree Journalist Award. I had the pleasure of attending and had an absolutely fantastic time and enjoyed meeting or seeing again many folks on the Godbeat.

I hadn’t really thought about what the evening would be like going in so I was pleasantly surprised at what a celebration of religion reporting it was. It’s really unusual to have even a small portion of a day set aside to honor good work or reflect on the importance of religion reporting.

Becket Fund President William P. Mumma got things going by talking about the Becket Fund, which fights for religious liberty on behalf of believers and non-believers alike. I wasn’t recording what he said but I was touched by his discussion of how difficult it is to cover religion, pointing out that believers are particular about their doctrines and that it can be difficult to navigate the conflict between religious adherents. He said he admired those who did it well. He noted that religion and the press are linked by a desire to find truth — a rather important point that I think we neglect. I recently read an essay about how the United States’ emphasis on a free press is actually rooted — from the infamous Zenger trial on — in a particular understanding of the importance of voluntarily seeking religious truth.

Sally Quinn toasted Marrapodi with a nice speech about how every story is about religion and how CNN’s BeliefBlog has done a great job showing that.

But it was Marrapodi’s speech that was the best. He joked about how he grew up freelance Protestant (which, he said, just meant that they went to a lot of different churches). When he was younger, he was utterly convinced that the media were biased against believers. Once he got into actual journalism work, he came to realize it wasn’t bias so much as ignorance. As he matured, he realized he was also ignorant of some things, which motivated him to study religion at Georgetown. He thanked his bosses who let him leave work early to take advantage of Lilly religion grant-funded courses at Georgetown. For three years!

Marrapodi talked about CNN’s Belief Blog and how he started it, giving props to fellow founder Dan Gilgoff. He joked about the site’s “broccoli and ice cream” approach — a balance of light and substantive stories. “You’ve got to keep the lights on folks!” he said. “This is a business!” The site has been wildly successful, with some 90 million hits in its first year. And I think he said the site had some 250 million hits at this point. Marrapodi said that there is a great audience for good, honest reporting on religion — and no religion.

It was all lovely. Marrapodi is a gracious award winner (and a great guy). And the night was a fun celebration of religion reporting. Congratulations to Marrapodi and to all who cover religion news well.

August 22, 2013

Every week, in churches around the world, Christians engage in a peculiar practice in which they confront and correct fellow believers on a range of issues, which are often lumped into a general category called “sins.” The process for this practice was first outlined by a popular religious leader named Jesus and recorded in a book known as the Gospel of Matthew:

If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

In modern times, being treated like an IRS Agent could be considered cruel and unusual punishment, so if the person remains unrepentant the most extreme thing that can happen is their formal removal from church membership. If they do repent, though, then the church is commanded to comfort, forgive, and reaffirm their love for the person (2 Cor. 2:5-8).

The name for this practice is “church discipline.” A journalist – even one on the Godbeat – could go their whole career and not be aware that church discipline happens in the churches they report on. The matters are usually handled quietly and within the confines of the congregation. But a case of church discipline involving a family in Tennessee has received quite a bit of attention, with two stories and an op-ed in the local paper, the Chattanooga Times Free Press, and a feature on CNN’s Belief Blog.

So what sin could make a case of church discipline newsworthy>

Oh, I think you know which one it’s going to be:

(more…)

August 21, 2013

A Religion Dispatches blog post this week noted that CNN Godbeat pro Eric Marrapodi will receive the first annual Vine & Fig Tree Award for excellence in reporting on religious liberty issues.

The post questioned whether Marrapodi (an often-praised journalist here at GetReligion) should accept the award from the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty:

According to Time Warner’s Standards of Business Conduct (CNN is a Time Warner subsidiary), employees are to avoid conflicts of interest. While they do not address the particulars of journalists being honored by an advocacy group, The New York Times’ “Policy on Ethics in Journalism,” for example, offers clear guidelines for such circumstances: “Staff members may not enter local, national or international competitions sponsored by individuals or groups who have a direct interest in the tenor of our coverage.”

Any number of advocacy groups, of course, present journalism awards, from the Amy Foundation to the National Gay & Lesbian Journalists Association.

The question of whether Marrapodi should accept the award sparked some Twitter responses — some humorous, some serious — from fellow religion writers.

Michelle Boorstein of the Washington Post said:

It depends, does he get a huge amount of money? #kidding

That actually is a good question. Based on my reading of the award news release, I don’t see that the honor carries a cash prize.

Bob Smietana of (for a little while longer, anyway) The Tennessean chimed in:

Becket is not primarily an anti gay rights group as that report claims

Former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey of Religion News Service said:

(more…)

March 30, 2013

Screenshot from CNN.com home page

What’s good for the goose is good for, um, Sarah Pulliam Bailey.

Right?

Sarah, former online editor for Christianity Today and now managing editor for Odyssey Networks, spent three years as a GetReligion contributor before leaving us this past October.

To be honest, I still haven’t forgiven Sarah for giving up her high-paying gig as a GetReligionista. How dare she abandon our close-knit team of blogging professionals?

But anyway, this tweet by Sarah caught my attention today:

I tweeted back:

So here we are, with me about to treat Sarah to a big ole helping of the no-holds-barred media criticism that she doled out so often herself. (After typing that, why do I feel a sudden urge to take a break and watch some professional wrestling?)

Actually, in case you couldn’t tell, I’m delaying the inevitable part of the post where I have to say what a great journalist Sarah is and how much I enjoyed her 2,800-word story because, well, you know how much GetReligion readers hate posts that actually praise mainstream media coverage of religion.

Right?

Here’s the top of Sarah’s story:

Wheaton, Illinois (CNN)– Combing through prayer requests in a Wheaton College chapel in 2010, then-junior Benjamin Matthews decided to do something “absurdly unsafe.”

He posted a letter on a public forum bulletin board near students’ post office boxes. In the letter, he came out as gay and encouraged fellow gay Christian students — some of whom had anonymously expressed suicidal plans in a pile of the prayer requests — to contact him if they needed help.

In a student body of 2,400 undergraduates in the suburbs of Chicago, at what is sometimes called the Harvard of evangelical schools, Matthews said that 15 male students came out to him. Other students seemed somewhat ambivalent about his coming out, he said.

No one told him he was wrong or needed to change, Matthews said some students were obviously uncomfortable with someone who would come out as gay and remain a Christian.

“I don’t think most Wheaton students knew what to do because they’ve been given ‘love the sinner, hate the sin’ rhetoric, but they don’t know how that plays out in real life,” said Matthews, who graduated in 2011. “They would mostly just listen, nod and say, ‘Yeah man, that’s hard.’”

Sarah packs the report with diverse voices, relevant context and history, strong survey data and important nuance that recognizes the complex nature of the issues at play. All in all, it’s an extraordinary story, worthy of the lead spot that it occupies on CNN’s home page at the moment I type this.

If I have any criticism, it’s that the story takes too long — in my humble opinion — to quote any Wheaton officials. We’re nearly 900 words into the piece before we get to this:

(more…)

March 4, 2013

This is one of those GetReligion follow-up posts where we basically say, “See, was that so hard?”

Back in December, I raised a few questions about media coverage of “The Bible,” the epic miniseries that debuted Sunday night on the History Channel.

In reading an in-depth feature by CNN Belief Blog co-editor Eric Marrapodi over the weekend, I was pleased to see my questions answered. Obviously, Marripodi pays close attention to the excellent insight at GetReligion. Or maybe he’s just good at his job …

Kidding aside, let’s start at the top of the CNN piece:

(CNN) – Mark Burnett is the king of reality television. His shows and spinoffs command hours of prime-time television real estate. The seal of his production company One Three Media appears at the end of “Survivor,” “The Voice,” “The Apprentice,” “Shark Tank,” “The Job” and “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?”

He will tell you each show was No. 1 in the time slot. He will tell you he will take on all comers in his bare-knuckle, ratings-driven world and beat them. He will tell you on any given day he has 150 video-editing systems churning through edits on his dossier, which spans the three major broadcast networks.

But if you suggest he may not have the chops to take on a massive scripted dramatic presentation of the Bible as a 10-hour miniseries, his eyes will tell you he wants to throttle you.

My bad.

Burnett and wife, Roma Downey, have been barnstorming the country like roving preachers on horseback trying to evangelize the West. Their gospel is spreading the news of “The Bible” – their ambitious project that aims to tell the story of the Bible in 10 installments. It begins its weeklong premiere on the History Channel Sunday night.

My previous post complained about the lack of specific details concerning Burnett’s faith background and the motivation for the project.

Enter Marrapodi:

Both Downey and Burnett were raised Catholic, Burnett in England and Downey in Ireland. They still regularly attend Mass in Los Angeles. Growing up, both watched the classic Biblical films that the Hollywood of yesteryear churned out, like “The Ten Commandments” and “The Greatest Story Ever Told.”

Wait, there’s more:

(more…)


Browse Our Archives