Rediscovering Religion

How does faith fill and frame our lives? How do journalists connect the abstract with the concrete? What’s happened in religion coverage over the past 20 years? The Poynter Report addresses those questions and offers tools and resources to turn squishy story ideas into solid storytelling.

The Faith Connection
By Diane Connolly

The news events of the last 18 months have shown us that religion reporting is important, and it’s becoming even more so.

While religion was once the domain of a lone newsroom reporter whose stories were destined for the “church page,” it is now a potent force in stories about terrorism, schools, sexual abuse, civil rights, entertainment, social services, and more.

All reporters should take notice. Why? Because if they ignore the way faith shapes people’s actions, they’re missing a critical part of the story. Religion is one of the most powerful and unpredictable forces in the world. It brings out the very best and the very worst in people. And it binds and divides people in the deepest ways imaginable.

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Religion Coverage: Past as Prologue?
By Terry Mattingly

Lou Grant had a problem.

Actually, the city editor of the classic TV comedy had two problems.

First of all, the fictional Los Angeles Tribune had lost its religion editor and no self-respecting journalist wanted the job. Second, Grant needed to ditch a lazy, often drunk, no-good reporter named Mal Cavanaugh.

Finally, Grant saw the light. He told Cavanaugh he was the new religion editor.

“That stinks! Before you stick me with a lousy job like that, I’d quit,” said the reporter, before storming out of the room.

Grant’s staff beamed. The religion beat was still vacant, but who cared?

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Covering Muslims in America
By Joyce Davis

Many Muslims complain that Islam is one of the least understood and most maligned religions in the United States.

Many of them also blame the news media in the United States for propagating stereotypes and myths that reinforce the Western-Islamic divide. In fact, at a recent conference in Chicago that attracted thousands of American Muslims, many accused the American media of outright bias and hostility toward Islam.

“Why is it that the American media continue to refer to Islamic terrorists but don’t call the IRA Christian terrorists?” asked Mahdi Bray, executive director of the American Muslim Society’s Freedom Foundation, a civil rights organization. “And why don’t they refer to the settlers who attack Arabs as Jewish terrorists?”

Muslims also complain that many American journalists who are writing about them have little understanding about their religion or their culture. Some even believe there is a conspiracy to defile Islam’s reputation in the United States.

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Confessions (and Counsel) of a Religion Writer

By Deborah Caldwell

When I announced to my sources in Princeton, N.J., that I was leaving the beat to cover religion for The Times in Trenton, this was the standard reaction: “Um, I’m sorry. Were you demoted?”

It was 1989. Covering religion was not remotely hip. But I’d actually asked for the religion beat. And it was a promotion.

Nevertheless, I looked like a big, fat loser to all the people whose zoning decisions, elections, sit-ins, and scandals I’d covered. In the newsroom, my colleagues were mystified. For several months, one of the editors frequently pretended to sprinkle holy water on me. Some of the reporters would swing by my desk, lean over, and ask, “Are you, um, religious?”

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