September 15, 2006

Whether you’re an aspiring religion reporter or a veteran of the beat, the Religion Newswriters Association (RNA) has a number of resources to
make your job easier.

An especially helpful link is RNA’s “Frequently
Asked Questions.”
Answered in article form by religion reporters across the country, these questions address everything
from what religion reporters do to covering a religion you don’t
believe in.

Here are a few things that caught my eye:

From spot news to weekly columns, religion reporters can do “most
anything,” according to Richard N. Ostling, an Associated Press
religion reporter. Ostling offers specific suggestions on how to get started on the beat, including balancing hard news and features, using
team coverage for national and global crises, and employing a variety
of design formats.

Kim Sue Lia Perkes, who worked as religion editor for The Arizona
Republic
and religion writer for the Austin (Texas) American-Statesman, touches
on the challenge of reporting religion accurately and ethically. She
warns reporters to write with caution and care, “asking each step of
the way whether your word selection, explanations and interpretations
fairly represent both sides of the story.”

For example, words like “pro-life” and “right-to-choose,” she says, have an inherent bias:

It’s one thing if pro-life is part of an organization’s name, but to
label abortion opponents as pro-lifers in a story is to imply the
opposition is anti-life. On the flip side, to fall into the use of
right-to-choose basically says you, the writer, have decided the
legalization of abortion is, in fact, a right. Simply use anti-abortion
and pro-abortion as descriptions that avoid subtle bias.

If you’re serious about pursuing religion reporting, David Briggs of The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer recommends training through a bachelor’s in journalism
and a master’s in religion studies. He received a bachelor’s from
University of Missouri’s journalism program and a master’s from Yale
Divinity School
.

And Gayle White of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution ultimately reminds
us why covering religion is important: It motivates, causes wars,
influences politics, inspires art. “Not to cover religion,” White says, “is to ignore a significant part of life.”

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Leann is a former copy editor at The Dallas Morning News who now works as a writing consultant at Collin College in Plano, Texas. She…
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