Ostling

Getting started

What do religion writers do? How do I get started on the beat? By Richard N. Ostling The Associated Press* How do I get started on the beat? People looking for a way to apply their personal interest or academic study in religion often think news writing would be a good outlet. Think again. A […]

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White

Secular media and religion

Why should the secular media cover religion? By Gayle White The Atlanta Journal-Constitution* Why should the secular media cover politics? Or science? Or sports? Because they are part of human life and contribute to the order of society. Often, religion provides the “why” in the equation of a story. Faith motivates people, groups and, at […]

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Gibson

Religion in the newsroom

Do editors care about religion coverage? By David Gibson The Star-Ledger* Okay, your editor has just created a religion beat and tabbed you to fill it. Going on the assumption that you lobbied for this job, you are jazzed, and you ought to be. So the question: Does your editor care about religion coverage? The […]

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Gibson

Controversial stories

Do editors only want controversial religion stories? By David Gibson The Star-Ledger* Most editors are somewhat schizoid when it comes to religion coverage. They want Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah stories one day. Then the next day they want the embezzling priest nabbed in a sex scandal. Why? Because “crime” stories have a built-in immunity […]

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Lieblich

Revealing your religion

When do you reveal your religion to sources? By Julia Lieblich Chicago Tribune* Several years ago, I spent time with a Jehovah’s Witness family in Tennessee, hanging out with a mother and her children during home schooling, church services and door-to-door proselytizing. I didn’t tell the family about my faith, and I was relieved the […]

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Austin

Church & state

What are the laws regarding how churches and religious institutions comply with government guidelines? By Charles Austin The Record* Because the phrase, “freedom of religion,” is a beloved mantra of American democracy, the relationship between religion and civil authority is one of the most complicated and misunderstood aspects of modern life. In fact, religion in […]

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Banks

Finding experts

How do I find an expert on a particular religion or theological issue? By Adelle Banks Religion News Service Face it now: You will never know everything about religion. The key as a reporter is to learn whom you should know who could ably explain various aspects of the faith groups you cover. At a […]

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Lattin

Loaded language

When is it appropriate to use the words “fundamentalist” and “cult?” What are other terms with which I must be careful? By Don Lattin The San Francisco Chronicle* CULT is a word that should be used with care. Some of its dictionary definitions are value neutral, with such meanings as “formal religious veneration,” such as […]

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Sheler

Personal biases

How can I interview and write about religions I don’t believe in? By Jeffery Sheler U.S. News & World Report* This, I think, raises a basic question of professional ethics every reporter faces regardless of beat. As most of us learned in J-school, standard journalism ethics require that, in reporting and writing the news (as […]

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Rifkin

Pulpit politics

What may houses of worship do to advance political causes or candidates? By Ira Rifkin Freelance Writer The Church at Pierce Creek was a non-denominational, conservative Protestant congregation outside Binghamton, N.Y., until the Internal Revenue Service revoked its tax-exempt status for sponsoring a 1992 newspaper ad attacking then-presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s stands on abortion and […]

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dolbee

Highly charged services

What are some helpful hints on covering highly charged religious services, especially ones that seem to defy rational explanation? By Sandi Dolbee The San Diego Union-Tribune* You walk into the room and the first things you hear are the sounds. People mumbling and wailing, speaking in languages you simply don’t recognize. Others are falling down, […]

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Perkes

Balance & fairness

Do religion reporters face issues of balance and fairness that are different from other beats? By Kim Sue Lia Perkes Freelance Writer For religion reporters, the issue of balance is often more complicated than other beats because stories that deal with theology are about beliefs and not proven facts. So how does one discern what […]

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Rifkin

Cultural differences

How do religion writers cope with organizational, stylistic and cultural differences in the people they write about? By Ira Rifkin Freelance Writer My first experience with Messianic Jews occurred soon after I started on the religion beat. What I lacked in sensitivity at the time I made up for with arrogance. Messianic Judaism offended my […]

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Perkes

Ethnic minorities

What special issues and concerns do religion writers keep in mind when writing about the religions of ethnic minorities? By Kim Sue Lia Perkes Freelance Writer A quick review of the most recent U.S. Census shows how much the demographics of the United States have changed. Whereas white Americans were once the nation’s majority, the […]

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Hogan-Albach

Different truths

It seems religion writers deal more in theory than fact. How does a good reporter write an accurate story when people’s understanding of truth differs? By Susan Hogan/Albach The Dallas Morning News* Never take at face value that anyone has the truth about Scripture. Most religious traditions disagree over how to interpret sacred texts. Just […]

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Weiss

Demographics

What role should religious demographics play and what are the best sources for such demographics? By Jeffrey Weiss The Dallas Morning News To answer this question, you need to start by considering two others: What do my readers want to know? What do they need to know? What do they want to know? Most people […]

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Goodstein

Resources

Which resources are essential for a religion writer to own? By Laurie Goodstein The New York Times Speak softly and carry a long letter opener. You’re going to need it. Being on the religion beat means being snowed under by mail, magazines, public relations paraphernalia and books. The challenge is to make sure you’re reading […]

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Scheinin

Trends and ethics stories

Many religion reporters also write about spiritual movements and ethical concerns. What sorts of stories like that should a religion writer do? By Richard Scheinin San Jose Mercury News To write stories about spiritual movements, look for the telltale “signs” of religion-the quest for transcendence we hear so much about these days, the attempt to […]

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Smith

Working the beat

Do religion writers always write stories for religious holidays? New clergy? Anniversaries? By Melanie Smith The Decatur Daily The routine events of religious life are a challenge to the religion reporter. Is there anything newsworthy about another Easter or Rosh Hashanah or Ramadan? Do readers want to know how their neighbors observe Lent or Divali? […]

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s

Promoting your work

How can a religion writer get more religion news stories into the paper or on air? By Michael Paulson The Boston Globe* In my experience, editors are always hungry for good stories about any subject, and religion is no exception. To get more religion stories into the paper, apply the same rigorous reporting and writing […]

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More “Frequently Asked Questions” on the Religion Beat

Does RNA provide internships? No. However we encourage you to call the media outlet you are interested in and ask about its internship programs. Many organizations offer internships in various beats to help the educational experience of future journalists. You may want to inquire with the Religion Editor or reporters to ask about the process […]

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FAQ authors & editors

Charles Austin is a former religion reporter for The Record, a daily newspaper in Hackensack, N.J., and has been a religion reporter for The New York Times, an editor with Hearst News Service, and director of news for the Lutheran Church in America. Adelle M. Banks is the senior correspondent at Religion News Service, a […]

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Sources cited

ASSOCIATIONS/ORGANIZATIONS/INSTITUTIONS American Academy of Religion  The American Center for Law and Justice  Americans United for Separation of Church and State  CAIR: Council on American Islamic Relations, American Muslim News Briefs e-mail list The Center for Millennial Studies at Boston University Hartford Seminary The Jewish Telegraphic Agency The Knight New Media Center Poynter Institute Profnet Religion […]

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