Religion News Association estimates that up to 500 journalists in North America regularly spend part of their day reporting on religion. Many of those cover religion full-time, particularly at newspapers, but a good number do not. Few news outlets have more than one reporter on the religion beat full time, and even fewer have editors or producers who specialize in religion.
If you want to specialize in religion, you can apply for a full-time position, or begin including religion in your stories and use your track record to lobby for a full-time position. Some reporters write for features editors, while others work for local news desks. A few cover religion nationally for large-circulation newspapers, news magazines, websites or television.
Internationally, religion reporters are a rarity. Most people writing about religion outside the U.S. are columnists or bloggers.
Outside the U.S., the greatest number of religion writers work in one small place: The Vatican. The Catholic Church is the world’s largest single faith group and, as such, it garners sizable attention from media. Yet even that can wax and wane. Media outlets expanded their Vatican coverage as Pope Francis’ popularity grew beyond that of his more reserved predecessor, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI.
There is no one “right” way to cover religion. Reporters and news organizations tailor the beat to the demands and interests of their readers, viewers and listeners; the area they cover; and their staffing. Most extol the value of a mix of religion stories — hard news, trends, feature stories, profiles, perspective or analysis pieces, and daily coverage of events.
What can you do to improve your ability to cover religion? Most religion reporters recommend a degree in journalism. A good number acquire an undergraduate or graduate degree in religion, either through a religious school or a secular university program. Many learn on the job through reporting and reading extensively on their own. More and more, reporters take advantage of the expanding opportunities to attend conferences, such as Religion News Association’s annual conference, as well as workshops and fellowships that focus on religion.
- 53% of Americans surveyed in 2014 by Pew Research Center said religion was “very important” in their daily life.
- 23% said religion was “somewhat important,” 11% said it was “not at all important,” and 11% said they did not know.