Major Godbeat news! Lilly grant to fund 13 writers, editors at RNS, AP, The Conversation

Did you feel the earth move under your feet?

That was a pretty big announcement today from Religion News Service, The Associated Press and The Conversation, right?

In case you somehow missed the 9.5-magnitude quake that shook the Godbeat world, the creation of the Global Religion Journalism Initiative — long a topic of speculation — was confirmed in a news release that noted:

The initiative is funded by an 18-month, $4.9 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to RNF (Religion News Foundation). It is one of the largest investments in religion journalism in decades.

What does the grant mean in terms of actual journalists landing gigs?

Check this out:

Through the initiative, AP will add eight religion journalists; RNS will add three religion journalists; and The Conversation will add two religion editors. Additional business staff will also be hired across the organizations.

The reaction on Twitter was swift and enthusiastic, and rightly so:

Yes, it’s an amazing, fantastic and (insert your preferred adjective) development for producers and consumers of religion news. As a former Associated Press newsman and a current RNS freelance correspondent, I can’t wait to witness the collaboration between those two esteemed news organizations. I’m eager to see whom the AP and RNS hire to fill those roles — here’s hoping that the grant will allow both to tap into the best and brightest talent in the field.

Meanwhile, not only will the initiative increase the number of religion journalists and amount of religion news produced, but — as I understand it — it’ll also dramatically expand the exposure of RNS stories. RNS stories will now go to every newspaper that subscribes to the AP wire. That is — to call upon another superlative — HUGE.

Of course, there are questions, too.

Some of those discussed by your friendly GetReligionistas in an email thread today:

* What happens in 18 months? Will the 13 reporters and editors hired still have jobs in a year and a half? If there’s a possibility they won’t, will that affect who goes for the gigs?

* Where will the positions be based? Will they all be in places such as Washington, D.C., and New York City? Will they all be in the U.S.? Will they be strategically placed across the U.S. and even around the world?

* Who will run the overall operation? Will there be a single person in charge of the initiative? Where will that person be based? To whom will that person report?

* What will be the breakdown between news and opinions? Will the initiative primarily support news reporting? Or will analysis and opinion writing be a major part of the emphasis?

The news release does say:

Each organization retains editorial control of its respective content, which will be clearly labeled and distributed by AP. RNS opinion content will be available to AP member news organizations and customers, though it will not appear on the AP wire.

Your turn, GetReligion reader: What is your reaction to this big news? What questions do you have? What journalists would you recommend that AP and RNS consider hiring? (I mention them and not The Conversation because I’m thinking more in terms of news coverage, and The Conversation has a different focus.)

By all means, comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion.

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