Cathleen Falsani

RNA conference marks 70 years amidst the shifting sands (Knives out!) of journalism

RNA conference marks 70 years amidst the shifting sands (Knives out!) of journalism

Thirty years ago, religion reporters from around the country met in Las Vegas, concurrent with the annual Southern Baptist Convention meeting, to have their annual conference. We followed preacher Arthur Blessitt dragging his cross down the Strip and cruised the casinos, exploring a bizarre world where there’s always an entrance, rarely an exit.

I was in my early 30s then; much thinner and part of a vanguard of young religion reporters making their mark. I was finishing up my third year at the Houston Chronicle and that year I came in second for the Templeton Award, at that time the top award for religion reporting in the country.

The Templeton no longer exists and the Religion News Association turned 70 this year, returning to Las Vegas this past week for their annual confab. A whole new generation of reporters has swept in and the RNA itself is quite different than the all-secular-journalists group it once was. Public relations folks and people from religious media are now members, giving the RNA a whole different feel.

In many ways, it was old home week for those of us long on the beat and there were plenty of old friends and the same inside jokes. Prizes were awarded for great writing, including a third place for our own Bobby Ross in the Excellence for Magazine Reporting Award.

But in other ways, it was a far edgier gathering judging from the unmistakeable social-justice vibe and some of the vicious tweets posted by those attending or listening in. To cut to the chase: The knives came out.

The vast divides among Americans were mirrored at our conference; not that anyone seemed all that upset about it. Only Paul Raushenbush, the founder and former executive religion editor for the Huffington Post, understood what’s at stake here. He told one panel, “We are increasing our diversity but not our pluralism. … We are at Civil War levels of distrust.” Something needs to change “or we’re not going to make it.” (Before I go on, know that tapes of all the sessions will be appearing on the RNA site. The quotes I’m running in this piece are as close as I could get while typing, so they are approximate).

Anyway, those divides appeared in living color on Saturday, when the Trinity Broadcasting Network sponsored a lunch on “The Future of Faith in the Media.”

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Media critics wonder about Josh Harris, the no-dating avatar, who's recanting his stance

Media critics wonder about Josh Harris, the no-dating avatar, who's recanting his stance

I had only been living inside the Beltway for about a year when “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” a book by Josh Harris, a 23-year-old pastoral intern at Covenant Life, a local megachurch in the Maryland suburbs.

I had just turned 40, so knew enough about the dating world to know that much of what he was advising –- such as not kissing your mate until the day you get married –- was pure bosh and unworkable in any healthy Christian or secular relationship. But –- darn –- if that book didn’t become a bestseller pretty quickly, sparking all sorts of angst among Christian 20-somethings who wanted to meet their intended the right way.

Harris’ book sold more than a million copies and he followed up with a few other books; none as successful as the first, which hit the zeitgeist just right. He was a quick learner and he hopscotched over several men older than he to become senior pastor in 2004. The guy definitely knew how to work the system, plus he was a protégé of one of the founding pastors, C. J. Mahaney.

Years later, he resigned from the megachurch and moved to Vancouver, B.C. to attend Regent College. Covenant Life underwent wrenching changes, as described in this Washingtonian investigation.

His family liked Canada so much, they’ve applied to become permanent residents. Harris, who seems to have left the professional religious world for good in that he’s started a marketing and strategy business, is also doing a mea culpa about his once-best-selling book.

The story has been been trickling out for some time now and I’m surprised more religion reporters haven’t jumped on it. He got mentioned yesterday in a Religion News Service column by Cathleen Falsani about the purity movement.

Among (its detractors) is Joshua Harris, author of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye: A New Attitude Toward Romance and Relationships,” the 1997 book that became the de facto bible of the purity movement. Last month, Harris apologized for the harm the book had caused and asked his publisher to cease printing it.

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John Mahoney was 'moral core' on 'Frasier;' maybe his Catholic faith was relevant in obits?

John Mahoney was 'moral core' on 'Frasier;' maybe his Catholic faith was relevant in obits?

If you ever watched the classic comedy series "Frasier," it was clear that actor John Mahoney and his Martin Crane character played a crucial role in its broad appeal.

Basically, he was a battered recliner in a world of pretentious fashion, a can of beer at a wine-and-cheese party, a lifer cop surrounded by chatty urban psychiatrists. In other words, he was the down-home voice of ordinary America. He was an every-Dad.

A tribute to Mahoney at The New York Times -- not the newspaper of record's actual obituary, following his death on Sunday -- put it this way:

As Martin Crane, the lovably grumpy, blue-collar father to the snobby Frasier and Niles, he hit many notes during the series’ run from 1993 to 2004 -- sometimes all in the same episode. He played sarcastic, cutting his sons’ pretensions down to size. He did reserved, as a counterpoint to their voluble self-analysis. He even delivered warmth, when reminding Frasier and Niles of the importance of unfussy stuff like family and beer.
As Joe Keenan, a “Frasier” executive producer and writer, put it, Mr. Mahoney’s character was the “moral center” of the show.

This moral-core theme continued in the Times obit.

While Frasier and Niles Crane, both psychiatrists, worried about wine vintages, cappuccino bars and opening nights, Marty, a retired police officer, cherished his dog, his duct-tape-accented recliner chair and the solid values of his generation. Once, when his younger son declared a certain restaurant’s cuisine “to die for,” Marty corrected him. “Niles, your country and your family are to die for,” he said. “Food is to eat.”

Now, in light of all that, does it matter that Mahoney was on the record -- in an interview with a prominent journalist, no less -- saying that his Catholic faith was at the center of his life and work?

Apparently not, at least not in The New York Times and at The Los Angeles Times.

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Godbeat news: A funding boost at USC's Knight Chair and a new religion writer posting in Louisville

Godbeat news: A funding boost at USC's Knight Chair and a new religion writer posting in Louisville

Mostly, GetReligion focuses on critiquing media coverage of religion.

Occasionally, we update readers on important developments on the Godbeat. The following news — which we are a bit behind in sharing — falls into that category.

Via a release from the University of Southern California:

Comprehensive reporting efforts on the changing landscape of American religious practice and theological thought will see significant expansion in 2015 as a result of $1.25 million in grants awarded to the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism by Lilly Endowment Inc. and the Henry Luce Foundation.
Diane Winston, holder of the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at USC Annenberg, will direct the effort.
The grants will fund a new editor and freelance-reporting budget for Religion Dispatches, the award-winning online journalism magazine based at USC Annenberg. The magazine is one element in the Knight Chair’s ongoing effort to advance specialized reporting.
Lilly Endowment awarded $1 million for a project titled “Remapping American Christianities” and the Henry Luce Foundation awarded $250,000 to pursue “Innovating Coverage of Theology.”
In addition to funding freelance reporting and a new editor, the grants will allow Winston to convene thought leaders who will help chart new directions to cover territory overlooked by other websites and print publications, she said.
The grants also will support greater collaboration between editors of Religion Dispatches and the Knight Chair with students at USC Annenberg.
“The next generation of reporters should understand the importance of religion in the daily lives of Americans and learn how ordinary people look for and find meaning, identity and purpose,” Winston said.

To Winston's comment, we offer a hearty "Amen!"

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