Rachel Zoll

A day after Lilly Endowment news, Associated Press posts job opening ads for seven religion journalists

A day after Lilly Endowment news, Associated Press posts job opening ads for seven religion journalists

We shared the big news Wednesday about the 18-month, $4.9 million Lilly Endowment Inc. grant that will fund 13 religion journalists at The Associated Press, Religion News Service and The Conversation.

We had a few questions, too, about the specifics of the Global Religion Journalism Initiative, which RNS CEO and Publisher Tom Gallagher calls a “transformative and historic grant by Lilly.”

A few of the answers — such as the specific descriptions of the positions and where they will be based — began emerging today.

AP posted job opening ads on its careers website for seven Global Religion positions, including:

New York-based Global Editor: “an experienced journalist and news leader to lead its new Global Religion team and direct the cooperative’s coverage of religion around the world in all media formats, with a focus on explanatory and accountability reporting.”

New York- or Washington-based news editor: “this senior producer will help lead a team of journalists who cover religion around the world and will have direct responsibility for crafting video news report on religion that is rich in exclusive spot news, compelling live video and distinct, deeply reported enterprise.”

New York- or Washington-based newsperson: “a talented multiformat journalist to join its new Global Religion team and report on the intersection of politics and religion as a newsperson.”

New York-based newsperson: “a talented multiformat journalist to join its new Global Religion team and report on youth and faith as a newsperson.”

New York-based newsperson: “a talented text and digital presentation editor to join its new Global Religion team as a newsperson. … (T)his editor will direct and edit breaking news coverage, working closely with news managers and journalists worldwide to ensure AP content about religion is accurate, fast, distinctive and packaged creatively for audiences around the world.”

Cairo-based newsperson: “a talented multiformat journalist to join its new Global Religion team and report on Islamic faith and culture as a newsperson.”

Washington-based videojournalist: “a videojournalist with a history of successful television and online video storytelling to join its new Global Religion team as a videojournalist in Washington.”

As you may recall, Wednesday’s news release noted:

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Friday Five: Rachel Zoll, Heidi Cruz, 'The Exorcist,' Tennessee politicos, Christ at the Checkpoint

Friday Five: Rachel Zoll, Heidi Cruz, 'The Exorcist,' Tennessee politicos, Christ at the Checkpoint

Last month, we congratulated Rachel Zoll, national religion writer for The Associated Press, when she received a special recognition award from the Religion News Association.

A tweet embedded with that post hinted at another big honor for Zoll, and now, there is official news of that prize.

AP announced this week that Zoll is one of the winners of the 2018 Oliver S. Gramling Awards, the global news service’s highest internal honor.

From the AP press release:

The pre-eminent voice on religion for more than a decade, Zoll has led AP’s reporting on the subject, cultivating relationships with sources across all faiths, writing remarkable stories and mentoring fellow journalists to better understand the importance of covering religion. Her reporting spans from a series on Christian missionaries in Africa to a 2016 election-year piece on how conservative Christians felt under siege to a story about two churches in Georgia -- one black, one white -- trying to bridge the divide. Zoll’s sourcing led to AP being first to confirm on-the-record the death of Rev. Billy Graham.

Zoll, who has terminal brain cancer, is on medical leave. Big congrats to her on the Gramling Award!

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: The Atlantic’s profile of Heidi Cruz, wife of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, is interesting and revealing, with various religion-related details. It’s worth a read.

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Friday Five: Top religion journalists, Christian rock, rainbow-cross flag burning, Sarah Sanders doctrine

Friday Five: Top religion journalists, Christian rock, rainbow-cross flag burning, Sarah Sanders doctrine

We’ve mentioned a few of the winners in the Religion News Association’s annual Awards for Religion Reporting Excellence — including Ann Rodgers, Kimberly Winston and Rachel Zoll.

But be sure to check out the entire #RNA2018 contest list for more familiar, deserving names. Some names I recognized: Peter Smith, Peggy Fletcher Stack, Tim Funk, Sarah Pulliam Bailey, Emma Green, Elizabeth Dias, Bob Smietana, Jeremy Weber and Ted Olsen.

Congratulations to all of those honored for their work on the Godbeat!

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

(1) Religion story of the week: Seriously, a story on Christian rock music is the story of the week!?

Hey, when GetReligion editor Terry Mattingly refers to a New Yorker piece on the Christian rock wars as “stunningly good,” pay attention. And as his post urged, read it all.

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Religion News Association honors AP religion writer Rachel Zoll, one of the best on the beat

Religion News Association honors AP religion writer Rachel Zoll, one of the best on the beat

Rachel Zoll, national religion writer for The Associated Press, is impossible not to like.

That’s true even for her competitors, said Jeff Diamant, a former religion writer for The Star-Ledger in New Jersey.

“Her expertise on the beat is really something to behold, and when you get to know her, you see that she has one of the great personalities in the profession or really anywhere,” Diamant, contest chairman for the Religion News Association, said at the association’s annual awards banquet Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio.

“This makes it really hard to get mad at Rachel Zoll,” he added, “even when she beats you on a story in your hometown or when you're a source and she writes something you don't like because the story was fair.”

The RNA gave Zoll, who has terminal brain cancer, a Special Recognition Award, which AP deputy managing editor Sarah Nordgren accepted on her behalf.

Diamant noted that colleagues praised Zoll as a reporter, a writer, a colleague and a person — “the total package.” See a video of the presentation and Nordgren’s acceptance remarks at about the one-hour, nine-minute mark of this video.

It’s not the only honor she has received recently:

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How major papers played Billy Graham's death on front pages: These bylines will be familiar to many

How major papers played Billy Graham's death on front pages: These bylines will be familiar to many

For those in Godbeat circles, many of the bylines splashed across today's front pages are extremely familiar.

I'm talking about names such as William Lobdell and Russell Chandler of the Los Angeles Times, Gayle White of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today.

All of those veteran religion writers — just to name a few — wrote their respective papers' major obituaries marking Wednesday's death of the Rev. Billy Graham at age 99.

But here's what might surprise many ordinary readers: None of them has worked for those papers in years. 

"I must have written and updated a whole suite of advance obit stories on Graham at least three times over 15 years," Grossman said. "I last polished up the package in 2013, in the week before I left the paper on a buyout. However, I stayed in touch with USAT editors (and) emailed them where fixes/changes might be needed over the years."

Welcome to the concept of the "prepared obit."

Here's what that means: News organizations put together obits in advance for certain prominent people, such as presidents, movie stars and — in the case of Graham — world-famous preachers. That way, they're prepared (at least somewhat) if the person dies 10 minutes before deadline.

A New York Times obituary writer explained it this way in a 2014 piece:

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Snowflake alert: New survey research on Americans’ religious identities provokes tweet mini-storm

Snowflake alert: New survey research on Americans’ religious identities provokes tweet mini-storm

The Religion Guy has often lauded the Pew Research Center for its valuable survey research on the state of religion in the United States and worldwide, for instance its new (July 26) report on attitudes of U.S. Muslims, a matter of keen interest for journalists.

But a younger think tank also based in Washington, D.C., the Public Religion Research Institute (PRRI) is also an important source.

It grabbed headlines this week with its report “America’s Changing Religious Identity.” PRRI proclaims its 2016 telephone poll in English and Spanish of 101,438 respondents  is the largest survey of U.S. religious identity ever. The margin of error is minuscule.

There's lots of news here, some of it old news. But it's still important material.

Key findings underscore the already well-documented rise of religiously unaffiliated “nones” alongside a decline in the preponderance of white Christians. (Protestants as a whole had ceased to be a majority of Americans back around the time of the Barack Obama-John McCain campaign.)

Though evangelical Protestantism long expanded or held steady as white “mainline” Protestant churches declined, evangelicals are beginning a delayed but similar slide, from 23 percent of Americans a decade ago to 17 percent currently. Meanwhile, African-American Protestantism is  largely stable.

A breaking news article on this by the carefully non-ideological Rachel Zoll (disclosure: The Religion Guy’s former beat colleague at The AP) provoked a tweet storm, featuring some snowflakes. One outraged tweeter charged that Zoll was “attempting to pass that off as journalism” and said her copy felt like “the type of garbage that fuels racism. Why do we need to know how many Christians are white?”

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Son of 'Da Vinci Code'? 'Symbols' in Vatican-linked political blast cry out for translation

Son of 'Da Vinci Code'? 'Symbols' in Vatican-linked political blast cry out for translation

Actor Tom Hanks brought to life (on screen) the fictional Harvard University "symbologist" Robert Langdon, the hero of Dan Brown's fanciful novels "The Da Vinci Code" and "Angels and Demons."

If there actually were a "symbologist" floating around, it might be useful to page them -- or Tom Hanks -- to help interpret a Vatican-linked bit of commentary about, of all things, American politics, the late Rev. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and President Donald Trump's chief White House strategist Steve Bannon.

Put all THAT in your word processor, Dan Brown! Can't you almost see the trailer for that movie, releasing perhaps in time for Campaign 2020? 

Instead, we are, fortunately. in the capable hands of Rachel Zoll, religion writer for the Associated Press, and Rod "Friend of this Blog" Dreher. Each approaches the subject in a professional manner. Dreher, of course, has his opinions, which we'll get to in a moment.

Let's start with the AP, via Maine's Portland Press Herald. Take a gander at this longish excerpt, published under the headline "Pope confidant sees unholy U.S. alliance," to see what's causing all the fuss:

A close confidant of Pope Francis, writing Thursday in a Vatican-approved magazine, condemned the way some American evangelicals and their Roman Catholic supporters mix religion and politics, saying their worldview promotes division and hatred.
The Rev. Antonio Spadaro, editor of the influential Jesuit journal La Civilta Cattolica, said a shared desire for political influence between “evangelical fundamentalists” and some Catholics has inspired an “ecumenism of conflict” that demonizes opponents and promotes a “theocratic type of state.” ...

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What was hottest story in Phoenix? Southern Baptist confusion or final vote slamming alt-right? (updated)

What was hottest story in Phoenix? Southern Baptist confusion or final vote slamming alt-right? (updated)

So in the end, what was the big news story at the Southern Baptist Convention in Phoenix?

Was it the resolution slamming the alt-right that "messengers" from churches in America's largest Protestant flock passed or the strange timing of the action to pass it?

Was it the painful chaos after SBC leaders decided not to send the original resolution to the floor for debate, a decision raising myriad issues about Southern Baptist tensions linked to race and politics in the age of Donald Trump? Or was it the successful protests from many younger pastors -- white and black -- demanding a chance to speak to America about this issue?

The answer, of course, is all of the above.

As always, journalists faced the challenge of crunching that complex reality into as few words as possible, in a form that average readers could understand. Clearly, it helped to have a veteran religion reporter on hand to do this work (or someone who spoke fluent Southern Baptist).

Here is the good news: The Associated Press produced a punchy, highly accurate report from Phoenix, which means that your average newspaper reader had a chance to get the basic facts. Note the sequence of news elements at the top of this report (produced by an AP reporter on the scene, and veteran religion-beat pro Rachel Zoll in New York):

PHOENIX (AP) -- Southern Baptists on Wednesday formally condemned the political movement known as the "alt-right," in a national meeting that was thrown into turmoil after leaders initially refused to take up the issue.
The denomination's annual convention in Phoenix voted to "decry every form of racism, including alt-right white supremacy as antithetical to the Gospel of Jesus Christ" and "denounce and repudiate white supremacy and every form of racial and ethnic hatred as a scheme of the devil."

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Concerning Trump and anti-Semitism: Scribes offer blitz of views on whether he is or is not

Concerning Trump and anti-Semitism: Scribes offer blitz of views on whether he is or is not

The daily maelstrom that is the Donald Trump administration has left journalists across the religious and political spectrum gasping for air. There is so much real news -- don't get me started on the "fake news" dystopia -- that even a 24-7 news cycle is unable to keep pace.

So being only human, I've had to prioritize which issues I pay close attention to in an effort to keep my head from exploding. Not surprisingly, my priority issues are the ones I think impact me most directly.

These would include the future of the environment and climate change policy, White House attacks on the integrity of the press, health care, religious liberty for all, the economy and class divisions and the increase of anti-Semitic acts -- including a continuing rash of bomb threats -- and the president's reaction to them.

Meanwhile, the headlines just keep on coming. 

Sure enough, just prior to this post going live, the president commented on the bomb threats and other anti-Semitism incidents that have manifested of late. Click here for the latest.

The debates will continue. To say the least, the elite media, the American Jewish press and Israeli media have been all over the anti-Semitism issue.

I've read and viewed numerous reports that I thought handled it quite adequately and fairly. As you might expect, it's an explosive topic for any Jew who publicly identifies as such, as I do, and has family history connected directly to anti-Semitism at its very worst -- the Holocaust and Muslim terrorism against Israeli and non-Israeli Jews.

As a former wire service reporter (United Press International in New York and San Francisco during the 1960s), I retain a fondness for a well-crafted round-up on a complicated subject -- such as the charges from some Jews (and others) that President Trump harbors anti-Semitic inclinations. Of course, others say he at least looks the other way when such inclinations appear to surface in his associates and supporters.

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