Steven Waldman

Religion News Service touts its new 19-member advisory board -- but what does it mean?

Religion News Service touts its new 19-member advisory board -- but what does it mean?


We’ve been tracking the ups and downs of life at Religion News Service ever since editor Jerome Socolovsky got unceremoniously dumped in April. That led, of course to the departure of two veteran staff members and then a popular columnist on the evangelical left who felt they could no longer work there plus the unexpected dismissal of two other staff.

After much withering critique from fellow religion writers, the powers-that-be at RNS have been shoring up support in the past three months, putting out a job announcement for a new editor-in-chief, asking for more freelancers, the hiring of a Sikh columnist and now an announcement of a new advisory board loaded with names of revered professionals and people with links to major journalistic institutions.

So I’ll run the 19 names of the new board members, from the press release, with my comments:

Dilshad D. Ali
Richmond, VA
Dilshad D. Ali is the Editor-in-Chief at Altmuslim and was previously Managing Editor for the Muslim portal at Patheos.com. She has spent the past two decades covering and coordinating coverage of American Muslim communities for a variety of media outlets, including Beliefnet and Islam Online, and was a 2015 White House Champion of Change honoree for her autism reporting/writing and advocacy work.

Ruby Bailey
Columbia, MO
Ruby Bailey is the executive editor of the Columbia Missourian and holds the Missouri School of Journalism’s Missouri Community Newspaper Management chair, working with community newspapers across the state to help improve their coverage and operations. She previously served as news editor at the Sacramento Bee and assistant metro editor at the Detroit Free Press.

Vikas Bajaj
New York, NY
Vikas Bajaj has been a member of the editorial board of The New York Times since 2012. Earlier, he was a correspondent in Mumbai and covered the financial crisis based in New York. He previously worked as a business, metro and religion reporter at The Dallas Morning News.

This is a really large board. How are these 19 people going to communicate with each other? It is also appropriate to consider issues of zip code.

Also, do they have any power whatsoever? 

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New York Times seeks another Godbeat scribe: How would Yogi Berra parse the job listing?

New York Times seeks another Godbeat scribe: How would Yogi Berra parse the job listing?

I have some good news and some bad news.

The good news is that one of the buzz topics in religion-news circles this week was that job posting at The New York Times, the one with this headline: "Change Is Coming to the New York Times National Desk."

It appears the Times is thinking about doing something new on the religion beat, 12-plus years after the 2005 report on its newsroom culture and weaknesses, "Preserving Our Readers Trust." That was the amazing document that urged editors, when hiring staff, to seek more intellectual and cultural diversity -- to help the Gray Lady do a better job covering religion, non-New York America and other common subjects. Yes, I've written about that report a whole lot on this site.

Oh, and Times editor Dean Baquet's recent journalism confession on NPR -- that the "New York-based and Washington-based ... media powerhouses don't quite get religion" -- may have had something to do with this, as well.

The bad news? There is one chunk of language in this job posting that, for veteran Godbeat observers, could cause a kind of bad acid flashback to another religion-beat job notice in another newsroom, at another time. Hold that thought. 

So here is the Times job notice for a "Faith and values correspondent."

We’re seeking a skilled reporter and writer to tap into the beliefs and moral questions that guide Americans and affect how they live their lives, whom they vote for and how they reflect on the state of the country. You won’t need to be an expert in religious doctrine. The position is based outside of New York, and you will work alongside Laurie Goodstein and a team of other journalists who are digging deep into the nation.

Did you see the key sentence? Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher sure did:

Two cheers for them! I’m glad they’re adding this position, and I’m really glad they’re not basing this reporter in New York (I hope they don’t base him or her in any coastal city, or in Chicago, but rather someplace like Dallas or Atlanta). Why not three cheers? That line about how “you won’t need to be an expert in religious doctrine” bothers me. ... 

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Pope Francis gently tiptoes into the dangerous territory of those digital trolls

Pope Francis gently tiptoes into the dangerous territory of those digital trolls

Long ago, during one of the Key West, Fla., "Faith Angle" conferences run by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life (click here for amazing transcripts), journalist and digital maven Steven Waldman made an interesting comment about online trolls. The goal of those gatherings was to inspire dialogues between scholars and mainstream reporters about religion and the news. Needless to say, changes caused by the Internet were a big part of that.

Waldman is best known for his work as senior advisor to the chair of the Federal Communications Commission and, before that, as the co-founder and CEO of Beliefnet.com. Especially in its early years, Beliefnet was precisely the kind of place where journalists were, for better or for worse, banging their heads on the emerging realities of Internet life.

Everyone learned pretty fast that things could get really hairy (troll image, of course) when you threw open the comments pages on sites focusing on religion, media, politics, social issues, etc. Clearly there had to be some rules. One of the rules Waldman described to me that night in Key West came up during this week's "Crossroads" podcast chat with host Todd Wilken. Click here to check that out.

Anyway, Waldman said that one of the key rules Beliefnet staffers used when encountering fierce opinions in the comments pages went something like this. You could leave a comment that said something like: "According to the beliefs of my faith, I think that what you are saying is wrong and, thus, you could end up going to hell." That was strong stuff, but acceptable. Otherwise, the site's editors would have been saying that believers in traditional forms of some major religions -- Islam and Christianity, for starters -- would be banned from talking about core elements of their faith.

But here is what believers were NOT allowed to say in the comments pages:

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