University of Southern California

Religion writers in Los Angeles: Do religion (and religion news) need to be 'reimagined?'

Religion writers in Los Angeles: Do religion (and religion news) need to be 'reimagined?'

When you live in a near-rainforest climate as I do, the chance to spend a few January days in the sunshine is irresistible. That (plus the fact I got some scholarship money) is why I flew from Seattle to Los Angeles for a few days to attend “Reimagining Religion 2018: New Stories, New Communities,” a conference co-sponsored by the Religion News Association and the Religion Communicators Council.

I was one of 225 people (a mix of students, journalists, ministers, writers, activists and educators) who spent a day in the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism building. We listened to a parade of folks tell us how or why so many religious groups are reinventing themselves or “reimagining” their faith in different ways. There was quite a bit devoted to how the “nones” -- people who are spiritual but practice no organized religion -- see the divine.

One problem covering the latter, said Jason DeRose, the West Coast bureau chief for NPR News, is that reporters don’t know how to ask questions to “nones” and the “nones” have not figured out how to articulate the answers.

Also: Are the “nones” a movement or lack of a movement? And is a lack of doctrine actually a kind of doctrine?

So there was a lot of thinking through of the what-will-the-future-of-faith-look-like question at this conference. Which made for some really intriguing panels plus some discussion on the present state of the religion beat. 

I arrived at the meeting 15 minutes late, thanks to the really nasty LA traffic on Interstate-5. (Must say, if you’re not a person who prays before coming to LA, you will become one.

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Some thoughtful guidance for reporters interpreting era of the religious 'nones'

Some thoughtful guidance for reporters interpreting era of the religious 'nones'

How many barrels of printer’s ink (it's a metaphor these days) have been expended on the rise of the “nones,” Americans who tell pollsters they have no religious identification?

The following material may not be worth a story in itself, but provides perspective as reporters continue to interpret this important phenomenon. What are the patterns that suggest where this story came from and, thus, where it might be going next?

Pew Research surveys show “nones” have increased from 16 percent of American adults in 2007 to 23 percent in 2014, and are fully a third of young adults. (Young adults have always drifted away from religion, so the significant point is indications they’re not returning as they mature.)

Writing in the conversation.com, University of Southern California sociologist Richard Flory advises us that, first, “nones” are a mishmash of very different types and, second, most aren’t really anti-religion and often reflect certain religious traits. Those who call themselves flat-out atheists who reject gods and the supernatural, or devout agnostics, are very small segments.

From ongoing research by USC’s Center for Religion and Civic Culture, Flory sees such variants as the familiar “spiritual but not religious,” marginally interested non-attenders, occasional attenders, those generally open to the supernatural but uninvolved, and those vaguely spiritual but not devoted to any specific content.

We get much the same from Philip Jenkins of Baylor’s Institute for Studies of Religion, in a patheos.com blog written by historians.

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You have $1.25 million: Who gets that check if the goal is basic, balanced religion-news reporting?

You have $1.25 million: Who gets that check if the goal is basic, balanced religion-news reporting?

Here at the Washington Journalism Center, the full-semester program I lead at the DC center for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, we have a number of sayings that are repeated over and over that they turn into journalism mantras. I imagine that will be true when we reboot the program next year in New York City at The King's College.

One of these sayings goes like this: Everybody in this city knows more stories than you do. I also like to stress this: The most important skill in journalism is the ability to accurately state the views of someone with whom you disagree. And then there's one that is discussed here frequently, in this Keller-istic, Twitter-driven age in which the digital line between newswriting and editorializing is often quite faded and hard to spot: Opinion is cheap; information is expensive.

Then there is another WJC mantra that moves us closer to some news sure to intrigue those interesting in religion-beat coverage in the mainstream press. This one isn't very snappy, but it's a concept that is crucial for young journalists to grasp. Here it is: In the future there will be no one dominant business model (think newspaper chains built on advertising, mixed with the sale of dead-tree pulp) for mainstream journalism, but multiple approaches to funding the creation of information and news.

I warned you that it wasn't short and snappy.

Obviously, one of the crucial emerging models right now is the growing world of non-profit and foundation-driven journalism.

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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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