Everyone needs heroes. Back in 1980 or so, when I was trying to break into religion reporting, I decided that one of my journalistic heroes was going to be Russell Chandler of the Los Angeles Times. If you know anything about the history of religion news in American, you know that this was a very predictable choice. Chandler's work on the beat was winning every award known to humanity -- often two or three times. There has never been a stronger advocate of basic, old-school, hard news journalism on this beat than Russ and, to push toward the future, he has helped create a national award for religion writing at the college-newspaper level.
Chandler earned a B.S. in Business Administration from UCLA, a master's degree from the University of Southern California's Graduate School of Religion and an M.Div. from Princeton Theological Seminary. He is an ordained minister in the mainline Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), but has always been known for his fairness and rigor on both sides of various religious divides. With retirement on the horizon, he launched into writing books that focused on trends in American religion. To read a copy of a speech by Chandler, click here.
All of this is to say that Chandler is the first person to take part in our ongoing and still evolving 5Q+1 feature. As you can tell, he answered the questions via email. I've added some links. I am sorry about his kind first reference, but I have not censored him:
(1) Where do you get your news about religion?
Tmatt weekly columns; ReligionLink, a service of the Religion Newswriters Association; Christianity Today magazine; daily papers (local and The Wall Street Journal); Leadership Network postings; The Gathering newsletter (online); Commonweal magazine (some); TV specials (some), and AOL news items (some).
(2) What is the most important religion story right now that you think the mainstream media just don't get?
Evangelical Christians (of whatever denominational affiliation, if any) are not necessarily right-wing fundamentalists; militant extremists; or pre-trib, anti-environmentalists. The usual conservative, right-wing "Christian" spokespersons often quoted by elite and/or un-savvy reporters don't necessarily speak for the majority of any group, only for themselves. Same for the "super-libs."
(3) What is the story that you'll be watching carefully in the next year or two?
How the ongoing religion/culture/power wars between Islamic groups in the Middle East play out.
(4) Why is it important for journalists to understand the role of religion in our world today?
What people believe has profound influence on how they behave.
(5) What's the funniest, most ironic twist that you've seen in a religion news story lately?
School Renames Easter Bunny 'Peter Rabbit'
(April 7) -- A Rhode Island public school has decided the Easter bunny is too Christian and renamed him Peter Rabbit, and a state legislator is so hopping mad he has introduced an "Easter Bunny Act" to save the bunny's good name.
Chandler comment: PC gone to seed!
BONUS: Do you have anything else you want to tell us about religion coverage in the mainstream news media?
Why limit it to mainstream news media? We should be alert to how religion, ethics and values are covered by all media -- the good, bad, right, left, ignorant and ugly.
Religion watchers' eyes should rove to and fro throughout the entire spiritual landscape.