Logical move for a scribe who gets religion

Regular GetReligion readers will know that, in the past few months we have been tempted to fly a white flag of surrender as a tragic number of talented religion-beat reporters and columnists have either moved on to other subjects or hit the exit doors of their newsrooms. It's almost enough to make you click here. Now, it must be stressed that reporter David D. Kirkpatrick has not, technically speaking, been working on the religion beat at the New York Times. Instead, he was the newspaper's specialist in covering "conservative groups" or movements, loosely defined. However, that job description has, for obvious reasons, led him into faith-based terrain more than a few times. Click here to get a sense of that, based on GetReligion posts about his work (almost all of them offering the strongest of praise).

Thus, I was rather ticked off, at first, when I saw this headline from The Politico: "NYT's Kirkpatrick heads to Cairo."

Oh no, I thought. Here we go again. Then I read the actual note about this move:

New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick is leaving the Washington bureau to become the paper's Cairo correspondent, according to a staff memo obtained by POLITICO.

Kirkpatrick, who once had the Times conservative beat, has covered everything from lobbying to politics to media. Here's the memo from foreign editor Susan Chira, Joe Kahn and Ian Fisher.

"David brings to the job an abiding interest in religion, one of the great forces continuing to transform the Mideast, and a demonstrated ability to produce surprising, deeply reported stories on a wide range of subjects -- from the conservative moment to lobbying and money politics to the media and book industries. He is an original thinker and an incisive one, traits that will serve him well deciphering an often opaque region. ... He will study Arabic before assuming his post early next year.

OK, this makes sense.

You see, many of the world's most important stories that involve religion do not take place on the "religion beat," strictly defined. Religion is the kind of subjects that soaks into all kinds of issues, a fact obvious to anyone who has paid close attention, year after year, to the annual Associated Press list of the world's top 10 news stories. Rare is the year in which religion is not a crucial element in five or more of these stories.

That was the whole point of the book "Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion" (Oxford Press, 2008). The thesis: It's impossible for journalists to understand how things work in the real world if they do not take religion seriously.

As shown in his past work, Kirkpatrick gets that. It also seems that the editors who made this assignment, or approved it, understand that taking religion seriously is certainly a necessity in the Middle East. That's tragically obvious, isn't it?

So, let's all wish Kirkpatrick good luck in his Arabic studies. We look forward to continuing to see his byline on stories that get religion.

Photo: From a Pew Forum event on evangelicals and the public square.

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