A few weeks ago, The Miami Herald's executive editor Anders Gyllenhaal had high praise for one of his many reporters. He noted that--like many religion reporters--as many people were on vacation during Holy Week and Passover, Jaweed Kaleem was at his busiest. Those holiday stories can be quite tricky, he noted, "offering a fresh view on holidays that are by nature unchanging, built around traditions that date back thousands of years."
The religion reporter's role is to keep up with the news at the same time as he watches the hidden currents that tend to carry the most interesting stories.
That means that along with tracking stories like the Father Cutie tale, he spends hours talking with leaders learning where congregations are going. The results are such pieces as Catholic churches' approach to taking in displaced members, and a revealing story on the increasing numbers of young men going into the priesthood.
Just 25, the youngest of three siblings who grew up in a Muslim household in suburban Washington, D.C., JD found his way to journalism through a Knight-Ridder scholarship back in college.
He is a perfect fit for his topic: thoughtful, studious, a gifted writer, a reporter comfortable in both traditional studies and digital ones. His desk is stacked with religion books that remain one of the flourishing edges of publishing. He has constructed a net of searches to scan for developments in religion, spirituality and institutions.
That's some lofty praise from on high, so we wanted to find out more about Kaleem, relatively new to his beat at the Herald.
Kaleem arrived at the Herald in 2007 after graduating with a literature/publishing degree from Emerson College in Boston. He was raised in Northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. and did reporting internships at the San Jose Mercury News, Detroit Free Press, Lexington (Ky.) Herald-Leader and the McClatchy (then Knight-Ridder) Washington bureau.
He spent his first few years at the Herald covering general assignment in features, writing on health, entertainment, breaking news, some religion. He also also worked on videos for MiamiHerald.com and radio pieces for WLRN MiamiHerald News.
In 2008, he won a Lilly Scholarship from the Religion Newswriters Association for stories on Islam in South Florida, using the scholarship to take a class at the University of Miami on Islam and gender. In early 2009, he became the Herald's official religion reporter. We asked Kaleem to answer GetReligion's 5Q+1.
(1) Where do you get your news about religion?
I get out there in the community. I attend services at houses of worship, I go to see religion-related panels and I try to speak at religion-related events about my job as religion reporter and about the Miami Herald in general. In May, I'll speak to a religious studies professors from across Florida at a media workshop at Florida International University, I'll work with religious studies graduate students on a separate media workshop and I'll also be part of a panel organized by the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Greater Miami Jewish Federation.
I'm always available via phone and email to respond to inquiries, critiques and story pitches. I regularly meet with lay people, clergy and leaders of religion-related organizations for coffee, lunch or tours of the Miami Herald to keep the lines of communication open and flowing on news.
I read the major national newspapers every day and listen to NPR. I read religion blogs and web sites such as Whispers in the Loggia, the Washington Post's "On Faith," Faith & Reason at USA Today, and, of course, GetReligion. I get about a dozen Google alerts every day on local and national religion news topics and also follow religion news from reporters around the country on Twitter. I am subscribed to a many e-mail newsletters and email lists (Christianity Today, Religion Press Release Services, Anti-Defamation League, CAIR, Hindu American Foundation, Greater Miami Jewish Federation, Florida International University Center for the Study of Spirituality; most major houses of worship and denominations in South Florida maintain e-mail lists that I'm on, too). I get about a dozen religion-related publications delivered to the newsroom each week, from the Florida Catholic to the Florida Baptist Witness to Al-Hikmat, a local Muslim newsletter.
I am a member of the Religion Newswriters Association and follow ReligionLink, a website and newsletter they run keeping reporters up-to-date on religion news and providing story ideas, context and sources.
(2) What is the most important religion story right now that you think the mainstream media just do not get? I haven't singled out the mainstream media for "not getting" a particular story, but I'll put forth two things people should pay attention to. One is the growing Muslim population in this country and abroad and the incredible diversity that exists among Muslims, from their beliefs to practices and politics. Muslims in America are going through a period of growth, struggle and change, especially with second-generation and third-generation Muslims coming to age and making their marks. The other is the increase in the "nones" - people who don't identify in particular with any religion (that does not mean they are not spiritual and it does not mean they identify as atheist) and the decrease in denominational affiliation among young people.
(3) What is the story that you will be watching carefully in the next year or two? I'll be watching the changes in the Archdiocese of Miami. It's one of the most diverse in the country, it's growing and in June it's new leader, Archbishop Thomas Wenski, will be installed. Wenski is a well-known figure in South Florida, where he was ordained and where he made a name for himself advocating on behalf of immigrants and ministering to Haitians and Hispanics (he speaks Creole and Spanish). Change at the top is always something to watch and I'll keep an eye on how it affects the church as a whole and everyday Catholics.
(4) Why is it important for journalists to understand the role of religion in our world today? Religion affects everything. Religion is not just about a person going into a building to pray once a week. It's a current that influences politics, the work place, school - everything - even for those who are not religious. It has always been a strong force in life and will continue to be. Newspapers need to dedicate themselves to religion coverage and I'm glad the Miami Herald does.
(5) What is the funniest, most ironic twist that you have seen in a religion news story lately? I can't think of anything at the moment.
BONUS: Do you have anything else you want to tell us about religion coverage in the mainstream news media? Not at this time.