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Celebrating post No. 6,000 (with Bill Keller)

So here we are at GetReligion post No. 6,000. I might also note that this landmark comes only a few weeks before our seventh birthday, which falls on Feb. 1. Much has changed in the world of religion-news coverage since the Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc (the title is a metaphor) and I opened the cyber-doors at this site. Blogging has gone from being a novelty to, like it or not, becoming a journalistic fact of life. Meanwhile, the state of the economy -- national and global -- has added to the woes of tree-pulp newspapers and, thus, had a negative impact on religion coverage (since religion remains a subject that gives far too many editors sweaty palms). We have seen some positive developments in religion news coverage in cyberspace, such as the groundbreaking multi-platform CNN Belief Blog. Please list some of your other favorites in our comments pages, but focus on religion news, not on opinion.

In the end, I think it is safe to say that the "blind spot" on religion news remains all too common in the mainstream press.

Thus, your GetReligionistas want to say -- once again -- that we think it is impossible for journalists to understand how our world really works without taking religion seriously.

We believe that journalists need to focus on facts and clearly attributed information, rather than leaning on vague and often meaningless religious labels. We still believe that religion news is worthy of editorial respect by journalists on a wide variety of beats in today's newsrooms (that includes television). We believe that the religion beat itself is best covered by skilled journalists who have prepared themselves to handle this stunningly powerful and complicated beat. It helps if they know some history -- start here, please -- and know enough about the Associated Press Stylebook to grasp the fact that the pope is not a "fundamentalist," that "Episcopalian" is a noun, not an adjective, etc., etc., etc. World without end. Amen.

So how should we mark this moment?

Let's pause, once again, and consider a few remarks from Bill Keller, the editor of The New York Times (last time I checked). These are drawn from the final section (The News/Opinion Divide) of his 2005 essay entitled "Assuring Our Credibility (.pdf)," which was written in response to a credibility-committee document called "Preserving Our Readers' Trust (.pdf)." It might help to click here for another post related to these documents.

The following has been edited a bit in order to focus on themes relevant to this weblog. Please read the whole document, if you have any doubts that issues linked to religion news are this prominent in this famous text.

Even sophisticated readers of The New York Times sometimes find it hard to distinguish between news coverage and commentary in our pages. While The Times is and always will be a forum for opinion and argument as well as a source of impartial news coverage, we should make the distinction as clear as possible. ...

We must, as the committee says, be more alert to nuances of language when writing about contentious issues. The committee picked a few examples -- the way the word "moderate" conveys a judgment about which views are sensible and which are extreme, the misuse of "religious fundamentalists" to describe religious conservatives -- but there are many pitfalls involved when we try to convey complex ideas as simply as possible, on deadline. ...

"Our paper's commitment to a diversity of gender, race and ethnicity is nonnegotiable," the committee writes. "We should pursue the same diversity in other dimensions of life, and for the same reason -- to ensure a broad range of viewpoints is at the table when we decide what to write about and how to present it. The executive editor should assign this goal to everyone who has a hand in recruiting."

I embrace this recommendation wholeheartedly. The point is not that we should begin recruiting reporters and editors for their political outlook; it is part of our professional code that we keep our political views out of the paper. The point is that we want a range of experience. ... First and foremost we hire the best reporters, editors, photographers and artists in the business. But we will make an extra effort to focus on diversity of religious upbringing and military experience, of region and class.

Of course, diversifying the range of viewpoints reported -- and understood -- in our pages is not mainly a matter of hiring a more diverse work force. It calls for a concerted effort by all of us to stretch beyond our predominantly urban, culturally liberal orientation, to cover the full range of our national conversation. ...

I also endorse the committee's recommendation that we cover religion more extensively, but I think the key to that is not to add more reporters who will write about religion as a beat. I think the key is to be more alert to the role religion plays in many stories we cover, stories of politics and policy, national and local, stories of social trends and family life, stories of how we live.

This is important to us not because we want to appease believers or pander to conservatives, but because good journalism entails understanding more than just the neighborhood you grew up in.

And all the readers said: "Amen."

Also, to all the journalists who cover news related to religion -- that would be sports, arts, politics, science, education, etc. -- we add another appropriate benediction: "Courage."

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