'On Faith' offers a shot of news (with analysis)

So here is the current business-crisis equation for journalism. Blogs equal opinion.

News stories equal, well, news stories.

To have blogs, all you need are bloggers. To have news stories, you need news reporters. Got that?

If you have been following GetReligion posts in recent years about the trends in religion news coverage, you already know that some news organizations are producing fewer hard-news reports and more quick-and-easy blog posts. As the Divine Ms. M.Z. Hemingway noted the other day, it is much cheaper to replace actual reporting with waves of freelance commentary pieces. This has been true on many beats in many major newspapers, including religion.

However, I am -- in the classroom mainly -- a big advocate of journalists using weblogs as 24/7 formats for actual news reports, especially updates on earlier stories. The goal is to produce material that resembles the rolling deadline, "writethru" work produced by wire services for many decades. Weblogs can also combine some commentary with hard news, video reporters, verbatim interviews and other basic forms of news. Again, consider the CNN Belief Blog.

Now, when I think of a religion news weblog that has camped in the world of opinion and feelings, I think of the "On Faith" operation at the Washington Post. Click here for a GetReligion piece ("On Fog -- A Meditation") in which I sort of let my freak flag fly on that subject.

The irony, of course, is that the Post has long had a circle of reporters who are interested in religion news, both as a beat and as a subject that bleeds into other forms of news. I'm thinking about Hamil Harris in the metro staff and even Style star Hank Stuever (the very talented television-beat reporter), whose "Tinsel" book about the (sad) realities of Christmas in Bible-Belt suburbia drew justifiable praise a year or so ago.

For a long, long time, week after week, the Post would offer plenty of stories with religion-news content or plenty of "ghosts" and the last place you would see chunks of these stories, or even a menu of URLs to make them easy to find, would be in the "On Faith" section. The Post also has run plenty of Religion News Service material from time to time -- another source of material for much-needed news content in the "On Faith" section. Hint. Hint.

Now there has been an interesting development at the Post. I am referring to the return of the weblog entitled "Under God," which is a news analysis blog within the wider, more opinionated "On Faith" framework. The bottom line: this is "Under God" 2.0, a major reboot.

The key is that the people who are writing for this weblog are reporters. I mean, check out the list of contributors -- click here. Note that Godbeat veteran and former "On Faith" editor David Waters is still involved, even though he has returned to his own personal holy land -- Memphis.

And, yes, veteran followers of national level work on the Godbeat will blink twice when they see the name at the top of the list:

On Faith, ... announced Julia Duin will anchor the daily discussion of religion and politics in its blog, "Under God." Duin's frequent posts on religion in the news joins contributions from Washington Post religion reporters Michelle Boorstein and William Wan and "On Faith" editor Elizabeth Tenety, among others.

Prior to joining On Faith, Duin was a religion editor of The Washington Times and before that was city editor of The Daily Times in Farmington, NM and a religion writer for The Houston Chronicle. She earned her master's degree in religion at Trinity School for Ministry, an Episcopal seminary in Ambridge, Pa., and her bachelor's in English at Lewis & Clark College in Portland, Ore. Her most recent books are "Days of Fire and Glory: The Rise and Fall of a Charismatic Community" (2009) and "Quitting Church: Why the Faithful are Fleeing and What to Do About It" (2008).

The key is that Duin and the others are going to be adding new layers of reporting to the stories on which they blog. Thus, this weblog is offering more than mere aggregation or first-person opinion. That's good news.

For example, check out Duin's update on the controversy down in Alabama about Gov. Robert Bentley's frank theological comments -- in a church setting -- about who is and who is not his Christian brother or sister. Coverage of this story has already drawn quite a bit of commentary here at GetReligion (click here, here and here).

I especially liked the fact that Duin sought out criticism of the governor's remarks from his theological allies, since the easy-to-predict commentary from his enemies dominated the opening waves of coverage. Here's a sample:

I was curious as to what the new governor's fellow Baptists were thinking and saying about all this. Answer: Most had run for cover. I scanned Baptist Press. Nothing. Ditto for a number of evangelical Protestant blogs, where I could find very little comment except from this American Family Association video where the host stated, "What the governor said is not foreign for us at all and for any Bible-believing Christian."

"Fifteen years ago," one of the panelists on the video said, "no one would have batted an eye at this."

Well, they do now. Al Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, released a statement ... saying the governor's comments "were completely consistent with mainstream evangelical piety and conviction" in that those who believe in Jesus are "brothers." As for those who don't, there's always the hope they will come to believe in Christ.

"Gov. Bentley may have surprised some observers with his words, but not anyone familiar with the common language of evangelical Christians," Mohler said. "With the best of intentions, Gov. Bentley may have confused his roles of governor and Sunday School teacher in those comments. Nevertheless, a closer look at his words will reveal that he meant to build bridges, not to burn them."

You can also listen to Mohler's thoughts on this podcast, where he explains what the governor meant. "The governor was right...there was no way to back off of that," he said.

I called Richard Land, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission for the Southern Baptist Convention, for his thoughts.

"Theologically, he's correct," Land said. "Every Christian looks on all people as God's children but they're not brothers and sisters until they're Christian. But Jesus said to love others as yourself." About the governor, "It shows a startling naivete," Land added. "If I were governor of a state, I'd never voluntarily say that."

"Startling naivete," huh. Much food for thought.

Please keep your eye on this weblog. The concept of "Under God" 2.0 has real promise and even a shot of intellectual and cultural diversity. Read the contributor bios carefully. Bravo.

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