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Eight GetReligion comments after eight years

Eight years ago, the Rt. Rev. Douglas LeBlanc clicked a button with his mouse and GetReligion went live. I wrote the first post on Feb. 1, 2004, but the site actually kicked into gear the next day. That opening post talked about religion "ghosts" in many mainstream news stories. If you have never read that post, then by all means click here. That top of that what-we-are-doing-here manifesto looks like this:

Day after day, millions of Americans who frequent pews see ghosts when they pick up their newspapers or turn on television news.

They read stories that are important to their lives, yet they seem to catch fleeting glimpses of other characters or other plots between the lines. There seem to be other ideas or influences hiding there.

One minute they are there. The next they are gone. There are ghosts in there, hiding in the ink and the pixels. Something is missing in the basic facts or perhaps most of the key facts are there, yet some are twisted. Perhaps there are sins of omission, rather than commission.

A lot of these ghosts are, well, holy ghosts. They are facts and stories and faces linked to the power of religious faith. Now you see them. Now you don’t. In fact, a whole lot of the time you don’t get to see them. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t there.

Of course, we do more than stalk ghosts.

We also try to spotlight errors in coverage and we strive to praise solid reporting on the beat. We came up with the "Got news?" concept when we kept seeing incredibly interesting stories in blogs and specialty websites that never seem to make it into the mainstream. The 5Q+1 series lets readers hear, every now and then, from interesting professionals who work on the religion-news beat or whose journalism work on other topics often veers into religion news (we'd love to do more of the latter, frankly).

One of the quotes I keep in mind, when looking for material for the site, is that oft-quoted (certainly around here) line from Bill Moyers, the one about the fact that far too many mainstream journalists are "tone deaf" when it comes to hearing the music of faith in public issues. They, yes, just don't "get religion." They suffer from a lack of information, or interest, or imagination.

So, this is GetReligion's eighth birthday. What should we do in order to celebrate, in the midst of another crazy working week?

OK, here are eight observations from moi about what I have learned in eight years of work here. There are many more that could be made. I am trying to stick to basics. I do hope the other GetReligionistas chime in.

* GetReligion is not a blog about religion news. It's a blog about how the mainstream press struggles to cover religion news. We have roughly 89,000 comments on this site and we would have at least twice that if we allowed readers to shout at each other about the content of religious ISSUES in the news, instead of attempting to steer comments toward discussions about media coverage of those issues.

* Lots of people hate religion and lots of religious people hate journalism (especially when journalists print information that they dislike). GetReligion has tried to stay focused on basic, accurate, balanced mainstream coverage of religion. Yes, there are skilled, experienced professionals out there who sincerely attempt to do that job and they do it well. Yes, there are plenty of examples of train wrecks in mainstream religion coverage. They are too common. But they are not the whole story.

* What we are dealing with is a Blind Spot with two sides. In other words, the two halves of the First Amendment do not get along very well. Plenty of journalists do not seem to respect the powerful and essential role that religious faith plays in this land. Plenty of religious people do not seem to respect the powerful and essential role that a free press plays in this land.

* The bottom line: The state of American journalism will be improved by people who love journalism, not by those who hate it. Get with the program.

* No one knows what the word "evangelical" means, including evangelical leaders. It's like defining fog. At the same time, this is a word that describes a movement of religious believers, not a movement of registered GOP voters. It's time to stop treating it like a political term. Meanwhile, the word "fundamentalist" has a meaning and it can be found in an accurate reference in the Associated Press Stylebook. Many journalists still need to look that up.

* When in doubt, reporters should accurately quote people -- rather than continuing to slap vague and often inaccurate labels on their foreheads.

* When specific flocks of religious believers keep saying, year after year, that journalists are printing inaccurate information about what they believe, journalists should (a) take that seriously and then (b) tell these believers to come down to the local newsroom with stacks of on-the-record reference materials that explain the basics. Then everyone exchanges business cards and promises to return phone calls. It's journalism, folks.

* At some point in the future, there's going to be a story that involves Episcopalians, same-sex marriage, Mormons, post-Vatican II liturgical rites and vampires and the server that hosts this blog is going to blow up.

And, one more time, did anyone out there really listen to what Bill Keller said the other day in Austin? I am still depressed.

Onward into year No. 9.

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