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Your video think piece: 'Getting religion' is crucial when covering complex, even violent news stories

Your video think piece: 'Getting religion' is crucial when covering complex, even violent news stories

I am in the middle or writing a pair of "On Religion" columns about the recent "Getting Religion" conference in Westminster, England, led by the Open University and the Lapido Media network that promotes religious literacy in the press and in diplomatic circles. Click here to read the first of those Universal syndicate columns, if you wish:

However, the main thing that I wanted to share with GetReligion readers -- especially working journalists -- is this video that was shown as part of the conference. No, I wasn't there (my final semester here at the Washington Journalism Center was starting right about that time), but I certainly wish that I could have gone.

What was the general thrust of this event? Here are some crucial background quotes, the first drawn from published remarks (.pdf here) by Richard Porritt, a former top editor at The London Evening Standard and the British Press Association wire service.

Let this soak in, as a statement about UK media (and elsewhere):

A journalist who is not confident about the facts is dangerous. And with a specialism like religion mis-reporting can lead to widespread misunderstanding. For too long religious affairs -- as editors deem fit to call the specialism -- has been a job palmed off on reporters. It is a role that has traditionally been dodged by the cream of the newsroom for specialisms thought to be more glamorous or hard-hitting. But there is no more vital role in a modern society cluttered with half-truths and myth surrounding religion.

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Welcome to 2015: New year brings happy new developments to the Godbeat

Welcome to 2015: New year brings happy new developments to the Godbeat

Already, Terry Mattingly shared the news that former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey — now a national correspondent with Religion News Service — will join The Washington Post early next month.

At the Post, Bailey — along with award-winning religion writer Michelle Boorstein — will anchor a new religion and spirituality blog, 

For those who pay attention to the Godbeat — and many GetReligion readers certainly fall into that category — the good news does not end there.

Welcome to 2015, religion news watchers!

Here are two more exciting new developments:

1. CNN's Belief Blog — previously at http://religion.blogs.cnn.com — has moved to a "spiffy new home" at http://www.cnn.com/specials/belief, report Daniel Burke and Eric Marrapodi.

2. RNS has debuted "The Slingshot," a daily snapshot of headlines described as "like the Roundup, only better." 

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End-of-2014 odds and ends: Including John L. Allen, Jr., on Pope Francis and the press

End-of-2014 odds and ends: Including John L. Allen, Jr., on Pope Francis and the press

Fire and brimstone? Wait for it.

I have a few odds and ends for you, on this strange Friday in between New Year's and the weekend that comes before, for many people, the Monday (Boo!) that marks the start of the new working year. Is there anyone out there near a computer?

As always, there have been many end of the religion-news year pieces to read. I thought two deserved a bit of attention here because they offered some interesting comments -- implied or direct -- on mainstream press coverage of this topic.

For example, the omnipresent John L. Allen, Jr., turned his usual "Vatican stories that were overlooked" theme on its head this year, for the simple reason that very few things get overlooked in the age of Pope Francis (other than his statements against, oh, abortion and in favor of religious freedom). More on that Crux list in a moment.

The simple fact of the matter, Allen noted, is that this pope's relationship to the press has become a force field that changes almost everything, including the public perception of this statements. Consider, for example, that "fake sugar coating" speech about Christmas and materialism, his annual address to the Curia and his Urbi et Orbi message on Christmas Day. Allen summarizes what happened in this manner:

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Some GetReligion Christmas this and a little bit of non-Christmas that (including a think piece for Hanukkah next year)

Some GetReligion Christmas this and a little bit of non-Christmas that (including a think piece for Hanukkah next year)

Yes, this is a Christmas post and it will serve several functions, including at least one note for journalists to stash away in their calendars for next year's holiday-news season.

Item I: Christmas is one of those cultural steamrollers that demands treatment on A1 even in the most secular of news publications. Most of the time, one wakes up and finds a piece of stand-alone art that screams "Christmas," but with no valid news story attached to it. Christmas is, in other words, colorful and omnipresent but not all that real. So did anyone wake up this morning and find a particularly excellent (or terrible) in the local paper? Please share the URL in the comments pages.

Item II: Your GetReligionistas will, like most folks, be all over the place in the next week or two.

I, for example, will be headed to the mountains of East Tennessee -- Oak Ridge to be specific (Cumberland mountains photo above) -- to spend a few days with family in the house that will become our home this coming summer. That's when I will join The King's College in New York City as Senior Fellow for Media and Religion (teaching in block classes several times a year), while spending a lot more time working on GetReligion.

Other members of the team will be traveling as well.

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Take the Pope Francis and the cardinals journalism test: Which story is news? Which is analysis?

Take the Pope Francis and the cardinals journalism test: Which story is news? Which is analysis?

It is getting harder and harder to explain to many GetReligion readers why we see a bright red line between basic hard-news journalism and advocacy/analysis journalism.

In the latter, select journalists are allowed to make obvious leaps of logic, to use "editorial" language that passes judgment, to lean in one editorial direction (as opposed to being fair to voices on both sides) and to use fewer attributions telling readers about the sources that shaped the reporting. In other words, analysis writing offers a blend of information and opinion. Reporters who are given the liberty to do this tend to be experienced, trusted specialty reporters.

In the past, editors tended to be rather careful and let readers know what they were reading -- flying an analysis flag or logo right out in the open so that readers were not confused. (For example, I am a columnist with the Universal syndicate. By definition I do analysis writing every week.)

The problem is that the line between hard news and advocacy journalism is increasingly vanishing and editors have stopped using clear labels. Your GetReligionistas are constantly sent URLs for stories that are clearly works of advocacy journalism, in which no attempts have been made to quote articulate voices on both sides of hot-button issues, yet they are not clearly labeled as analysis. We are left asking, "What is this?"

Want to see what I mean?

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Memory eternal: Arne Fjeldstad and his efforts to help (global) media get religion

Memory eternal: Arne Fjeldstad and his efforts to help (global) media get religion

There is really no way to tell the story of GetReligion.org without talking about the veteran journalist and pastor who for years led The Media Project -- the Rev. Dr. Arne Fjeldstad of Norway. It is very unusual to find a Lutheran clergyman who also had a 30-year career as an editor in the mainstream press, including senior positions in the leading Norwegian daily newspaper Aftenposten. For his doctoral dissertation, quite early in the Internet age, he wrote about the potential growth of online churches.

Although his byline rarely appeared here at GetReligion, that was because he felt his management skills were best used behind the scenes. Trust me when I say that his gifts were many and they have been essential. Click here to read his global perspective on the 10th anniversary of this weblog.

Arne died very suddenly Sunday afternoon at his home in Norway, hours before he was scheduled to depart for a journalism conference in South Korea. Over the past decade, his travels took him around the world on almost a monthly basis, meeting with at least 600-plus journalists face to face at one time or another. In the photo above, he is seen -- earlier this month -- with journalists from nine different African countries gathered in Lusaka, Zambia.

My former Washington Journalism Center colleague Richard Potts, who worked with Arne on many conferences in Latin America, wrote this morning: 

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Let's stop and ask a few questions about religion and that Republican romp

Let's stop and ask a few questions about religion and that Republican romp

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: If you were working on the religion beat these days, especially if you were still new on the beat, wouldn't you welcome advice from someone who had excelled at this work at the highest levels for decades?

I recently had a long talk in New York City with Richard Ostling -- by all means review his bio here -- to ask if, along with his Religion Guy Q&A pieces, he would experiment with memos in which he offered his observations on what was happening, or what might happen, with stories and trends on the beat. He said he might broaden that, from time to time, with observations on writing about religion -- period.

To which I said, "Amen." -- tmatt

*****

Grumble  if you wish, but in this era of perpetual campaigns it’s nearly time for the usual news media blitz assessing evangelical Protestants’ presidential feelings about the Republicans’ notably God-fearing 2016 list.

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CNN offers readers an atheist veteran, smiling down from heaven after his suffering ends

CNN offers readers an atheist veteran, smiling down from heaven after his suffering ends

If anything has changed, over the 10 years-plus your GetReligionistas have been doing what we do, then it has been the number of questions we hear from readers about that blurring line between basic news writing and commentary.

At first we tried to ignore this, saying that we just write about hard news -- period. Eventually, this rising tide of journalistic confusion became impossible to ignore, in part because readers kept asking us about it.

So what we have here is a perfect example, a CNN feature under the headline, "Soldier broken by war silenced by death." A longtime GetReligion reader who closely follows atheist issues sent it in, basically asking, "What the heck?" or words to that effect. I agree that this is a strange one.

For starters, this article was located in the U.S. news section and it is not flagged as an analysis piece. Yet, right in the lede, the writer -- Moni Basu -- breaks into first-person voice and frames the story in terms of direct contacts with the subject, paralyzed Iraq War veteran Tomas Young. First person? That would normally mean that this is a column, right?

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Your weekend think piece: Former GetReligionista discusses anti-Catholic story up in Seattle

Your weekend think piece: Former GetReligionista discusses anti-Catholic story up in Seattle

This is one of those stories that could have shown up with a "Got news?" notice in a GetReligion headline. It's rather amazing that this Seattle Post-Intelligencer blog item -- it's hard to tell if it was given serious news treatment -- did not receive more attention from the national press.

It's a classic example of a "mirror image" story. Try to imagine the coverage if a liberal Catholic or a traditional Muslim had been the target of this kind of ad. 

Here's the top of the PI report:

A website erected by local Democratic activists mocked the Catholic faith of Republican state Senate candidate Mark Miloscia, showing a cartoon of Miloscia waring a bishop’s mitre and holding a rosary and claiming that Miloscia represents “the Vatican.”
Democratic opponent Shari Song asked that the posting be taken down. It was, but has been replaced by an equally crude posting entitled “Pope Francis vs. Mark Miloscia,” which appears to argue that Miloscia is opposing the pope by being pro-life and upholding church teaching on same-sex marriage.

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