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The crux of the religion-news business in the age of the World Wide Web

The crux of the religion-news business in the age of the World Wide Web

Four years ago, I traveled to Kiev to take part in a gathering of journalists from across Europe, especially Eastern Europe. The reason we made the trip (I went because of my role in The Media Project) to Ukraine was to talk about faith and journalism -- especially the lives of believers who work in mainstream media.

That really wasn't the topic that dominated conversations, both in the hallways and in our formal discussion groups.

Reporter after reporter, editor after editor, talked about the growing number of attempts in their nations to carry on with independent journalism despite the failure of digital advertising programs to deliver the financial goods. The readers were there. The ad-based business model was failing. Everyone was seeking some kind of compromise with the new digital realities.

What was the alternative? People were trying to find ways to hook journalists up to support from non-profit groups, even religious groups, to provide critical financial support for these online projects -- but with few, if any, editorial ties that would bind.

You can probably tell where I am going with this. Every year, I write a column in early April linked to some kind of religion-news centered event or topic. I do this as close as possible to the anniversary of the creation of my weekly "On Religion" syndicated column, which began 28 years ago, this week, with Scripps Howard and then switched to the Universal syndicate.

This year, I wrote about the symbolic and practical importance of the Crux project in online Catholic news, which began with The Boston Globe and just -- after the Globe cut the financial lifelines -- now continues in a partnership with the Knights of Columbus. This was also the topic of this week's "Crossroads" podcast. Click here to tune that in.

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Weekday think piece: Deseret News on why religion news is getting more important

Weekday think piece: Deseret News on why religion news is getting more important

This is one of those cases where your GetReligionistas simply want to point readers toward an article and then get out of the way.

But first, let me note once again -- because of some reader emails -- what this whole "think piece" concept is about.

Our primary job here is to offer positive and negative critiques of mainstream media coverage of religion news and trends. But every now and then we see essays and op-ed page pieces that are directly linked either to work on the religion beat or they address topics that would be of interest to anyone who covers religion or cares fiercely about that craft.

That's when we send along a "think piece." No we don't have a logo for this yet.

In this case, the headline on this Deseret News article by Chandra Johnson said it all:

Why faith-focused media outlets and coverage matter now more than ever

Here is the overture:

As editor-in-chief of Religion News Service, Jerome Socolovsky understands the reasons behind the Boston Globe’s recent decision to cut its financial ties with Crux, its 18-month-old website dedicated solely to covering the Catholic Church.
Cutbacks of staff or types of coverage are common in newsrooms today, as is the lopsided nature of readership (Crux’s online audience was robust at about 1 million visitors a month) vs. revenue (not enough for the Globe to continue supporting it -- as evidenced from Globe editor Brian McGory’s staff emailannouncement).
But what Socolovsky hopes news consumers and other journalists understand is what they could lose if faith-focused coverage continues to dwindle.

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Crux rescued by Knights partnership; yes, major LGBT Catholic group is worried

Crux rescued by Knights partnership; yes, major LGBT Catholic group is worried

For those of you who were out of the loop at the end of this past week, there was a second major election about the Crux website. Check here to see round one: "To be or not to be -- What will become of Crux after that Boston Globe tie is cut?"

It didn't take long for the next shoe to drop, in the form of a second major announcement at the website: "Crux will continue with the Knights of Columbus as its partner."

Key parts of that short text include:

Veteran Vatican reporter John L. Allen Jr., associate editor of Crux, and the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, have announced that they will enter into a partnership in which Crux will remain an independent news outlet headed by Allen and Vatican correspondent Inés San Martín.
Allen said the joint project is designed to make one of the world’s best known Catholic news platforms even stronger. The partnership will combine the Knights’ resources and spirit of service with the journalistic experience and commitment of Crux.
As part of the project, Catholic Pulse, a news and commentary website operated by the Knights of Columbus, will merge with Crux, adding its resources to Crux’s blend of staff-generated reporting and analysis with pieces by respected guest contributors. The Crux website will feature the tagline: “Keeping its finger on the Catholic Pulse.”

Allen and Co. will retain their deep online archives, which is crucial to the coverage of ongoing news and controversies. And what about the size of the new editorial team? It will be smaller, but some freelance scribes may be added in the future.

But, wait. Aren't the Knights, uh, rather doctrinally conservative?

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To be or not to be: What will become of Crux after that Boston Globe tie is cut?

To be or not to be: What will become of Crux after that Boston Globe tie is cut?

That unsettling disturbance that you felt yesterday in the religion-beat force was some very bad news.

As you may have heard, or have seen in secondary coverage via Twitter, that The Boston Globe has decided to pull the plug on its support of Crux, its must-read online Catholic news publication that has been built around the work of the omnipresent (I will keep using that word since it is accurate) John L. Allen, Jr. The funds dry up at the end of March.

Globe Editor Brian McGrory admitted the obvious, in a letter speaking for every newsroom manager who has tried to pay the bills with digital advertising forms that readers tend to ignore, or actually hate:

"The problem is the business," McGrory wrote. "We simply haven't been able to develop the financial model of big-ticket, Catholic-based advertisers that was envisioned when we launched Crux back in 2014. ...
"We also need to be able to cut our losses when we've reached the conclusion that specific projects won't pay off," his letter reads.

Now, a letter to readers from Crux Editor Teresa Hanafin (read it all) answers the crucial questions that religion-news readers and professionals will want to know. Here is a crucial chunk of that:

... The good news is that John Allen plans to continue the site, with assistance from Inés San Martín, our Vatican correspondent. National reporter Michael O’Loughlin, columnist Margery Eagan, and our stable of freelancers will find other places for their work. I’ll move over to BostonGlobe.com. ...
We’re thrilled that John is taking on the challenge of keeping Crux alive.

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Attention journalists: A Muslim landmark that belongs on your desk

Attention journalists: A Muslim landmark that belongs on your desk

Media personnel obviously are giving far more attention to Islam than they did years ago -- because they need to.

Therefore “The Study Quran” (HarperOne, 1,988 pages, US$59.99, e-book US$19.99) that was noted in a post by GetReligion’s Julia Duin should be in media company libraries (if they still exist) or in the private collections of all newswriters whose work is in any way linked to religion in the news.

This classy landmark, nine years in preparation, imitates Christians’ many “study Bibles,” a couple of which also belong on newsroom desks. The totally new English translation of Islam’s holy book is accompanied by an extensive verse-by-verse commentary, 16 related essays, an index and other “helps.” The work provides a much-needed option to the useful but somewhat outdated 1934 translation and commentary by A. Yusuf Ali that Saudi Arabia has distributed widely.

To The Religion Guy’s eyes the one big negative is the translators’ ill-advised reversion to fusty King James-ish phrasing, as though it's somehow more reverent: “Dost thou not know?” “God is wroth.” “Thou grant me reprieve till a term nigh.” While the commentary is invaluable, the recent translations by M.A.S. Abdel Haleem or Majid Fakhry may be more useful for journalistic quotations.

With this book, English-speakers can now gain ready access to authoritative scholarship representing the grand tradition of this massive religion. Since much of the relevant literature is in Arabic, the material drawn from 41 standard commentators, and the 43 pages of citations from hadith traditions of Muhammad’s teachings, are especially important for western Muslims and non-Muslims.

The editor-in-chief was the well-respected Seyyed Hossein Nasr of George Washington University, working with former students Caner Dagli of the College of the Holy Cross, Maria Massi Dakake of George Mason University (a female scholar’s participation is significant), Joseph Lumbard of American University of Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates and Mohammed Ruston of Canada’s Carleton University. Dakake and Lumbard are converts from Christian backgrounds, a plus in this situation, but it’s a thoroughly Muslim reference work, from a team with expertise in the Sunni, Shi’a and Sufi branches.

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Think piece after crazy week: Two logical experts strive to define the term 'evangelical'

Think piece after crazy week: Two logical experts strive to define the term 'evangelical'

Any short list of topics that your GetReligionistas have been harping about from Day 1 of this weblog, 12 years ago, would have to include the mainstream news media's struggles to understand the already vague term "evangelical" (and its more conservative cousin, "fundamentalist").

In other words, this whole "Donald Trump is an evangelical" and/or "Donald Trump is the savior of the evangelicals madness" is just a more intense version of a journalistic problem that has always been around.

Here at GetReligion, this is not our first rodeo. Take it away, Bobby Ross Jr.! Also, I have written three national, "On Religion" columns about this issue as well. The headlines on those pieces are as follows: "Define 'evangelical' -- please," "Define 'evangelical' -- again" and "Define 'evangelical' -- 2013 edition."

Anyway, the evangelical pros at Christianity Today ran a very timely essay the other day with a totally logical double-decker headline:

Defining Evangelicals in an Election Year
A new research method could help us get beyond political stereotypes.

This is a must-read think piece for this weekend, in part because it was written by a highly qualified duo, if you are looking for authoritative voices on this subject. The Rev. Leith Anderson is president of the National Association of Evangelicals and pollster Ed Stetzer is executive director of LifeWay Research in Nashville. Here is a key slice of this essay, containing the thesis:

... Who is an evangelical? Many pollsters and journalists assume that evangelicals are white, suburban, American, Southern, and Republican, when millions of self-identifying evangelicals fit none of these descriptions. ... We think there is a more coherent and consistent way to understand who evangelicals are -- one based on what evangelicals believe.

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Huffington Post losing its religion: What's up as key staffers leave and news org drops RNS?

Huffington Post losing its religion: What's up as key staffers leave and news org drops RNS?

I never know quite what to make of the Huffington Post.

Is it a news publication? An advocacy commentary site? A combination of the two? This is a topic members of the GetReligion team have been debating for years, since our focus here is on mainstream news material.

On the one hand, the online-only news organization won a 2012 Pulitzer Prize for "Beyond the Battlefield," a 10-part series on the lives of severely wounded veterans and their families. Clearly, the HuffPost runs some serious news material.

On the other hand, regardless of what I think about Donald Trump, I find it difficult to take seriously the journalism of a media outlet that appends this note to its coverage of the Republican presidential candidate:

Note to our readers: Donald Trump is a serial liarrampant xenophoberacistbirther and bully who has repeatedly pledged to ban all Muslims -- 1.6 billion members of an entire religion -- from entering the U.S.

I bring up the HuffPost because of recent signs the website may be losing its religion. Literally.

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Happy 12th Birthday, GetReligion

Happy 12th Birthday, GetReligion

So we have reached the early days of February, once again.

My name remains on the masthead as GetReligion begins its 12th year of publication, but that is testimony more to Terry Mattingly’s deep loyalty to his friends and religion-beat colleagues than to anything I have done for several years.

My helping Terry launch GetReligion was a happy convergence of free time, basic comfort with the tools of weblogs, and an abiding love for the Godbeat. We knew that this was an important topic.

Terry and I became friends in the 1990s, when we both lived in Colorado, and working on GetReligion was the first chance I had to work with him. Because I have been drawn, moth-like, to the perpetual opera that is the Anglican Communion (which kept affecting my job status in journalism), I have drifted in and out of GetReligion’s orbit of writers.

I have enjoyed learning about the strengths and challenges of the weblog platforms behind GetReligion. We started on TypePad, which offered a certain elegance of design. At the encouragement of our friends and former hosts at Gospelcom.net (now Gospel.com), we switched to the free and versatile version of WordPress. Now GetReligion publishes through SquareSpace, thanks to the Herculean efforts of Loosely Related. I expect GetReligion’s affiliation with The King’s College will give us a solid foundation in the years ahead.

What I have enjoyed most about GetReligion is watching its sauntering parade of contributors.

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Another press perplexity: So who speaks for Muslims in the United States?

Another press perplexity: So who speaks for Muslims in the United States?

The Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations is an awkwardly but accurately named alliance formed in 1955 to give the nation’s variegated Jews a united voice on key matters. Reportedly the Eisenhower White House either originated or promoted the idea of an umbrella group to make life simpler for everybody. The New York City-based conference encompasses 55 groups, communal, political and religious, and pretty much includes all sectors of Jewish life except the stricter forms of Orthodoxy, Hasidism and the anti-Zionist sects.

With less media notice than it deserves, a similar U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations was established in Washington, D.C., in 2014 with a constituency of 19 religious and communal groups.

At the moment, USCMO is no place for busy reporters to do their one-stop shopping to obtain quick, representative quotes and handy background info. However, if it can consolidate support this is certainly an organization to watch. USCMO says its purposes are “to build an active, integrated American Muslim community,” to “speak with one clear, communal voice” and to “support a national agenda for the entire Muslim community.”

These are tall orders given the numerous ethnicities and fiefdoms.

Founders include the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Islamic Circle of North America, Muslim American Society and The Mosque Cares, led by W. Deen Mohammed II, who is USCMO’s treasurer. Absent are factions seen as heterodox like the Ahmadiyyas, Moorish Science and Minister Louis Farrakhan’s Nation of Islam, which embraces the black nationalism of Mohammed’s grandfather. The prominent Islamic Society of North America is not affiliated but has joined USCMO events. The list looks to be stronger on Sunni than Shi’a and Sufi representation.

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