Godbeat

Godbeat news: A funding boost at USC's Knight Chair and a new religion writer posting in Louisville

Godbeat news: A funding boost at USC's Knight Chair and a new religion writer posting in Louisville

Mostly, GetReligion focuses on critiquing media coverage of religion.

Occasionally, we update readers on important developments on the Godbeat. The following news — which we are a bit behind in sharing — falls into that category.

Via a release from the University of Southern California:

Comprehensive reporting efforts on the changing landscape of American religious practice and theological thought will see significant expansion in 2015 as a result of $1.25 million in grants awarded to the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism by Lilly Endowment Inc. and the Henry Luce Foundation.
Diane Winston, holder of the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at USC Annenberg, will direct the effort.
The grants will fund a new editor and freelance-reporting budget for Religion Dispatches, the award-winning online journalism magazine based at USC Annenberg. The magazine is one element in the Knight Chair’s ongoing effort to advance specialized reporting.
Lilly Endowment awarded $1 million for a project titled “Remapping American Christianities” and the Henry Luce Foundation awarded $250,000 to pursue “Innovating Coverage of Theology.”
In addition to funding freelance reporting and a new editor, the grants will allow Winston to convene thought leaders who will help chart new directions to cover territory overlooked by other websites and print publications, she said.
The grants also will support greater collaboration between editors of Religion Dispatches and the Knight Chair with students at USC Annenberg.
“The next generation of reporters should understand the importance of religion in the daily lives of Americans and learn how ordinary people look for and find meaning, identity and purpose,” Winston said.

To Winston's comment, we offer a hearty "Amen!"

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Godbeat progress? Yes, the White House summit on violent extremism drew lots of ink, but ...

Godbeat progress? Yes, the White House summit on violent extremism drew lots of ink, but ...

I ended my first post last week by urging readers to pay attention to the media coverage generated by the White House Summit on Countering Violent Extremism. If you did, you know that the gathering generated more reporting, analysis and opinion than any of the week's other events. That was as it should be. Because as head GetReligionista Terry Mattingly opined, Muslim-linked terrorism in general, and the Islamic State in particular, is the "biggest religion story in the world, right now."

Will all the scrutiny focused on the issue lead to an upsurge of attention to the broader coverage of religion? More on this below. But first a snapshot of the week that was for those who did not keep up.

Summit coverage tended to focus as much on what President Barack Obama did not say as on what he did say.  Critics blasted the president for not directly linking recent attacks in Copenhagen, Paris and elsewhere to some murderous impulse they argue lies at the heart of Islam. If you do not define the problem precisely, you have no hope of overcoming it, this line of reasoning maintains. Supporters argue that the president is playing it smart both diplomatically and militarily by not loudly proclaiming Islamic theology and mainstream practice the sole cause of the violence. Why pick a fight, insists this side of the debate, with all the world's approximately 1.5 billion Muslims and Muslim-led governments, whose cooperation is needed, when the problem is just a fanatical fringe?

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#OMG! Mother Teresa and the revenge of the religious evangelicalists! Or whatever...

#OMG! Mother Teresa and the revenge of the religious evangelicalists! Or whatever...

Oh my. How time flies when there is lots of work to do.

Has it really been a decade plus since sociologist Christian Smith published his infamous Books & Culture essay that ran under this grabber headline?

Religiously Ignorant Journalists
In search of Episcopals and evangelists.

As you would imagine, that piece received quick attention from the new-born GetReligion.org and we have pointed readers to it several times, including this 2010 post by GetReligion emeritus M.Z. Hemingway which noted an interesting, and sadly not that unusual, grammatical innovation in the following NPR passage:

Some 3,000 evangelical Christian Cubans attend an open-air service in Havana to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their public service in 1999. Evangelism is among the fastest-growing religions in communist -- and formerly atheist -- Cuba.

Now, that first reference to "evangelical" is fine. But the second one? Clearly, that was supposed to say "evangelicalism." Thus, as MZ noted:

... It's clear that this is a copy editor or copy-editing problem. And certainly the industry struggles to hire editors who are both technologically savvy and literate. But, as the reader who submitted this notes, this is embarrassing. Evangelism is not a religion. Evangelicalism is a movement within Christianity and evangelism is the preaching of the Gospel of Christ.

What do you know? Four years later and NPR still hasn't fixed the vague headline: "Cubans Flock To Evangelism To Fill Spiritual Vacuum." Uh, that is still "evangelicalism."

Now, I have a new reason to bring this issue up, yet again. We will get to that in a moment. First, here is a flashback to the original Smith essay, which opened like this:

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NPR's new religion correspondent reports on 'extreme anti-theism' as possible motive in Muslim deaths

NPR's new religion correspondent reports on 'extreme anti-theism' as possible motive in Muslim deaths

Welcome to the Godbeat, Tom Gjelten!

Gjelten made his debut this week as NPR's new religion correspondent.

The veteran journalist previously served as national security and international affairs correspondent there. 

He joined NPR as labor and education reporter in 1982 and later did international reporting stints as the Latin American correspondent based in Mexico City and the Central Europe correspondent based in Berlin.

Barbara Bradley Hagerty, who spent more than a decade covering religion for NPR, was a favorite of your GetReligionistas. According to Facebook, she's now working on a book on how to do midlife well.

Gjelten's first piece as religion correspondent concerns the case of three young Muslims who were gunned down in Chapel Hill, N.C., last week. (See previous GetReligion posts related to that case here and here.)

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Should religious believers keep their fasting a secret?

Should religious believers keep their fasting a secret?

HAEVEN ASKS:

I’m beginning to fast and was wondering if I should hide it from people because of the verse that says to. I don’t know if I can tell people without the intent to show off.

THE RELIGION GUY ANSWERS:

We’re heading into Lent 2015, the annual season when Christians are most likely to undertake fasting, which is part of most religious traditions though now somewhat neglected in the West. For Christians, such times of abstinence from food are a spiritual discipline intended to foster communion with God, purification from sin, and love toward others.

Haeven is referring to words of Jesus in the “Sermon on the Mount” (Gospel of Matthew 6:16-18): “When you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. Truly, I say to you, they have their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”

Let’s unpack some of what New Testament experts tell us about this.

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Homo sapiens in the newsroom: The struggle to get complicated stories early, yet accurate

Homo sapiens in the newsroom: The struggle to get complicated stories early, yet accurate

Hope I'm not too far out on on a limb if I argue that, despite the growth of news hound-algorithms, journalists remain run-of-the-mill Homo sapiens. That is to say we are fated to struggle with making sense of the world we have appointed ourselves to explain using the same cognitive tools as everyone else. We have no magical aptitude for insight.

Magical thinking, of course, is another matter.

I'm referring to journalists who claim adherence to traditional American-style journalism for breaking news stories, as opposed to analysis or opinion pieces. Nor am I talking about the Web's evolving free-form paradigm. I'm talking about old-school "American model of the press" journalism that's theoretically balanced and far-minded, strives for accuracy, is consciously unbiased and tries not to get ahead of the known facts.

For this sort of journalist two currently ongoing and important questions are, when is it appropriate to link a terror act to Muslims or Islam, and what is the line between a reasonable conclusion and Islamophobia?

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So they are back in the news (yet again): Adam and Eve and all that

So they are back in the news (yet again): Adam and Eve and all that

On the religion beat, the news often consists of new books about old texts with old stories, and the oldest old story of them all is the Genesis portrayal of Adam and Eve. Their status as the first humans and parents of the entire human race is a big biblical deal, especially for evangelical Protestants. 

Since no evangelical school outranks Wheaton College (Illinois) in prestige and influence, journalists should get ready for an incendiary device about to explode in March. 

A book by Wheaton Old Testament Professor John H. Walton will upend many traditional -- or certainly "evangelical" -- ideas about Adam and Eve.  Moreover, “The Lost World of Adam and Eve: Genesis 2-3 and the Human Origins Debate” comes from the certifiably evangelical InterVarsity Press. Click here for the online press kit (.pdf).

Walton (Ph.D., Hebrew Union College) formerly taught at the Moody Bible Institute, which professes that “the first human beings were a special and unique creation by God as contrasted to being derived from any pre-existing life forms. Further, God created everything ‘after its kind,’ which excludes any position that allows for any evolutionary process between kinds.” As a Wheaton professor since 2001, he’s required to reaffirm each year the “biblical doctrine” that “God directly created Adam and Eve, the historical parents of the entire human race,” who were “distinct from all other living creatures.” 

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What is news? NASCAR America collides, at National Prayer Breakfast, with politics of NPR America

What is news? NASCAR America collides, at National Prayer Breakfast, with politics of NPR America

About a third of a century ago, back when I was doing graduate work in mass communications at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, I started calling up editors and asking them a simple question: Why doesn't your newsroom -- mostly newspapers, back then -- do more to cover religion news?

These interviews ended up being part of my graduate project, which was edited down and ran as a massive cover story -- "The Religion Beat: Out of the ghetto, into the mainsheets" -- at the professional journal called The Quill

Editors gave me all kinds of reasons for their limited coverage of the Godbeat, but there were two reasons that I heard more than any other:

(1) Religion news is too boring (and no one wants to cover it).

(2) Religion news is too controversial (and causes our readers to get too riled up and they write too many leaders to the editor).

And there you had it: The world was just full -- too full, it seemed -- of boring, controversial religion stories. Between the lines, these journalists seem to be saying that religion was boring to THEM, yet they could not figure out why THEIR READERS seemed to care so much about it. Thus, the strange blend of boredom and controversy.

I thought about that this week when "Crossroads" podcast host Todd Wilken and I were talking about that controversial speech that President Barack Obama gave at the recent National Prayer Breakfast.

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Brian Williams, Saint John Paul II, Charlton Heston, Kevin Bacon and, well, me

Brian Williams, Saint John Paul II, Charlton Heston, Kevin Bacon and, well, me

Remember that game that was so hot a few years ago, the whole "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" thing? One of the fun things about hanging out with experienced journalists is that you can play a similar game, based on who has interviewed who.

For example, as a religion writer I have interviewed Billy Graham. That puts me one degree of separation away from, what, half of the famous people in world culture in the second half of the 20th century? Or, in music, I have interviewed Dave Brubeck. Stop and think about that one, in terms of links to music royalty dating back into the early 20th century.

However, journalists do like to sweat the details.

For example, I have asked Tom Hanks a question in a live press conference. Is that the same thing as "meeting" Hanks? Perhaps you shook hands with the Archbishop of Canterbury and asked a quick question. Is that the same thing as "interviewing" him? How about a telephone interview with Robert Duvall? Twice? Is that the same as "meeting" him?

I attended the 1987 meeting between St. John Paul II and media leaders in Hollywood and greater Los Angeles, sneaking in with a pass from a Rocky Mountain News editor (a national officer in a press association) who was not able to attend. At the end, the pope moved down the aisle greeting people and shaking hands. I had a chance to shake his hand but, well, I let Charlton Heston get in front of me. You can't fight the voice of God, right? I did speak a greeting to the pope and he nodded. But is that "meeting" the pope?

Where am I going with this? To the latest wrinkles in the sad story of Brian Williams, of course.

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