Honest to blog

Uses of BlogsSo last week I was reading the Washington Post's coverage of its impressive win of a whopping six Pulitzers and came across Joel Achenbach's analysis of the wins:

Original reporting still matters. It's probably our best gimmick. It's what we do (imperfectly to be sure) better than anyone else in the news business. It also can't be easily replaced on the cheap by some other information-delivery system.

And then I was reading David Crumm's site Read the Spirit, a multi-media publishing company and site focusing on religion and spirituality. He had a substantive critique of mediocre coverage of the upcoming papal visit that included these words:

The dramatic downsizing of newsroom staffs and the slashing of reporting budgets has never been more painfully obvious than in the current preparation for Pope Benedict XVI's visit.

There should be an enormous story somewhere in this complicated cultural collision, shouldn't there? The Catholic Church, after all, claims to have a global population of more than 1 billion -- close to the size of the entire Islamic world.

The top guy in the church -- in fact, the world's single most powerful religious figure -- is paying a historic visit to the world's two greatest secular centers of power. Somewhere in this global pageant there's news, isn't there?

Unfortunately, many of the religion-writing experts who once covered these issues for newspapers and news magazines are long gone in the many waves of journalistic downsizing. The slimmer staffs of journalists left standing inside these historic offices often are struggling simply to meet deadlines. For the most part, these professionals are smart, talented people desperately trying to fill the dwindling news space -- without the time or the resources to do their jobs properly.

It is amazing how few religion reporters are at local papers relative to, say, sports reporters or business reporters. Year after year we see that the top stories are infused with religion and yet the funds and resources devoted to religion reporting don't increase.

One way to bridge the gap is through blogs and some papers and media outlets have attempted them. I'm really not sure how I feel about them. There are some blogs that I do check out regularly -- and link to from here.

I am completely confused by the Washington Post religion blog. I don't get it at all. Every few weeks I remember it exists and it befuddles me. Please explain it to me. How do you use it? What do you like about it? What knowledge does it imparts? Or conversely, why don't you like it?

The thing is that my favorite blogs about religion are either very newsy or very theological. I think that's why I find the Washington Post/Newsweek On Faith section so maddening -- I never seem to find any substantive news or theology there.

Now go look at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's new religion blog. Called Civil Religion, it has an eye toward just that -- Rousseau's concept of Civil Religion.

Right now there are 12 bloggers from various religions. The idea is that they write posts representing their own religious beliefs and in so doing, interact with each other. The posts I like the most are those that bring in a little bit of reporting. The Mormon blogger, for instance, explained what the previous Sunday's General Conference was and added her perspective that the twice-annual meeting is a little bit like Easter and Christmas. All of the bloggers are able to raise issues that are newsy, and add context to the discussion.

What do you think about these religion blogs at mainstream newspapers? Do you read them? Do you like them? What would you like to find there? And do they make up for the gaps we see in religion reporting?

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