Getting religion: So many God-beat stories, so little time

Yesterday was one of those days when it was frustrating to be a God-beat blogger. You may have noticed that the U.S. Supreme Court punted on the "Under God" pledge case. I'm sure this was a great relief on the Democratic side of the church aisle and a disappointment to the Republicans. A strong, clear decision would have been great for fundraising on both sides. Meanwhile, we saw a wave of ink -- analog and digital -- in the media. This was a story, but not a rock-solid story. It was almost an anti-story. The usual suspects said all the usual things and it was reported from coast to coast. It would be impossible to read and compare all of the mainstream news reports on the issue.

Which brings us back to something that Dr. Debra Mason of the Religion Newswriters Association wrote the other day about this blog, and others of our ilk. What can we hope to accomplish, if there are so few of us, so many stories to cover and, right now, so little time in which to do the work? Doug is still on the road and I am still in Washington, D.C., on a four-week teaching gig that runs (roughly) from 8 a.m. to midnight every day, including tons of work on weekends. I responded to some of her concerns the other day, but could not get to all of her points.

Truth is, Mason is dead-on when she says that it is hard -- even in the age of Google -- to track 10 percent of what is going on out there on the God beat. This is especially true far from the dominant WWW sites of the elite papers. I'm surprised that someone hasn't created a blog just to respond to the United Nations of Spirituality approach of Wait, is there one? Have I missed it?

Here is part of the finale of Mason's blog about the God-beat blogs.

Critique of religion coverage, particularly, becomes effective rationale by some groups for avoiding the press, which can further hostilities or exacerbate difficulties in reporters writing fair coverage of some religious groups.

The good stuff you don't necessarily find with a Google search or querying Lexis-Nexis, and it's not always evident in the East Coast elite press. And my definition of good likely differs from others.

I think what she is saying is that noting when religious groups or issues have been ignored or covered poorly (in the opinions of the people doing the blog, of course) only makes it harder for reporters to deal with these religious groups the next time.

This may be true and you could say the same thing of efforts to improve coverage of issues of race, gender, economics, disease, etc. If the media establishment consistently hears complaints from African-Americans that coverage of their lives is shallow, twisted or just plain wrong, these complaints should be taken seriously. The same thing is true for believers both inside and outside the pews. After 25 years of studying this, I am well aware that journalists hear many, many complaints from traditional religious believers, especially all of those born-again press bashers. So be it. They have concerns and it is in the interest of people who sell newspapers to take those concerns seriously.

So how can we try to get it right? The goal of the God-beat blogs is to share information and opinions about what is happening on this very emotional and complicated beat. It will help greatly if readers let us know the good and the bad of what they see and hear in the press. It will help if professionals offer feedback. And, of course, it will help if we can find an international-news specialist for this blog. And get our clocks to slow down.

Oh, right, what about the Supreme Court decision? You will be glad to know that there were professionals at work yesterday on other blogs who did great things. This is one of those days when, with a thankful tip of the hat, I can point readers to bloggers who rode the waves of ink that Doug and I had to (what's the surfing term?) let pass us by in the past 24 hours.

The omnipresent Ted Olsen of Christianity Today offers a massive round-up of media coverage and reactions from the conservative Christian establishment. And the RNA has released another of its ReligionLink posts, offering links to a host of resources on the decision. Now, I have a religion column to write. Feel free to offer your own information and opinions. That's what we're here for.

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