It is, of course, one of the most infamous job postings in the history of religion writing in the mainstream press. I refer to that 1995 notice at the Washington Post letting the staff know that there was an opening on the beat. Here is a passage on that subject from a chapter that I have written for an Oxford Centre book of essays on religion news trends that is coming out in the not so distant future. I believe the tentative title for this collection, by a number of different authors, is "Blind Spot." I imagine that the words "get" and "religion" will be somewhere in the subtitle. You think?
Here is the key question, one frequently discussed here at GetReligion: What are the ideal qualifications that a journalist needs to be a professional religion-beat reporter?
Debates about this issue often return to a highly symbolic event in 1994, when Washington Post editors posted a notice for a religion reporter, seeking applicants from within the newsroom. The "ideal candidate," it said, is "not necessarily religious nor an expert in religion."
Notice the word "ideal." Professional religion writers often argue about the pluses and minuses of religious believers working on this beat and I don't expect these arguments to end any time soon. However, I have seen believers and non-believers do excellent work covering religion news, including fair and accurate cover of faiths radically different than their own. Thus, there is no need to debate the appropriateness of the Post editors stating that the "ideal candidate" is "not religious. What is controversial, however, is the statement that the "ideal candidate" is not necessarily "an expert in religion."
The editors were, in effect, arguing that a lack of expertise and experience can be a plus -- a virtue -- when covering religion news.
Imagine, for a moment, this standard being applied to other news beats. Try to imagine Post editors seeking a Supreme Court reporter and posting a notice saying that the "ideal candidate" is one who is "not interested in the law nor an expert on legal issues." Try to imagine elite editors seeking an opera critic and arguing that the "ideal candidate does not necessarily like opera or know much about opera." How about similar notices seeking reporters to cover professional sports, science, film and politics?
Why would editors seeking excellence on the religion beat use a different approach than they would use on other complex news beats?
Here is why I bring this up.
GetReligion.org is a member of the "Blog Heaven" site over at Beliefnet.com and, as a rule, the GetReligionistas have been strong advocates of that massive site including more and more religion news as well as commentary.
Thus, it is interesting to us that the Beliefnet.com crew have posted the following notice for its "Senior Editor -- Religion" slot. It sounds like this person will play a pivotal role in the site's news content (and other forms of content, to say the least).
The post is described as follows:
This position is responsible for helping to craft the company's offerings related to faith and organized religion. Requires expert knowledge of Christianity and in depth knowledge of the religious landscape and various people of faith. Interest and knowledge of a wide range of content types strongly preferred; from journalistically neutral coverage of breaking faith news to faith-specific devotional tools, to audio, video, eCards, quizzes, galleries, and other new forms as they are created.
And here is the formal list of requirements:
Requirements * Expert knowledge of Christianity; interest and in depth knowledge of the various belief systems of the major faiths. * Familiarity and contacts with the leaders of the major faith communities * Superb verbal and written communication skills * Familiarity with content management systems and online editing/production experience * Proven ability to meet deadlines, with accuracy and attention to detail required * Ability to multitask and work effectively in a dynamic, constantly changing, team oriented environment.