Happy birthday, GetReligion

church candles 01Four years ago today, the Rt. Rev. Doug LeBlanc clicked a mouse and created an experimental little weblog about religion and the news. We decided to call it GetReligion, but were not sure that the name would stick. It was a double pun. There was that old Bible Belt saying, of course, the one where the sinner walks the aisle at the revival meeting and then tells everyone in town that he "got religion." But I was also thinking about that phrase from the feminist era -- you know, those men just "don't get it."

I pounded out an essay that explained what we were going to try to do and it started like this:

Day after day, millions of Americans who frequent pews see ghosts when they pick up their newspapers or turn on television news.

They read stories that are important to their lives, yet they seem to catch fleeting glimpses of other characters or other plots between the lines. There seem to be other ideas or influences hiding there.

One minute they are there. The next they are gone. There are ghosts in there, hiding in the ink and the pixels. Something is missing in the basic facts or perhaps most of the key facts are there, yet some are twisted. Perhaps there are sins of omission, rather than commission.

A lot of these ghosts are, well, holy ghosts. They are facts and stories and faces linked to the power of religious faith. Now you see them. Now you don't. In fact, a whole lot of the time you don't get to see them. But that doesn't mean they aren't there.

So here we are four years later and, I am happy to say, that if you Google the phrase "get religion" today you will find about 189,000 references out there. If I recall correctly, there were about 1,000 the month that we went online. In fact, it's kind of fun to look at the 161 references that are in Google News right now, just to see the many ways that the phrase is used in the public square. Here at the blog itself, we are approaching 3,000 posts and about 33,000 comments.

Anyway, in the next few days the GetReligionistas will celebrate our 4th birthday by posting lists of our favorite posts that we have written. We decided to list five, for each of us. We're not doing the "most important" posts or even the ones that drew the most comments. We're just going to put up our favorites.

I've decided to list five that, in my mind, are linked back to that very first "What we do, why we do it" post. So here goes:

* The whole "what do you guys actually believe?" thing came up really quick. This led to an early post called "And this just in: GetReligion has a worldview." It was a kind of debate with Jeff Sharlet of TheRevealer. Here's how it ended:

Truth is, there are premodern believers, modern believers and postmodern believers. Hopefully, the goal of the Godbeat blogosphere is to urge journalists to do a solid job of covering what these believers are up to. So three partisan cheers (or three "Amens," even) for accurate quotes, balanced coverage of hot issues and lots and lots of free speech.

rainbow vestments 02* It's a question that keeps coming up: What should newsrooms do to improve coverage of religion news? Here's one of the major posts on that topic, "Veteran help wanted on religion beat?" A key passage was this one, focusing on a talk I had long ago with the late George Cornell of the Associated Press:

The first thing you had to do, Cornell told me, was prove that you were a good reporter -- not a religion reporter, but a reporter, period. ... It also helped to have studied religion, formally or on your own. The beat was stunningly complex, he said, and it was hard to avoid mistakes. You had to know what you were doing and it helped if your editor was willing to stick with you and do some learning, too.

Once you had reporting experience and clips you could apply for a religion-beat job at a mid-sized newspaper and then, if things went well, you could move up to larger newspapers. But knowledge could not replace reporting skill and reporting skill alone was not enough. This was a two-sided equation.

And here's another post on that same important topic.

* You know that there has to be a "tmatt trio" post in here (GetReligion drinking game alert) and you know there has to be an Anglican wars post. So let's do both in the same item with "Many truths, many paths, many gods?" It opened like this:

For years now, I have been saying that the two most controversial subjects in American religion are sex and salvation.

* Back to the "worldview" issue. Here is the much-discussed "Is GetReligion a 'Christian' blog?" post. It included this statement, as part of my response to a reader:

The most honest answer is that it is a journalism blog produced by mainstream journalists who are traditional, creedal Christians -- Eastern Orthodox, Episcopalian, Lutheran and Presbyterian -- who have never hidden their religious convictions.

Yes, I am sure we tend to write about the topics that we know the most about, in part because we don't want to mess up. I, for one, am constantly aware that I am -- this is my goal -- writing to an audience of mainstream journalists and that I am also praising or dissecting the work of professionals. ... I wish there were more hours in the day. I probably end up writing about one out of 10 news stories or topics that I want to write about. My GetRel guilt file keeps getting bigger.

* Here's another post that took me into familiar "media bias" territory (and also required me to talk about my work here at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities). It was called "Equality Rides with (Washington Post) Style." A key passage:

No one needs to deny that there are major problems in the marketplace of American journalism. Journalistic standards of fairness, balance and even accuracy are under attack -- from the left and from the right. But I, for one, am not willing to say that the journalistic canons are no longer relevant. I am not willing to say that it is time to give up on the American model of journalism. And it is impossible to accuse the news media elites of journalistic heresies if we, too, are journalistic heretics.

Yes, there is a bit of an echo in here. I keep having to make statements like that one. A lot. Over. And. Over.

Typewriter Keyboard 01* When I think about doing GetReligion work, one of the most vivid images in my mind is sitting at my computer watching the early reports come in from Virginia Tech. It was just so stunning -- again. In a matter of 15 minutes or so, in a rush of words that was highly unusual for me, I wrote this post: "Waiting for the 'why' shoe to drop." Here's the opening:

You're waiting. You've been out there clicking from site to site, because you know that the 24/7 cable-news channels are trapped in old-video-loop hell. You're looking for new information, but you are also waiting.

You're waiting for the shoe to drop. You know which shoe I am talking about -- the religion shoe.

There's so many more. There really should be something in here about Bill Keller and what I call the "spiritual crisis" (in a journalism sense of the word "spiritual") at the New York Times. Maybe next year.

What did I miss? Do GetReligion readers out there have any other key posts that they think are at the heart of what we do here?

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