When I started thinking about a career on the religion-beat, the first professional that I met was another Baylor University graduate who was on the rise at the Houston Chronicle. Before he was done, Louis Moore had served as president of the Religion Newswriters Association and survived an up close and very, very personal encounter with one of the most important Godbeat stories of the late 20th Century -- the high-stakes, ultra-bitter battle for control of the Southern Baptist Convention. Ask Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan if that civil war had an impact on American religious and political life.
Religion-beat pros and the ecclesiastical bureaucrats who deal with them will, especially if they work in the Bible Belt, want to know that Moore has written a semi-memoir of his years on the beat and beyond. It's important to know that, after nearly two decades in mainstream, daily journalism, the Southern Baptist seminary graduate went on to work at the national level as an SBC media advisor at the national and international level. He has been on both sides of the notebook.
Moore said that in the "best of times" he saw believers in many flocks who were so "servant-hearted and so demonstrative of Godlike virtues" that the memory of their faithful acts -- in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, for example -- still inspires tears. But in the worst of times?
"I have seen church people ... violate every one of the Ten Commandments, act boorish and selfish, be prejudiced, broadcast secular value systems and in general behave worse than the heathen people they tried to reach," noted Moore. In fact, just "name some sin or some act the Bible eschews, and I could pair that vice up with some church leader or member I have known."
Duck and cover. What would Moore like to see the religion professionals do?
Moore said his career affirmed basic values that he learned as a young journalist, values he saw vindicated time after time in the trenches. Wise religious leaders, he said, would dare to:
* Adopt "sunshine laws" so that as many as possible of their meetings are open to coverage by journalists from the mainstream and religious press.
"When you're dealing with money your people have put in the offering plate, you should be as open as possible," he said. "The things that belong on the table need to stay on the table."
* Acknowledge that "politics is a way of life and they need to make it clear to the people in the pews how the game is played," he said. "I truly admire the people who let the covert be overt."
* Come right out and admit what they believe, when it comes to divisive issues of theology and public life. "Say what you mean and mean what you say," he said. "Way too many religious leaders take one position in public and say something completely different somewhere else."
Now keep that last point in mind, because it is going to come up again big time in my column this coming week -- Hiding Behind Altars.
It focuses on an interview with Catholic media professional Russell Shaw about the lessons learned during his years as gatekeeper for the U.S. Catholic bishops. His book is called "Nothing to Hide: Secrecy, Communication and Communion in the Catholic Church." Here's the link to my column.
And there's one more thing.
If you care about life and death on the religion-news beat, you'll want to read Andrew Walsh's "Twilight of the Religion Writers" over at the site for the Religion In The News journal published by Trinity College.
The piece covers many topics featured here at GetReligion. The setting for the drama was the annual convention of the Religion Newswriters Association, held recently in Washington, D.C. There was, of course, talk about the death of the beat at some major papers, while others saw signs of hope.
But one thing everyone agreed on, as I mentioned a few weeks ago, was that blogging is here to stay -- for better and for worse. Walsh notes:
At the moment, the conventional wisdom is that blogging will be part of any solution to the crisis. "How many of you think the future of the media is online?" Andrea Useem asked the audience during her presentation at a panel called, "Boggled by Blogging." Virtually every hand in the room went up. As an aspiring freelance writer, Useem said she realized a couple of years ago that the career she dreamed of, "a series of jobs covering religion at ever bigger newspapers," wasn't going to happen.
So she founded her own blog, www.ReligionWriter.com, because she believed that she needed to master web skills in order to be in the game for whatever happens next. She had to hire a web consultant to help her. After two years, her blog still makes her no money; indeed, she's still paying the consultant. But there is good news on two fronts, she told her colleagues.
First, she can put whatever she wants on her blog -- she's her own editor. In her case, that means the blog often features transcripts of lengthy interviews with interesting people. She's also able to put some limit on her blogging, adding a new post only once a week. Most important for someone who needs to make a living, the blog has become her calling card. It attracts clients who hire her for the writing, editing, and consulting projects by which she makes her daily bread.
Wait a minute. She sounds familiar, too.