It seems like just a few months ago that I was compiling my list of top stories from the previous year. Regardless of how quickly I would like to see time fly by, what follows is my summary from the past year and a celebration of this blog's five years in existence. Looking back on my first full year blogging from Indianapolis about the media's coverage of religion revealed some interesting trends. Religion was a big issue initially in the 2008 presidential election, but once the primaries were over and the economy exploded, faith largely dropped out of the media's coverage. Either religion in sports news became a more frequent event, or we are just doing a better job of noticing it because our sports category exploded over the last 12 months. Atheism continues to be part of the religion beat, (despite the irony), and covering non-mainstream American faiths continues to be a problematic area of coverage, particularly when the subject pops onto the radar suddenly (see a certain ranch in Texas and the links later in this post).
That is my summary. What follows is my list of top stories.
2. President Obama's church made more than its fair share of news over the course of the campaign. One of my favorite articles on this subject reflected back on the incident from the perspective of the members of Obama's old congregation. This is an example of the media doing a good job at not forgetting important stories after the attention has worn off.
3. The 2008 presidential debates were noteworthy from the perspective that religion was hardly an issue. The vice presidential debates gave religious issues a bit more attention, but again, the economy dominated.
4. The YFZ Ranch story, which was supposed to be about child abuse, became a story about religious freedom. This fact alone made it one of the most significant religion-legal stories of the year from my perspective. On a related note, Planned Parenthood made news when undercover cameras caught a couple of their counselors attempting to cover-up child abuse (they failed due to the fact that the child-abuse had not happened).
5. I think it would be nearly impossible for me to measure whether the quality of local religion news reporting improved over the last year, but I did find some excellent examples from a series of articles ranging from prayer in local government meetings, to the depressing story of dying churches and their conversions to condos, to natural disasters, and lastly (but probably not the last time) emerging churches.