Shameless plug for ... religion news

As you know, the basic idea behind this weblog is that it is, as a rule, impossible to do an informed, accurate and balanced job of covering real news in the real world without taking the power of religious faith seriously. Thus we were, to say the least, happy to hear that the principalities and powers at CNN were wise (dare we say foxy) enough to back producer Eric Marrapodi in his efforts to create a serious weblog about religion news, an online hub that would tie together the work that many of the network's professionals were already doing linked to stories about religion.

That's job one.

Only then is it possible to talk about professionals working together to do new projects that build on CNN's video, audio and print resources. As I keep telling my Washington Journalism Center students, it's time for journalism people to start studying and applying some of its breakthroughs to other forms of news. This especially important in television news.

Stop and think about this for a minute: List all of the intelligent efforts to cover religion in broadcast and cable news? OK, Kim Lawton and the Religion & Ethics crew at PBS leap to mind. That's one. Who is number two? OK, take your time. Keep trying.

Anyway, Marrapodi and I have dialogued about this project a bit over in recent months and, soon after the site went online, I wrote a post here at GetReligion about the new CNN Belief Blog (it helped, of course, that CNN founder Ted Turner started hearing the voice of God, all of a sudden).

Now, the folks at the unofficial water cooler of American journalism -- that would be -- have published a think piece by Angie Chuang about the CNN effort, under this pushy headline: "CNN Producer: Audiences Want Religion News, but Journalists Reluctant to Cover it." I should mention, right up front, that Chuang heard about GetReligion's role in the discussions and called me up, in addition to talking to Marrapodi. Here's a big chunk of the report:

The CNN Belief Blog highlights angles of faith in the news, such as the religious makeup of the U.S. Supreme Court and the spiritual messages in the final episode of TV show "Lost." It has some user-generated content as well, including the iReport "Your Church Sign Photos" (with snapshots of marquee messages such as, "Do not give up; Moses was once a basket case"). ...

Marrapodi maintains that audiences have always wanted more religion news, but mainstream journalists are sometimes reluctant to cover it as an issue in and of itself.

"It's the conversation people are having outside of the newsroom, outside of the office, with their families and friends," Marrapodi said. "Sometimes that's difficult as a reporter to cover. You don't want to appear biased."

Journalism has often been stereotyped as an "unchurched" and even anti-religious profession. But I've had conversations with many religious journalists over the years who have told me they felt pressure to be "in the closet" about their faith or religious practices for fear that they might not appear objective enough to cover stories that address moral issues. Some say they had to bite their tongues as their colleagues made jokes about "Jesus freaks" or Muslim stereotypes in the newsroom.

So are we facing a lack of resources, or a lack of understanding?

Both, Mattingly said in a phone interview. Though dwindling resources are a very real obstacle, the growing amount of content online is not a replacement for truly knowledgeable beat reporters.

"We're running out of sites that actually report new information," he said, echoing thoughts he expressed in a column, "State of the Godbeat 2010." "And we have this tsunami of opinion-based writing coming along. The Internet does opinion really well. It does tiny niche audiences. What it doesn't do is create broad-based neutral information."

Read it all and let us know what you think. I think it's fair, at this point, for readers to offer updated impressions of the first weeks of the Belief Blog. Focus on journalism issues and be specific. This is a pro-journalism blog and the new CNN effort is an important development and, perhaps, a template for others. So be constructive. Graphic: Let's see. What word seems to be missing in this look at journalism values and products?

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