It's that time of year when we tend to reflect on the good, bad or ugly in 2010 and resolve to do something better in the next 12 months. Earlier I wondered whether sites like Facebook downplay the value of reflection as it feeds us update after update about our friends' birthdays and such. Through RSS feeds, Twitter and other mediums, I find stories after stories after stories worth reading, and one of my friends and I sometimes joke: "the Internet had a really good day today."
Here we attempt to highlight religion coverage, suggest critiques, offer ideas for further coverage, point out religion ghosts, but I want to (drawing on David Brooks' idea) take a minute to look back at some of the better pieces we've read this past year. My list may be a bit partial to long-form writing because I know how much time and energy goes into an in-depth feature.
The New Yorker's Peter Boyer received my unofficial "rock star religion reporting of the month" back in September for his two pieces on The Fellowship, a quiet group in DC, and Dr. Francis Collins. His piece on The Fellowship offered specific anecdotes, addressed politics without being political, subtly looking at underlying questions about the group without falling into generalizations. His story on Collins showed how the head of the National Institutes of Health is in an awkward position with some of his fellow scientists who might discredit him for his faith while some of his fellow Christians dislike his stance on embryonic stem-cell research. Those are two fantastic pieces worth reading if you didn't get a chance already.
Just before the Associated Press' Eric Gorski's (unfortunate for us) shift from the religion beat earlier this year, he produced a moving piece on Matt Chandler, a young megachurch pastor in Texas who faced a brain tumor. Gorski captured the drama, emotion and faith in details, giving readers us a clear picture of Chandler's thought process in dealing with cancer.
Earlier this month, we looked at The Wichita Eagle's series "Promise Not to Tell," a lengthy series of two girls' rescue from their family's abuse with the help of their neighbors. The story wasn't focused on religion, but Roy Wenzl skillfully showed when and where faith became relevant.
There were also compelling stories with the caveat that I would have liked to see more religion details. Paul Schwartzman wrote a moving piece for the Washington Post about a father's care for his son after a horrible beating. We also saw an interesting front-page piece on Confucianism in China and a later piece in the New York Times magazine on the rise of Taoism in the country. Talk about a collide of religion and politics. We also saw Devin Friedman's lengthy GQ piece on the man who shot abortion doctor George Tiller. These stories are difficult to write, though, and these are good ones to read.
On the other hand, we had a few flops this year, including Newsweek's cover story on Sarah Palin as the new leader of the religious right. And then the magazine changed its mind and made Jim Wallis a leader. Then we saw the unfortunate shift of Krista Tippett's radio show away from "Speaking of Faith" to (drumroll) " Krista Tippett on being." Seriously, friends, religion/faith is still worth covering.
Finally, one of my favorite features here has been talking with religion reporting pros like the Chicago Tribune's Manya Brachear, USA Today's Cathy Lynn Grossman, The Times-Picayune's Bruce Nolan, the Courier-Journal's Peter Smith, and more and more. I also enjoyed our larger discussion over Archbishop Charles Chaput's boycott of the New York Times.
If you're like me, you might star a piece, add it to Instapaper, e-mail it to yourself to read later, but you never find the time. Hopefully this will give you a chance to look back at some of the excellent pieces this year. Despite my best efforts, I have been unable to read the entire Internet, so by all means, share links to ones I may have missed. (As I raise the exciting glass of water next to me) Here's to excellent religion reporting to come in 2011.