CNN's religion blog ends first year

Well, it's been about a year and a half since that first meeting in a Thai restaurant in Union Station in which I met with a GetReligion reader named Eric Marrapodi to talk about what seemed, at first, to be a logical, yet still audacious concept. Marrapodi is a CNN pro and he wanted to create a serious religion news and commentary weblog at CNN. Thus, he wanted to pick my brain a bit. I blogged about that meeting a few months later, when Marrapodi told me it was fair game to do so, since the site was then on the launch pad. Here's a piece of that earlier summary of the facts behind the project (facts that, quite frankly, apply to quite a few other news organizations that have yet to take this leap).

The topic for the day: Blogging about religion, especially in a multimedia, multi-platform world. It seems that the wider CNN world included a fair share of people, working in various job descriptions, who are interested in religion news. The problem was that they were spread out all over the place.

What they needed was a hub, a place where their work could be collected and then turn into something bigger. At the very least, we concluded, there needed to be a multimedia weblog.

We talked about signing up one or two big-idea people to write essays about trends in religion. Most of all, we talked about the need to CNN to commit to landing one major-league professional with print and multi-platform experience on the religion beat. They needed an air-traffic controller at the hub to control the signals coming in from across the wider CNN world. That person, of course, turned out to be Dan Gilgoff -- best known for his work at U.S. News & World Report and Beliefnet.

Well, the CNN Belief Blog recently turned one and I'm sure that it's been an interesting first year in that newsroom in cyberspace.

From my point of view, the site has been a success -- even if it has, at times, leaned toward the whole "let's run a freelance opinion essay about that really controversial issue since that will be easier than doing an actual news story" approach to religion "news." Please know that I am not blaming the core team, of course, since that's the direction that so much of the media is taking today.

Opinion is cheap. News is expensive. Welcome to the Internet, in the age in which a satisfactory digital advertising business model remains illusive.

However, the point of this post is to find out what GetReligion readers (who are hopefully Belief Blog readers, as well) think of Gilgoff's anniversary post called, logically enough, "10 things the Belief Blog learned in its first year." This post, he notes, follows the experience of "publishing 1,840 posts and sifting through 452,603 comments."

To get things started, here is a quick, edited look at the top five items. Some of this is going to sound very familiar to GetReligion regulars.

1. Every big news story has a faith angle. Even the ordeal of 33 Chilean miners trapped underground for more than two months. Even the attempted assassination of Arizona congresswoman Gabby Giffords. Even March Madness. Even -- well, you get the point.

2. Atheists are the most fervent commenters on matters religious. This became apparent immediately after the Belief Blog's first official post last May, which quickly drew such comments as:

acerider Can we have a fairy tale blog too? ...

3. People are still intensely curious about the Bible, its meaning and its origins.

It's an ancient tome, but more than any other book in the Western tradition (with the Quran being the lone exception), the Bible still fascinates us. And it still feeds our most heated debates. In February, a guest post here arguing that the Bible is more ambiguous on homosexuality than traditionally thought elicited more than 4,000 comments. A response post insisting that the Bible clearly condemns homosexuality brought in an equal number of comments -- and was the most popular story on on the day it was published. ...

4. Most Americans are religiously illiterate. Despite the appetite for stories and commentary about the Bible, most Americans know little about it. A huge Pew survey released in September found that most Americans scored 50 percent or less on a quiz measuring knowledge of the Bible, world religions and what the Constitution says about religion in public life. Ironically, atheists and agnostics scored best. How did you do on the quiz?

5. It's impossible to understand much of the news without knowing something about religion. Why did the Egyptian revolution happen on a Friday? Why was Osama bin Laden's body buried so quickly after he was killed? Why did Afghan rioters kill seven United Nations workers in April? You simply can't answer those questions without bringing in religion. ...

By all means, read it all. And let's keep the comments focused on the journalistic consequences of these observations. That goes for you atheists, too. And all of you illiterate Bible lovers.

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