My 14-year-old daughter sits next to me as I type. Kendall often does this, curious about the day's subject matter. More often than not, she is interested (and I like to think it's more than the caramel lattes I make us). She can identify with and wants to learn more about the issues and stories of today. But beyond that, she sees relevance as we talk about people and news and faith issues. Even before society will allow her to drive or vote, she knows she is permitted to think and reason and form opinions, changing them as she matures. That, as she would say, "is really cool."
I'm thrilled by her interest in media, especially its coverage of religion and related topics. But a larger question looms when I think of her generation. And mine, and my mother's and grandmothers': Are we doing right by women when it comes to religion coverage, on both sides of the press? Does our industry have enough female Godbeat writers, and are we as women spending a proportionate amount of time reading and discussing stories with religious themes or context?
GetReligion has been blessed with a number of extraordinary writers during its 10-year history, and I walk in the oh-so-stylish shoes of some gifted female journalists. Mollie Ziegler Hemingway, Sarah Pulliam Bailey and Elizabeth Eisenstadt-Evans come immediately to mind because of the questions they asked during their time here and the myriad ways in which they made religion news coverage better.
Might another woman join our conversation soon? I'd love it. We've come far, but I know the best is still ahead, thanks to the wonderful gift of perspective and courtesy of one of my previous gigs.
When I became religion editor for The Oklahoman in 2000, I inherited a solemn-looking Rolodex filled with dozens of sources, contacts and phone numbers from my predecessor (also a woman). Probably 95 percent of those handwritten cards had men's names. I didn't give it a second thought then, but now it seems antiquated — and not just in the organizational sense.
I only knew of a handful of female religion writers back then, and none personally. It was almost like being a female sportswriter, always feeling like you had to work harder to make inroads. And the female sources were slim pickings — most either were a stretch or overused.
Fourteen years and the Internet later, news consumers — about half of whom are women in any format, print, online or mobile, according to a report last year from the Newspaper Association of America — demand to know what is going on in the world, and quickly. We are increasingly looking to talented writers of both genders to provide that news and commentary for us in every niche, including religion news coverage. But I especially enjoy reading good women writers because I identify with them. I can think of several whose bylines I now recognize when I search for faith-based news and features, and I'm thankful to call some of them friends.
Last September, my colleague/husband/children co-chauffeur Bobby Ross Jr. wrote a post about the state of the Godbeat. In it, he lamented the loss of three veteran religion writers, one of whom was Ann Rodgers, and mentioned two other women, Cathy Grossman and Nancy Haught, who also had recently left the ranks of religion reporters. (Of course, much to our delight, Grossman later resurfaced at Religion News Service.)
Who will step forward in the future to write religion news? Will a proportionate number of these writers be women? And will men and women alike find a variety of sources and subjects across gender lines to do the beat justice? The outcome may, in part, be decided by the readers of religion news and their willingness to offer meaningful commentary and feedback. Think of the possibilities.
Maybe my daughter will become one of our next generation's top female religion writers. We joke about always wanting better for our children, but in this case, I'd be pretty proud. Bonus: We could keep our coffee ritual!