Happy 13th birthday, GetReligion! My wish as we enter the teenage years

Oh no.

GetReligion has entered its teenage years, as tmatt noted this morning.

In case you need it, here's some advice on how to survive this awkward time for your favorite journalism-focused website (we are your favorite, right?).

But seriously, folks ...

Thirteen years is a long time for blog to survive. When Terry Mattingly and Douglas LeBlanc launched GetReligion in 2004, I was covering religion for The Associated Press in Dallas. "Blog" was one of Merriam-Webster's "Words of the Year" that same year, but — as I recall — I didn't become familiar with the concept until leaving AP and joining The Christian Chronicle in 2005.

I can't remember exactly how I found GetReligion or when, but I was an avid reader of the site before joining the team of contributors in March 2010. That was — gulp! — nearly seven years and 11,943 email conversation threads ago. At least that's how many threads my "GetReligion story possibilities" folder shows right now — I may have deleted one or two threads over the years.

At GetReligion's 10th anniversary in 2014, I shared "Five things they didn't tell me" about this gig. None has changed (see my original elaboration on this points here):

1. Writing media criticism on short deadlines is like pulling a tooth a day.
2. The avalanche of email never stops.
3. You don't know the behind-the-scenes circumstances (of stories you critique).
4. Most people who comment don't really want to talk about journalism.
5. The technology will crash at just the wrong time.

When I began contributing to GetReligion, our team included all-stars such as Mollie Hemingway, now a senior editor at The Federalist and a regular commentator on major networks such as CNN and Fox, and Sarah Pulliam Bailey, now a national religion writer for The Washington Post. 

We still have a wonderful group of GetReligionistas with decades of experience covering religion for major news outlets. But somewhere along the way, I became the second longest-tenured contributor after the incredible tmatt himself. I've written more than 1,000 of these posts since 2005 — and I still enjoy (and appreciate) the opportunity to add my voice to the conversation.

In his post this morning, tmatt explained the mission of GetReligion and why we do what we do better than I ever could. It's essential reading if you haven't seen it.

Since it's GetReligion's birthday, I have a wish as we blow out the candles: I want to see more news organizations (and individual journalists) get serious about impartiality.

I say this not as a person with any kind of ax to grind against the profession, but as one who has devoted his career to journalism and sees it as a solution to much of what ails our nation. A greater focus on fair, nuanced reporting would — in my humble opinion — help squash the growth of "fake news." Major media denying that there's a problem won't fix anything. (For more on this, I'd again point you to tmatt's earlier post.)

Meanwhile, I'd recommend this piece on places where you can find real facts, written by Paul Glader, executive director of The Media Project, which includes GetReligion:

If you read GetReligion, you know that we frequently voice concerns about stories that favor one side (often the progressive or politically correct side) over another. You also know that social media, particularly Twitter, has made it much easier for journalists to express opinions that damage their ability to be seen as unbiased. And many have fallen into the trap. For the record, the idea that "Retweets don't equal endorsements" is silly. Of course they do.

But a couple of developments this week give me reason for hope.

• First, the editor of the Wall Street Journal told his staff not to use "seven majority Muslim countries" in reporting on President Donald Trump's refugees order. His concern: That phrase is "very loaded" language. 

According to Politico, Gerry Baker's directive upset some in the Journal's newsroom. Good! Err on the side of impartiality.

• Second, Reuters editor Steve Adler — in a message titled "Covering Trump the Reuters Way" — made a passionate plea for his staff to practice unbiased journalism. The whole memo is worth your time, but here's part of it:

This is our mission, in the U.S. and everywhere. We make a difference in the world because we practice professional journalism that is both intrepid and unbiased. When we make mistakes, which we do, we correct them quickly and fully. When we don’t know something, we say so. When we hear rumors, we track them down and report them only when we are confident that they are factual. We value speed but not haste: When something needs more checking, we take the time to check it. We try to avoid “permanent exclusives” – first but wrong. We operate with calm integrity not just because it’s in our rulebook but because – over 165 years – it has enabled us to do the best work and the most good.

Amen.

Make it happen, Reuters and other news organizations. What you do is essential. Please do it better.

And when journalists fall short of the ideal? Well, dear reader, make sure you have GetReligion bookmarked. Or follow us on Twitter or Facebook.

We'll be here to offer constructive criticism and advice on how the press can improve its coverage of religion. And yes, we'll try to mix in a fair share of praise, too.

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