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Religion News Service -- irreplaceable and rocked by turmoil -- faces key journalistic issues

Religion News Service -- irreplaceable and rocked by turmoil -- faces key journalistic issues

The specialized Religion News Service is irreplaceable, not only for its media subscribers but religious leaders and anyone interested in this complex field.

Now it has suddenly been rocked by turmoil as depicted by GetReligion here and here and then here. To grapple with the state of things, let's start with some history.  

America owes a debt to two Jewish journalists and this media innovation they built. Founder Louis Minsky ran “Religious News Service” (later renamed) from 1934 until his death in 1957. Then his longtime assistant, the inimitable Lillian Block (well remembered by The Religion Guy), took charge until she retired in 1979.

Through those 45 years, the agency was subsidized by the National Conference of Christians and Jews, established to counter prejudice when Catholic Al Smith became a presidential prospect. But RNS was strictly independent, not an NCCJ propaganda mill. It fused journalistic and democratic ideals, believing that reliable, knowledgeable and non-sectarian religious information enhances interfaith understanding. That remains true, and vital, in 2018.

With strong editors and NCCJ’s hands-off policy, day by day, year by year, RNS chronicled religious affairs with objectivity, accuracy, respect and fairness -- values then shared across the news industry.

The agency thereby gained the trust of “secular” media and, harder to achieve, from a wide range of religious outlets.

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Concerning secular chapels, racy white wedding dresses and other non-religion news

Concerning secular chapels, racy white wedding dresses and other non-religion news

A long, long time ago I was fascinated by a New York Times story about a hot trend in the Big Apple -- all of those folks lining up at the Manhattan Marriage Bureau. I started work on a post, but one delay led to another.

So deep into the GetReligion file of guilt it went, until a saw another wedding story with a sexy, literally, new news angle and the two got hitched.

On one level, the Marriage Bureau story had a simple business hook, and a valid one at that. You can see that in this fact paragraph near the top:

Weddings at the Manhattan bureau have increased by nearly 50 percent since 2008, according to the city clerk’s office. The increase has been coaxed by two changes in recent years: the legalization of same-sex marriage and an effort by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg in 2009 to reimagine -- and relocate -- the bureau to rival Las Vegas as a wedding destination with pizazz.

Then later there were references to events inside and outside the "chapel." Such as:

Around 11:15 a.m., the pair entered the chapel of Angel L. Lopez, an officiant who had performed 86 weddings by the close of business. (A colleague handled another 15 during Mr. Lopez’s lunch break.)
Mr. Lopez stood behind a lectern on what appeared to be a doormat.

Interesting. Now, if one looks up the word "chapel" in a dictionary, one finds something like this:

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