Melissa Binder

On the day after Fourth of July, four Godbeat developments you'll want to know about

On the day after Fourth of July, four Godbeat developments you'll want to know about

Welp. It was quite a Fourth of July here in Oklahoma City.

Perhaps you heard the news about Thunder superstar Kevin Durant's Independence Day.

Yes, there's a religion angle. But we'll save that for a post later this week from our own tmatt, GetReligion's resident expert on faith and the NBA.

As I join my fellow Oklahomans in mourning Durant's departure, the day after the Fourth of July (that would make it July 5, right?) seems like an opportune time to update readers on four key developments on the Godbeat:

1. The Religion Newswriters Association is no more.

No, the professional organization for Godbeat pros has not disbanded. It's thriving, in fact. But it has a new name: Religion News Association.

Here's how a news release from RNA (yes, that acronym is still correct) explains the change:

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Oregonian writer's quick thinking on Dutch Bros Coffee story earned her a zillion hits

Oregonian writer's quick thinking on Dutch Bros Coffee story earned her a zillion hits

Oregonian religion reporter Melissa Binder stumbled onto ratings gold last week when a short and simple story about some fast food employees praying with a distraught woman got her more than 18,000 shares and 310 comments.

People still care about people.

Sometimes it’s the simplest stories that strike the deepest cord. Note: This story takes place in Vancouver, Wash. -- just across the state line from Oregon and about 15 miles north of Portland. It reads:

When Dutch Bros employees noticed a woman in line for coffee Saturday was visibly upset, they offered to talk.
Her husband had died just the night before, she told them. He was only 37.
Pierce Dunn, 19, gave her free coffee and asked if he could pray for her. She said that would help.
Dunn and two other employees leaned out the drive-thru window to hold her hand.
"That moment was absolutely incredible," said Dunn. "It was so emotional. She was crying. I shed a few tears. We've cried since as well. When something that real happens, it hits close to home."
Dunn, who identifies as a Christian, prayed the widow would feel supported and loved, that God would provide peace and help the family mourn.

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Livin' on a prayer: The good, the bad and the ugly in the world of religion writers, circa 2015

Livin' on a prayer: The good, the bad and the ugly in the world of religion writers, circa 2015

I won't bury the lede. The ugly is me.

I ate too many sausage biscuits and cheeseburgers this year as I feverishly cranked out four GetReligion posts a week. (Note to self: Must exercise more and eat less in 2016.)

But oh, I do love this part-time gig and count it a blessing to work with the likes of Terry Mattingly, Jim Davis, Julia Duin, Richard Ostling and Ira Rifkin.

While we at GetReligion mostly critique media coverage of religion news, we like to keep readers updated on happenings on the Godbeat itself.

Here are seven developments — some good, others bad — from 2015:

1. Jennifer Berry Hawes rocked — totally rocked — coverage of the mass shooting at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C.

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Are two more major American newspapers dropping the Godbeat? Say it ain't so

Are two more major American newspapers dropping the Godbeat? Say it ain't so

Tuesday marked religion writer Lilly Fowler's last day on the job at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

After less than two years with the Post-Dispatch, Fowler announced plans last week to join the PBS newsmagazine "Religion & Ethics Newsweekly."

So, does that mean there's a Godbeat opening at the Post-Dispatch, where Fowler — like her predecessor Tim Townsend — produced award-winning religion journalism?

Apparently not.

"I know there are no immediate plans," Fowler said of the St. Louis newspaper hiring a new religion writer. "Part of the reason I left is that they took me off my beat after the newsroom was recently offered buyouts."

That's unfortunate. 

I enjoyed interviewing Fowler last year on covering faith and the front lines in Ferguson, Mo., and wish her all the best in her new gig.

Meanwhile, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel religion writer Annysa Johnson revealed on Twitter that she won't be covering faith for the next year.

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5Q+1 interview: Melissa Binder on the thriving Godbeat in America's least-religious city

5Q+1 interview: Melissa Binder on the thriving Godbeat in America's least-religious city

Melissa Binder is rocking the Godbeat in one of the unlikeliest of places -- Portland, Ore.

"Who else is going to tell you what religion in the rest of the United States might look like in 50 years?" The Oregonian writer responds when asked about covering faith and values in America's least-religious city.

Binder's journalism talents earned her prestigious national awards even before her graduation from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2013. Besides gaining photography, writing and digital news experience on campus, she interned for major news organizations such as the CNN Wire, the Charlotte Observer and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

After graduation, she joined The Oregonian as a neighborhood news reporter covering parts of Portland before transitioning to the newspaper's newly revived religion beat less than a year ago. 

In introducing herself to Portland readers, she cited her own faith:

I'm interested in this beat for reasons beyond intellectual curiosity. Belief is central to individual identity for many of you. As a person of faith, I get that. I grew up in a North Carolina church (quite literally — I attended a Christian elementary and middle school in the same building where my family attended regular services). You can find me with my husband in the front row at Imago Dei Community in Southeast Portland almost every Sunday morning.

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