Religion News Association

A day after Lilly Endowment news, Associated Press posts job opening ads for seven religion journalists

A day after Lilly Endowment news, Associated Press posts job opening ads for seven religion journalists

We shared the big news Wednesday about the 18-month, $4.9 million Lilly Endowment Inc. grant that will fund 13 religion journalists at The Associated Press, Religion News Service and The Conversation.

We had a few questions, too, about the specifics of the Global Religion Journalism Initiative, which RNS CEO and Publisher Tom Gallagher calls a “transformative and historic grant by Lilly.”

A few of the answers — such as the specific descriptions of the positions and where they will be based — began emerging today.

AP posted job opening ads on its careers website for seven Global Religion positions, including:

New York-based Global Editor: “an experienced journalist and news leader to lead its new Global Religion team and direct the cooperative’s coverage of religion around the world in all media formats, with a focus on explanatory and accountability reporting.”

New York- or Washington-based news editor: “this senior producer will help lead a team of journalists who cover religion around the world and will have direct responsibility for crafting video news report on religion that is rich in exclusive spot news, compelling live video and distinct, deeply reported enterprise.”

New York- or Washington-based newsperson: “a talented multiformat journalist to join its new Global Religion team and report on the intersection of politics and religion as a newsperson.”

New York-based newsperson: “a talented multiformat journalist to join its new Global Religion team and report on youth and faith as a newsperson.”

New York-based newsperson: “a talented text and digital presentation editor to join its new Global Religion team as a newsperson. … (T)his editor will direct and edit breaking news coverage, working closely with news managers and journalists worldwide to ensure AP content about religion is accurate, fast, distinctive and packaged creatively for audiences around the world.”

Cairo-based newsperson: “a talented multiformat journalist to join its new Global Religion team and report on Islamic faith and culture as a newsperson.”

Washington-based videojournalist: “a videojournalist with a history of successful television and online video storytelling to join its new Global Religion team as a videojournalist in Washington.”

As you may recall, Wednesday’s news release noted:

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Major Godbeat news! Lilly grant to fund 13 writers, editors at RNS, AP, The Conversation

Major Godbeat news! Lilly grant to fund 13 writers, editors at RNS, AP, The Conversation

Did you feel the earth move under your feet?

That was a pretty big announcement today from Religion News Service, The Associated Press and The Conversation, right?

In case you somehow missed the 9.5-magnitude quake that shook the Godbeat world, the creation of the Global Religion Journalism Initiative — long a topic of speculation — was confirmed in a news release that noted:

The initiative is funded by an 18-month, $4.9 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to RNF (Religion News Foundation). It is one of the largest investments in religion journalism in decades.

What does the grant mean in terms of actual journalists landing gigs?

Check this out:

Through the initiative, AP will add eight religion journalists; RNS will add three religion journalists; and The Conversation will add two religion editors. Additional business staff will also be hired across the organizations.

The reaction on Twitter was swift and enthusiastic, and rightly so:

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Big news on Godbeat: President of Religion News Association wins Pulitzer for Tree of Life coverage

Big news on Godbeat: President of Religion News Association wins Pulitzer for Tree of Life coverage

One of my favorite religion writers just won a Pulitzer Prize, the most prestigious award in journalism.

Mega-congrats to Peter Smith of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette!

The Post-Gazette staff — including Smith, president of the Religion News Association — earned the Pulitzer for Breaking News Reporting.

That paper was cited for “immersive, compassionate coverage of the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that captured the anguish and resilience of a community thrust into grief.”

I liked what David Shribman, the Post-Gazette’s executive editor and vice president, told his newsroom: “There isn’t one of us in this room who wouldn’t exchange the Pulitzer Prize for those 11 lives.”

But when the massacre occurred, they did what journalists do: They wiped their tears and reported the news as fully and compassionately as possible.

Among the 10 links on the Post-Gazette’s winning Pulitzer entry are two stories by Smith. This was the lede on the first one, by Ashley Murray and Smith:

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When French journalists report on evangelicalism, they often get it wrong

When French journalists report on evangelicalism, they often get it wrong

As a college sophomore, I studied in France; one of the better decisions I made in my life. Visiting religious services helped me grow my vocabulary, so I haunted Assemblies of God, an InterVarsity group and a Sephardic synagogue in Strasbourg; Baptist congregations in Toulouse and Catholic charismatic groups in Paris.

Which is why I was interested in a piece on French evangelicals, written by veteran religion reporter Tom Heneghan — who has been based overseas for as long as I can remember. Back in the ‘70s when I was in college, evangelical Protestants were a tiny minority in France, as basically everyone was Roman Catholic. But the latter was facing lots of empty churches, whereas the former was taking the long view in terms of growing their presence in Europe.

Forty years later, evangelical flocks are much stronger. And, thanks to African immigrants (who have bolstered Protestant churches all over Europe), they’re more black than white. The photo that runs with this piece shows a crowd of mainly African-origin folks.

PARIS (RNS) — When evangelical voters cheer on President Trump in the United States or newly elected leader Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, probably the last thing on their minds is that they might be creating problems for fellow evangelicals elsewhere in the world.

It’s one of the first things that evangelicals in France think about, however, because many other French people instinctively link the small but growing evangelical presence here with large political movements abroad that they don’t like…

Hostile local officials can refuse permission to rent a hall, sponsor a gospel concert or distribute Bibles at a farmers market. Strictly secularist politicians can propose tighter controls on religion in public.

France has a radically different religious history than the United States. The French Revolution was all about freedom from religion; the American experiment was about freedom of religion. So there’s an undercurrent of animosity against religion in France that one doesn’t pick up here across the pond. For many, the true faith is a blend of national pride and secularism.

Plus, their view of evangelicals is tainted by politics. In 2004, Le Nouvel Observateur, a French magazine, called them “the sect that wants to conquer the world.” Its article ran alongside a photo of President George W. Bush standing next to a cross.

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Room in the inn? For homeless in California, there are spaces in (some) church parking lots

Room in the inn? For homeless in California, there are spaces in (some) church parking lots

As we enter the Christmas season (my apologies to those who celebrate Advent for skipping ahead), you may recall the biblical story of a baby born in a barn and placed in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

A few years ago, I wrote a Christian Chronicle story on programs such as Room In The Inn and Family Promise that — on colder nights — transform church buildings into temporary shelters for the homeless:

“Sheltering people in congregations is not as difficult as many people assume,” said Jeff Moles, Room In The Inn’s community development coordinator for congregational support. “People often think about their insurance needs, but Room In The Inn guests are covered just like any other visitors to the building.”

Most concerns about safety, security and liability disappear after a church hosts the program a few times, Moles said.

“Stereotypes are broken down,” he said, “and there is a ‘holy ground’ experience of people coming together in new ways.”

This week, I enjoyed a compelling Washington Post feature by freelancer Kimberly Winston on houses of worship in California opening their parking lots to the homeless. Yes, some people who have part- or full-time jobs and vehicles can’t afford a place to live.

That’s where people of faith come in:

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Sacred cows: Philadelphia Inquirer delves into a Hindu man's love for his 'ragtag herd of cows'

Sacred cows: Philadelphia Inquirer delves into a Hindu man's love for his 'ragtag herd of cows'

“Can being nice to cows save the world?” the Philadelphia Inquirer asks. “A Hindu man in the Poconos would like to believe so.”

On one level, the Inquirer’s feature on Sankar Sastri is simply an interesting read — a human- interest feature about a man with a unusual approach to life.

On another level, it’s a religion story.

The piece excels more at the former than the latter, although it’s not entirely devoid of doctrine.

The lede certainly paints a revealing portrait, albeit one with, um, some smelly stuff on the profile subject’s footwear:

STROUDSBURG, Pa. — Every day, a joyful man in dung-covered boots tries to balance the world's karma by dishing out love, compassion, and the occasional fried Indian delight to his ragtag herd of cows.

Sankar Sastri loves Sri, the shaggy Scottish highlander with eyes like jewels, and adores Lakshmi, a little black Brahman with horns pointing north and south. The mighty Krishna, a tall and hefty Angus, appears to be a favorite, but Sastri said each of his 23 cows is equally beloved at his Poconos sanctuary.

"Ah, Krishna, look at how big you are. You are the boss, Krishna," Sastri said to the cow on a recent cold November morning.

Sastri, 78, is wiry, bespectacled, and constantly smiling, and wears a blazer over his farm clothes while he walks around his 90-acre Lakshmi Cow Sanctuary in Monroe County. Sastri still resembles a college professor, albeit one who fell in mud. He grew up in Chidambaram, by the Bay of Bengal in Southern India, moved to the United States in 1964 for grad school, and spent 28 years teaching engineering  at New York City College of Technology in Brooklyn.

The Inquirer goes on to explain:

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Charleston. Sutherland Springs. Pittsburgh. Why local reporters are crucial in a 'national' tragedy

Charleston. Sutherland Springs. Pittsburgh. Why local reporters are crucial in a 'national' tragedy

Pay attention to Peter Smith.

If that name doesn’t ring a bell, Smith is the award-winning religion writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Your friendly GetReligionistas have been praising his exceptional journalism for years.

At the moment, Smith is — along with the rest of his Post-Gazette colleagues — working overtime on coverage of the Tree of Life synagogue shooting that claimed 11 lives. Today, he’s leading the coverage of funerals for synagogue victims. He’s also reporting on a congregant who hid in a closet and called 911. Earlier, he wrote about an emotional vigil for victims of the synagogue shooting.

And here’s a safe bet: Smith and his newspaper will stick with the story long after the national news media have moved on. That’s not a criticism of the major press per se (after all, I do most of my own reporting for national outlets), but it’s a recognition of the important role of local journalists such as Smith, Jennifer Berry Hawes and Silvia Foster-Frau.

You remember Hawes, right?

She’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The Post and Courier in Charleston, S.C. For months and even years after nine black worshipers were shot to death at the Emanuel AME Church in June 2015, she provided must-read, behind-the-scenes accounts of victims dealing with that tragedy.

“Switch off cable and go local,” someone urged after the Charleston massacre, and we couldn’t help but agree.

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Friday Five: Rachel Zoll, Heidi Cruz, 'The Exorcist,' Tennessee politicos, Christ at the Checkpoint

Friday Five: Rachel Zoll, Heidi Cruz, 'The Exorcist,' Tennessee politicos, Christ at the Checkpoint

Last month, we congratulated Rachel Zoll, national religion writer for The Associated Press, when she received a special recognition award from the Religion News Association.

A tweet embedded with that post hinted at another big honor for Zoll, and now, there is official news of that prize.

AP announced this week that Zoll is one of the winners of the 2018 Oliver S. Gramling Awards, the global news service’s highest internal honor.

From the AP press release:

The pre-eminent voice on religion for more than a decade, Zoll has led AP’s reporting on the subject, cultivating relationships with sources across all faiths, writing remarkable stories and mentoring fellow journalists to better understand the importance of covering religion. Her reporting spans from a series on Christian missionaries in Africa to a 2016 election-year piece on how conservative Christians felt under siege to a story about two churches in Georgia -- one black, one white -- trying to bridge the divide. Zoll’s sourcing led to AP being first to confirm on-the-record the death of Rev. Billy Graham.

Zoll, who has terminal brain cancer, is on medical leave. Big congrats to her on the Gramling Award!

Now, let’s dive into the Friday Five:

1. Religion story of the week: The Atlantic’s profile of Heidi Cruz, wife of Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, is interesting and revealing, with various religion-related details. It’s worth a read.

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From award-winning religion writer, a primer on how to tell a difficult story about a pedophile

From award-winning religion writer, a primer on how to tell a difficult story about a pedophile

Dear young journalists (and old ones, too): Want insight on how to report and tell an extremely difficult story?

Check out Charlotte Observer religion writer Tim Funk’s in-depth feature on the daughters of a pedophile pastor. Funk, a veteran Godbeat pro, was among the winners in the Religion News Association’s 2018 annual contest. His latest gem might well win him accolades again next year.

The 5,000-word piece (don’t let that count scare you; it reads much shorter) is both conversational in tone and multilayered in terms of the depth of information provided.

Funk’s compelling opening immediately sets the scene:

Their crusade began when Amanda Johnson visited the church of her childhood and saw a picture of her father on the wall.

She froze in fear, and felt the blood draining from her face. Then, she told the Observer, “I literally ran back to the car.”

For five years, she didn’t tell her older sister, Miracle Balsitis, who had asked her family not to mention her father’s name or any news about him.

But earlier this year, when Johnson found out from a friend that the photo was still on the wall, she finally told her sister.

Balsitis was shocked. Didn’t Matthews United Methodist Church know that Lane Hurley, their father and the church’s former pastor, was in prison because of child sex abuse crimes committed three years after he left the Matthews church?

Why, the sisters asked themselves, would a framed photo of him still be hanging next to pictures of other past clergy in a place of honor reserved for what a nearby plaque called “The Faces of Spiritual Leadership”?

The two sisters had left the Charlotte area 24 years ago — Balsitis, 39, now lives in California; Johnson, 35, in Kernersville.

They decided it was time to confront Matthews United Methodist about the picture.

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