From the Worldwide Faith News archives

Journalists at RCC 2000 stress finding the "heart" in reporting religion

From Worldwide Faith News <>
Date 01 Apr 2000 14:19:11

Religious Communication Congress 2000
Dan Gangler, coordinator of news and information
Newsroom telephone during Congress 312-595-3151

Finding the "heart" in reporting on today's diverse religious and spiritual 

By Nancy Simms

CHICAGO  Faced with the formidable challenge of accurately describing the 
ever-changing dynamics of religious and spiritual life in America today, a 
panel of seasoned professionals called today for front-line involvement, 
courage and optimism on the part of news writers, editors, reporters and 

In town as part of the Religious Communication Congress 2,000, a gathering 
of some 1,200-religion communicators representing every continent and a 
multitude of faiths, the panelists and several hundred participants 
reflected the growing diversity of the global religious community. A 
spirited dialogue between the distinguished panelists and religion 
communicators brought home the ever-more difficult challenges these 
professionals face.

How can religion communicators bring an accurate and balanced picture of 
religion in America today?  Why is it difficult to get the attention of 
editorial boards whose tendency is often to simply report on the secular 
world? How can religious diversity find its place in traditional mainstream 
religious reporting? These and many other questions were discussed, 
sometimes debated, during the two-hour long session.

Noting that by the 1990s mainline denominations began reexamining their 
practices and incorporating more expressive, mystical and even ecstatic 
forms of worship, panelist Mark Pinsky, senior writer for religion at the 
Orlando, Florida, Sentinal, asked, "Because these expressive forms of 
spirituality are, by their nature, so personal and intense, how can those 
who cover religion fairly and accurately convey this experience to readers 
who are not there to share it?"

Responding was fellow panelist, Gayle White, president of the Religion 
Newswriters Association and religion writer for the Atlanta 
Journal-Constitution, who said "the only  way is to find people and let 
them tell their story.  We need to get out there, hear it, see it and feel 
it."  Citing a recent story she covered on the glory dust phenomenon, she 
found "a real disconnect between scholarship and what's going on the in 

Panelist Harron Siddiqui, one of Canada's most respected editors and 
original thinks, currently columnist and editorial page editor emeritus for 
the Toronto Star said that the media "is not very good at conveying love 
and affection and great acts of generosity."  The media, he said is "good 
at dividing, rather than uniting us."

The Reverend Arthur Cribbs, another panelist and former news anchor, talk 
show host and reporter for several Chicago radio stations, currently of San 
Diego, California, asked "How can the information flow to religious 
communicators intersect with the flow of information to the secular media 
and vice-versa?"  Citing the example of former President Jimmy Carter, who, 
when he was president prayed every night, but never said so publicly, he 
asserted that "the wall between secularism and spiritualism is 
crumbling.  We must find the courage to break down the wall by stepping 
into the den and face the lions, to tell the stories of voices that have 
been silenced."

	Gayle White addressed the question of secular media's task in presenting 
America's religious and ethnic diversity, which, today, even many small 
towns are experiencing. Pinsky doesn't find this a daunting task, as the 
easiest story that he can pitch to his editors is how we are changing. "The 
challenge, for non-mainline Judeo-Christian-Muslim faiths," he said, "is 
getting them into the paper without marginalizing them."  "This simply 
translates into," said Saddiqui, "the faces one sees in the paper are the 
same faces one sees on the subway on the way to work."
There was no debate about the fact that Pope John Paul enjoys extensive 
media coverage, as witnessed in his recent visit to the "Holy Lands" in the 
Middle East.    "Who can forget the picture of him in prison, holding the 
hand and forgiving the man who tried to kill him?" one participant 
said.  "He is, after all, a celebrity, a super star."   

Browse month . . . Browse month (sort by Source) . . . Advanced Search & Browse . . . WFN Home