By Gordon Govier, Special to ASSIST News Service
MADISON, WI (ANS – March 4, 2016) — The movie Spotlight won the best picture Oscar this year, highlighting the role of journalists who exposed abuses and a cover-up inside the Catholic church. The movie also highlights the importance of knowing how to cover the specialized field of religion well.
But unfortunately, as religion writer Bob Smietana wrote in the Washington Post (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/acts-of-faith/wp/2016/03/03/spotlight-just-won-an-oscar-so-why-am-i-so-worried-about-the-future-of-religion-journalism/?postshare=5761457018460370&tid=ss_fb), American religion is changing in front of our eyes at the same time the number of religion beat writers has been steadily decreasing.
On Monday, March 14, 2016, a unique coalition of organizations in Madison, Wisconsin, is offering journalists and student journalists the opportunity to improve their skills on reporting religion news.
The day is dedicated to “Reporting on Religion: Media, Belief, and Public Life“ (http://reportingonreligion.wisc.edu). It’s presented by The University of Wisconsin–Madison Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions, and Upper|House (an initiative of the Stephen & Laurel Brown Foundation), in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism and Mass Communication and the Madison Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
Although the conference is for journalists, the public is invited to attend. There is a small charge for the main conference, but no charge for the evening lecture by former NBC News reporter David Gregory that concludes the day.
Madison does not have a reputation as a particularly religious city but it has a half-dozen large evangelical churches. The conference also comes just three days after an international spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama visits UW-Madison once again (http://host.madison.com/wsj/news/local/the-dalai-lama-to-return-to-madison-for-his-th/article_dd434b99-cc4e-59c9-8c29-241a0315cf73.html).
For the past ten years the UW-Madison has also been the home of The Lubar Institute for the Study of Abrahamic Religions (http://lisar.lss.wisc.edu), “dedicated to strengthening the values of religious pluralism so vital for sustaining American civil society and peaceful international discourse.”
One year ago The Upper|House (http://www.upperhouse.org) also came to the UW-Madison campus as a faith-based initiative. “Upper|House promotes thoughtful conversation, engagement, and theological formation, exploring the influence of the Christian faith on scholarship, professional practice, vocation, and service in the world.”
Along with these two organizations, the Madison Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists (http://spjmadison.com), and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communications (http://journalism.wisc.edu) are dedicated to improving the practice of journalism, including its coverage of specialized and sometimes difficult topics, such as religion.
The conference (http://reportingonreligion.wisc.edu) includes a review of America’s changing religious landscape, presented by the Pew Research Center on Religion & Public Life (http://www.pewforum.org), followed by a critique of how well mainstream journalism does – and does not – cover religion. Additional sessions will also include a look at the changing perceptions of religious freedom, a tradition deeply woven into the fabric of American life.
David Gregory, former host of NBC’s Meet the Press will bring the day to a close with a free public lecture based on his book, “How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey.” The Upper|House is hosting the day’s activities at 365 East Campus Mall (http://www.upperhouse.org/contact-directions), on the UW-Madison campus.
Photo captions: 1) Bob Smietana has been a religion writer since 1999. He was the religion reporter for the Nashville Tennessean and senior news editor for Christianity Today, as well as a frequent contributor to national publications like Sojourners, U.S. Catholic, On Faith, and the Religion News Service. He is now a senior writer for Facts & Trends magazine, published by Lifeway Christian Resources. He is the immediate past president of the Religion Newswriters Association and will be one of the speakers at the March 14th Reporting on Religion conference in Madison, Wisconsin. 2) David Gregory is the former moderator of NBC’s Meet the Press. He is the author of How’s Your Faith?, a 2015 book about his spiritual journey with Judaism and his marriage to a Christian. His keynote address at the Reporting on Religion conference on March 14th is titled: A Journalist’s Unlikely Spiritual Journey. 3) Gordon Govier.
About the writer: Gordon Govier is an award-winning broadcast journalist based in Madison, Wisconsin. He is a writer and editor for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. He also is the editor of ARTIFAX magazine, and has written for Christianity Today, World magazine, Radio World, On Wisconsin, Our Wisconsin, and other publications. His e-mail address is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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