Wick Communications

Gimme that old time religion

In Writing on June 26, 2014 at 2:37 pm
Review file photo, shot by Charles Russo, of Our Lady of the Pillar Catholic Church.

Review file photo, shot by Charles Russo, of Our Lady of the Pillar Catholic Church.

For many of us, our religion is the most important aspect of our lives. Many of our communities are dominated by churches. Yet, few of our newspapers reflect those realities. As news gatekeepers we make a mistake when we ignore religion entirely or relegate it to a single page in the back of the features section.

Religion typically scares newspaper editors. You don’t want to preach. You know from past experience that if you give your coverage over to local pastors you are liable to be printing fire and brimstone columns and that isn’t interesting to people of other faiths. It might even offend some. Further, you know that if you cover minority religious communities you will hear from people who think theirs is the only way.

So how do you cover religion in a way that tells us something about your community without simply preaching to the choir?

The trick, I think, is to write about things of general human interest. Think of religion coverage the way you think about any other beat. Take eduction. Ideally, your schools reporter is looking to print things that are interesting even to folks with no kids in the classrooms.

Let me give you some examples that might make good story ideas:

  • Church attendance: Which places of worship have the greatest membership? How has that changed over time? How many churches are there? How many were there 10 and 20 years ago? …

  • Art in the church: Do you have churches or temples with stained glass or ornate alters? Are there priceless works, at least in terms of sentimental value? Imagine the photos you could take.
  • The role of lay leaders: What does an usher do? How about an alter boy? Are there local churches with greeters?
  • Churches and young people: Are church leaders generally concerned about the demographics of their congregation? Is there a Catholic church in town that is now dominated by Hispanic members? If so, how does that interaction affect the social fabric of town? Are people less likely to believe the stereotypes if they share a pew on Sundays?
  • The building fund: What do members want in a new church building? Are churches largely in one part of town? Why is that?

The point of this exercise is to suggest that religion news need not be pious and it needn’t be of interest only to people who attend church. Religion is too important to leave to wire and local columnists.

Clay

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