Religion reporting has existed since the earliest colonial newspapers. Samuel Kneeland, in The New-England Weekly Journal, wrote on March 20, 1727, (original capitalization and spelling preserved):
It would be needless to mention the particular reasons for Publishing this Paper; and will be sufficient to say, That the Design of it is with Fidelity and Method to Entertain the Public every Monday with a Collective of the most Remarkable Occurrences of Europe, with a particular Regard from time to time to the present Circumstances of the Publick Affairs, whether of Church or State.
It was more than 220 years later, however, before the beat would professionalize to the point of creating a membership association.
Religion Newswriters Association was founded in 1949 by 12 religion beat journalists gathered to cover a denominational meeting of Presbyterians. RNA grew steadily throughout the years and by 2006 included more than 500 members and subscribers, about two-thirds of whom are journalists.
The association helps journalists cover religion with balance, accuracy and insight. It does so by providing tools and training, including this guide.
RNA’s foundation, created in 1999, serves to improve the public’s understanding of religion. Its projects and services reach more than 5,000 journalists each week.
The Religion Newswriters Association and its Foundation provide dozens of resources. (As of this printing, all services are free, although some services are restricted to members only.)