Columns and the brave new world of blogging

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Writing pieces that state your opinions or personal beliefs will change your relationship with sources and readers/viewers/listeners. In some cases, that can hurt people’s ability to believe that you can report with fairness and balance. For that reason, most news reporters choose not to write their opinions or personal beliefs, and some news organizations forbid beat reporters from doing so.

Other religion reporters have found that columns, commentaries and blogs enhance their standing as a reporter and lead to stronger connections with readers, viewers and listeners. Some write religion columns and rarely write news, lessening any impact their published opinions have on their reporting. Many others use blogs or columns for purposes other than stating opinions: They share color, context or other details that didn’t make it into their main story, engage in conversations with readers or explore topics using a lot of voice without adding a lot of opinion.

A few veterans offered advice to consider before you begin blogging:

  • Find out what editors and producers expect before starting a blog. A true blog, written solo, can be an enormous eater of time; combining efforts with other people is easier.
  • There are hundreds of religion blogs; how many people will read yours? You may want to consider whether a blog is the most efficient way to reach or expand your audience,or whether your regular outlets, be they print or broadcast, are better.
  • Be thoughtful about what you want to accomplish and what content you want to include in your blog. Make sure you and your supervisors are comfortable with how much opinion and personality you plan to project.
  • If your blog will be an extracurricular venture outside of work, talk to supervisors about how it will affect the perception of your work.

In religion, opinions are news. Bloggers were credited with pushing a long-shot candidate into the presidency of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2006. Web sites, LISTSERVs and emails are factors in swaying opinions in denominational battles. Journalists in general circulation media have their own opinions, of course, but most audiences expect them to keep their own viewpoints out of their reporting so that they can fairly represent the news. A few journalists, such as Cathleen Falsani at the Chicago Sun-Times, manage to do it all, writing news, opinion columns and a blog. But it’s a delicate balance on a beat where beliefs can trump facts.