If religion can be part of every beat, why have one or more journalists in an organization concentrate solely on religion?
1 Religion is one of the most complex subjects journalists cover, requiring precision in wording, attention to nuance and knowledge of a wide range of religious traditions.
2 Most religion issues are related to the Bible or other scripture. Religion news specialists are — or become — knowledgeable about scripture and the experts they need to interpret debates over it.
A major newsweekly once misquoted the Rev. Jerry Falwell as referring to an “assault ministry” when he actually said “a salt ministry,” a reference to Matthew 5:13.
3 Journalists are expert at reporting facts, but religion reporters also become skilled at reporting about beliefs that cannot be proved. They learn to ask questions respectfully while maintaining the skepticism necessary for news.
4 The names of religious groups alone require an expert to get them right. While most Baptists in the United States belong to one of four denominations, there are more than 70, with a variety of practices, traditions and beliefs. Meanwhile, the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) and the Presbyterian Church of America have vastly different beliefs, as do the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod. Get them wrong, and you’ll hear about it.
5 Public records and open meetings laws don’t apply to the majority of religious groups, so religion reporting depends heavily on interviews. To get great stories, it helps immensely to have a reporter who has cultivated sources.
6 Religion journalists’ expertise is invaluable in breaking news coverage of shootings at churches, terrorism attacks done in the name of faith, hate crimes, court rulings and legislation involving religion and more.