Rely on people power

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MATTERS OF FAITH AND BELIEF ARE ALWAYS ABOUT PEOPLE. Whenever possible, stories about doctrines, institutions or legislation should go beyond officialdom. If a vote is important enough to write about, it’s important to take the extra steps to find out how it will impact people’s lives.

LET PEOPLE TALK ABOUT FAITH AND BELIEF. Too often, reporters steer clear when sources bring up how faith guides their actions. By encouraging those conversations, reporters can learn about core values and decisive moments. Asking sources about religion is delicate; many people find it intrusive. But you can always ask, “How did your beliefs or values affect your decision?” David Crumm, an award-winning religion reporter formerly with the Detroit Free Press, advises reporters to always ask another question: “Invariably, the answers to your first questions about religion will have traditional words and phrases that are really code words religious people use to describe their experiences. When someone says, ‘God spoke to me,’ ask: “Did you actually hear an audible voice? What did the voice sound like? Were there really words or was it more of a feeling? Did you feel happy or scared? Did you sense an image of God? What did God look like?”

BE WARY OF RELYING TOO HEAVILY ON QUOTES FROM CLERGY AND RELIGIOUS LEADERS. While there are smart and prophetic voices among them, there are often wide gaps between what clergy preach and what congregation members do or believe.

CULTIVATE SOURCES. Fewer stories “break” in religion than on other beats, so cultivating sources is extremely important when trying to surface story ideas.