Reporting on people you disagree with

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Most journalists have had plenty of practice reporting about people they disagree with. Religion introduces a new intensity to that challenge. It’s one thing to be a political reporter who votes Democrat and interviews Republicans. It can be another when a reporter’s sacred beliefs are ridiculed by a person who’s likely to be the lead story. Reporters have many ways of deftly handling such situations:

  • Remember that your job is to report, not comment or judge.
  • Add context. Context doesn’t have to take much time or space. Accurately characterizing a person’s beliefs by quoting an expert or a fact can quickly show readers/viewers/listeners whether the person is on the fringe or in the mainstream, how much support he has or how much opposition he faces.
  • Represent the other side(s). Fairness demands that claims are balanced by counterclaims.Don’t let a person’s quotes or accusations stand alone. If there’s another view, state it or quote it, and try to characterize how prevalent each view is. This is much easier now that surveys of religious beliefs are instantly accessible on the Internet.
  • Truth doesn’t require falsity. Jeffrey Sheler,who covered religion for U.S.News &World Report, suggests remembering what he heard two religious leaders in dialogue say: “Being true to one’s faith does not require being false to another’s.”
  • Bow out if necessary. If you can’t accurately and fairly report on someone you disagree with, consult your editor/producer and ask to be removed from the story.