Reporting religion

Jeffrey DvorkinSeems to me that covering religion is one of the most fraught beats in any news organization. That may be why is so often gets off-loaded to ex-nuns, secularists of all stripes and ghettoized (as it were) in the weekend pages or line up.

If it’s done properly as journalism, there has to be skepticism. If there’s skepticism, there’s the risk of being offensive to somebody. That’s why editors avoid covering it, or if they do allow for it, it often has no real insights or bite. One exception is Sam Freedman, a friend and a Columbia prof who writes clearly about all religions for the New York Times.

Peggy Noonan has written recently in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that non-Catholic journalists are running away from the sex abuse story: “An irony: Non-Catholic members of the media were, in my observation, the least likely to want to go after the story, because they didn’t want to look like they were Catholic-bashing.”

Yet, the Vatican continues to refer obliquely (or not so obliquely) to a “New York media conspiracy” – aka the New York Times (which is owned by the Sulzberger family).

Newsroom politics add to this complexity. When it comes to religion and journalism, journalists will try to avoid being cast as “second class citizens,” having to prove their primary allegiance is to their employer and not to their religious affiliation.

The same thing happened during the Second Intifada in many newsrooms in the US, when a number of Jewish journalists felt that the coverage was poor – even biased, yet they frequently felt constrained from speaking out in editorial meetings because of this dilemma.

This article was originally published on Jeffrey Dvorkin’s blog, Now The Details.