BY PENNY WIEGERT, The Observer
Have you ever tried to explain algebra to a toddler? What if your editor gave you that assignment?
Well, that’s how some journalists react to covering religion.
Covering religion is a challenge for many, especially if you have no faith tradition of your own. It can be intimidating, stressful and difficult for reporters to convey religious traditions and practices and why they might matter to today’s readers.
And guess what? That’s the same feeling religious leaders have trying to convey those same traditions and practices and why they might matter to reporters.
Journalists and editors know too well how readers can negatively respond when the press doesn’t get the “lingo” right. And not getting the lingo right is precisely what prevents some religious leaders from being totally receptive to reporters. Because those same readers sound off to their religious leaders about the media, too.
So how can religious leaders and journalists part this contentious sea?
They can meet, talk and share ideas. And the Northern Illinois Newspaper Association is providing the opportunity to do just that on April 12.
The session will feature a panel of four leaders from the Catholic, Jewish, Evangelical and Islamic traditions, live and in-person. They will not only share their perspectives and experiences of faith and the media, but will also offer practical suggestions and resources to make reporting religion less intimidating, stressful and difficult.
Journalists will have the opportunity to gauge the pulse of these leaders, expand their knowledge of religion reporting and go home with resources and ideas for doing stories that matter and will be compelling for readers — minus the lingo.
The panel diversity serves as a reflection of our society today.
According to a 2016 Pew Research study, “roughly one-in-five U.S. adults were raised with a mixed religious background. This includes about one-in-10 who say they were raised by two people, both of whom were religiously affiliated but with different religions, such as a Protestant mother and a Catholic father, or a Jewish mother and a Protestant stepfather.”
Do you know anyone like that in your community? What does this mean to young adults as they begin to raise their own families? Do you have a local family that will celebrate Easter (April 1 or April 8), Passover (March 30-April 7) or Ramadan (May 15-June 14) together but with differing traditions? How do local leaders assist or support people in this environment — or do they? April 12 might be a perfect way for you to get questions like these answered.
Of course, this is just a preview of the kind of story you can walk away with that does not involve publicizing a church dinner, 5K run or exposing a scandal. We think take-aways like this will be well worth the hours spent at the April 12 training. In fact, that’s our promise.
NINA organizers guarantee that you will get at least 10 story ideas like this to use in your paper.
Knowledge, insight, ideas and a little better understanding. This is what’s in it for you at the next NINA training on April 12.
- Penny Wiegert is a member of the NINA board, editor of The Observer Catholic newspaper and director of Communication for the Catholic Diocese of Rockford.