In addition to enhancing their religion sections, news organizations are raising the consciousness of their non-religion reporters by insisting that everyone in the newsroom be sensitive to the religious dimension of political and cultural stories, a trend referred to as "mainstreaming."
"Nearly every issue in our society has a taproot in moral, ethical and religious values," said Jimmy Allen, the former Southern Baptist leader who now consults with newspapers through the Freedom Forum. "Any story where you miss the religious voice is an incomplete story. Mainstream stories [those not destined specifically for the religion pages] need to be done by people sensitive to the religious dimension."
The problem is that news organizations traditionally have treated religion as an "oddity, separate from daily life," said Clark Hoyt, vice president for news at Knight-Ridder Inc., owner of The Wichita [Kan.] Eagle and The Charlotte [N.C.] Observer. "We ignored the degree to which religion animates American life." Hoyt said newspapers that mainstream religion news should be able to provide coverage that is "respectful and understanding, not treat religion as an oddity that some people do--but most people don't."
Ben Winton, who writes for The Arizona Republic and The Phoenix Gazette, believes mainstreaming boils down to doing good, fundamental journalism. "Our idea is to cover religion the same way we would any other beat and look at the political, social and cultural force it wields in society," he said.
Winton's editor, Doug Carroll, said the idea is to get all reporters to talk to sources in the religious community. A story on depression, for example, might include the comments of a clergyman in addition to the usual battery of psychiatrists. The result of the papers' efforts have been that "over the last 15 months, religion stories have appeared on the cover, if not weekly, then three of every four weeks."
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