Media panelists offer tips for coverage

By Katherine Kerr, APR

Hussein Saddique, Kim Lawton, Rachel Zoll, and Debra Mason served as members of the media panel.

Photo by George Conklin.

NEW YORK — Members of the media panel for the “Re-Imagining the Religion Beat” plenary offered several suggestions to increase the likelihood of getting media coverage at a time when news holes for faith-related stories has shrunk.

Among the recommendations were:

  • Be responsive.
  • Anticipate potentially newsworthy stories, including those related to breaking news.
  • Have background on your organization readily available.
  • Have a spokesperson available.
  • Keep audio and visuals in mind when pitching stories or creating media events.
  • Don’t “stalk” a reporter or editor after sending a press release.

The panel, moderated by Debra Mason, director of the Center on Religion and the Professions at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and former director of the Religion Newswriters Association, reviewed the state of religion journalism.

Kim Lawton, managing editor and correspondent for public television’s Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly; Hussein Saddique, a senior television news producer; and Rachel Zoll, national religion report for The Associated Press, said media outlets have shared the same painful cuts in budgets and staff as communications departments for faith-based organizations. The results are that fewer resources, including space and airtime are dedicated to covering religion and there are fewer specialized journalists with an in-depth understanding of faith and spirituality.

“I can’t get to all the stories I’d like to do,” said Lawton, who said religion is a “lively, vibrant beat that deserves to be covered.”

The dearth of specialization in the newsroom results in faith groups being stereotyped because of ignorance by those covering religion-related events, Mason said. She said the media “is one of the last bastions of education” on the topic.

Rather than news stories focusing solely on a faith-related topic, religion is often covered as one aspect of bigger stories, such as the presidential campaigns and terrorism.

If a religion story is on the schedule, it is likely to be bumped by the biggest breaking story of the day, Zoll said.

In addition to the need for religious literacy, identified as a priority for RCC members and the media, Saddique said there needs to be more religious diversity within newsrooms. As a journalist who is Muslim, he was able to respond to colleagues’ questions about Islam.

The reporters said “explainers” produced by media outlets and news makers are increasingly popular on social media.

An “explainer,” is an article or video that provides consumers with background information to help them understand a story and future updates, according to News Literacy 2016, a project of New York University.

 
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