Telling long-term stories that matter

By Candice Johnson

Sarah Pulliam Bailey at New York Chapter RCC, March 2018

On Tuesday March 21st, the New York City chapter of the RCC met at the Church Pension Group for its monthly lunch meeting. This month’s speaker was Sarah Pulliam Bailey of the Washington Post. Sarah is a religion reporter and currently runs Washington Post’s religion blog, “Acts of Faith.” Her focus is religion’s intersection with everything, including politics, culture and education.

Sarah began by speaking of her experience as a journalist throughout the rise of Trump. She put forth the question, in a time of Trump dominating the news cycle how do we break through as religion communicators? How do we tell long-term stories that matter instead of reacting to every tweet and scandal?

She then emphasized the importance of having good story ideas and shaping them in a meaningful way that will resonate with your audience. She gave two examples of recent pieces that had done well that weren’t completely dominated by Trump. The two pieces were “Publishers rejected her, Christians attacked her: The deep faith of ‘A Wrinkle in Time’ author Madeleine L’Engle” and “Colin Kaepernick vs. Tim Tebow: A tale of two Christians on their knees.” These pieces were relevant, timely, and triggered people's emotions.

Sarah suggested spending less time on social media and more time having conversations with people. She also suggested trying to stay away from sensationalist news and the hot take, and subscribe to print publications. It’s important for us to consider at what led to Trump’s election and not just look at Trump.

She ended by explaining that they have had success in reaching their readers through email newsletters. They have spent time developing their social media accounts but this can be difficult because sometimes platforms, such as Facebook, change their algorithm.

The floor was then opened for questions. When asked how she finds stories she mentioned that they make decisions through using data, such as Google Trends. She was also asked whether the rise of the religious nones has affected readership of religious news. She said it hasn’t and the religious nones still have a desire to read religious news. The rise of Pope Francis and the Evangelical support for Trump have also increased interest in religion journalism.

The next NYC-RCC meeting, Tools You Can Use, will be on April 17th and will be about using digital tools to enhance your work.

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