So, OK, I'm a faith reporter.
It's the one beat in the world of print journalism that people have real trouble understanding. This occurs most often by non-journalism folks, although some faith reporters might argue this beat is most often misunderstood in the newsroom.
I don't think that's true at the Advocate, but it's certainly true when I'm out in the community. "You're the, huh? Face reporter?" I get that a lot.
I also get, "Have you met Jennifer? She's the religious reporter for the Advocate." Religious reporter? Geeze. No!
I am religious. I am a reporter. But no, that's not my title. Religion reporter will do just fine. I usually giggle when I find myself explaining my title, or what I write about for a living.
It tends to go something like this:
"What do you do for a living?" "I'm a reporter." (Eyebrows up, curious head nod) "So, what TV station do you work for?"
"What do you do for a living?" "I'm a journalist." (Eyebrows up, audible "hmmmm") "Oh wow, so what TV station do you work for?"
"What do you do for a living?" "I'm a faith reporter." (Confusion, followed by the lean-in gesture for a vocal repeat) "A what? Face reporter?"
"What do you do for a living?" "I'm a writer." "What do you write?" "I write about religion." (Silence, awkward pause) "So ... hmmm ... do you try to get people to go to church?"
From these examples alone, you can see that religion journalism isn't exactly mainstream. It's not, for example, the politics, health, entertainment, or environment beat.
But it is equally important. And for me, I think it's the most relevant beat at any newspaper because it overlaps with everything else.
Faith reporting is all about the intersection of faith and culture, politics and government, past and present, life and death, family and tradition, theologians and secularists, and me and you.
Faith is about us; the "we" of east and west.
What does my faith, or no faith, mean to you? What does yours mean for me? And how does this affect our culture?
If you look around on the news, you'll find religion talks everywhere.
Just ask a Mormon what he thinks about Mitt Romney. Or what a conservative thinks about the "Muslim" faith of Obama. Or what Muslims think of the Libyan attacks on the U.S. Consulate a few weeks ago. Or what Crossroads residents think of our "Pray for Obama" sign. Or what people under 30 think about the growing secular/humanist/SBNR (spiritual but not religious) trends in society. Or what your friend/mother/aunt thinks about God now that she's been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
Like it or not, religion stories encircle us daily.
And because the faith beat is often viewed as the redheaded step-child of journalism, it's hard sometimes to be taken seriously.
This is something I'm always working to push through, and prove to the community that these faith stories are important ones to read and consider.
But I am not the first, and will not be the last.
Last week, I joined hundreds of religion journalists in Bethesda, Md. for the annual Religion Newswriters Association conference.
It was like being home.
These seasoned writers, many from the most prestigious newspapers in the country, not only understood what I did for a living, but they were so much better at it than I was! So much better ...
They asked questions I never would have considered, and forced their opinions and questions on guest panelists when I may have felt it was more appropriate to remain silent.
But the conference, the journalists, the panelists, even the proximity to Washington D.C. left lasting impressions on me, and encouraged me to raise the bar for my beat: To ask the hard questions, tell the hard stories, and remain unapologetic about expecting greatness, always. Both from yourself and those around you.
So, OK, I'm a faith reporter.
I write about religion and faith, and everything in between.
It's definitely not a mainstream beat in journalism.
But thank God! Faith reporting is so much cooler than that.
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