Published 2023

A Snapshot of Religion Coverage


A Snapshot of News Coverage Involving Religion

Why faith and spirituality need attention

Special thanks for contributions by Coalition for Faith & Media members:*
| Deborah Caldwell | Bruce Degn | Josh Good | Liz Kineke | Jenan Mohajir | Aniqa Nawabi | Sue Obeidi | Milica Pesic | Brian Peterson | Hussein Rashid | Simran Jeet Singh | Megan Sweas | Mark Vlasic | Dr. Nate Walker | Diane Winston | Dr. Debbie Almonster


This white paper presents a survey and analysis of religion news and religion angles covered in the news during two weeks in July 2023. It’s a snapshot of when and why religion appears and how it is reported. The aim is to provide publishers, editors, and reporters with a window on opportunities and challenges for improvement. The paper also explains why religion coverage needs attention and offers recommendations and examples of best practices. (Nota bene: The study includes faith, spirituality, ethics, and morals under the rubric “religion.”)

The good news is that much of the coverage is well-written, newsworthy, and insightful. The bad news is that too many stories are under-sourced and even fewer demonstrate enterprise. But the worst news is that opportunities to include the religion angle into stories about politics, climate change, sports, economics et al is consistently missed. Despite overwhelming evidence that religion, spirituality, ethics and morals are inherent in all aspects of human life, news producers fail to recognize this fact. For example, in the two weeks of our survey, the New York Times covered Republican opposition to a global AIDS relief program without discussing the religious aspects of the issue. In a Times’ story about autocrats’ push to control courts, the reporter does not include the religious dimension that links this issue in Israel, Brazil, India and the U.S.

Falling into neither the good news/bad news divide is our evaluation of the stories’ demonstration of context and their ability to generate broad appeal.  Some stories were deeply contextualized, but others lacked depth, and while some stories—whether through reporting and/or strong writing—could attract a wide audience, others were inside baseball.

These qualitative observations track closely with the findings of the 2022 HarrisX Global Faith & News study commissioned by the Faith & Media Initiative (FAMI) that showed that journalists believe coverage of faith and religion is poor, inconsistent, and becoming more marginalized. Journalists interviewed for that study expressed fear about “getting right” religion coverage, particularly in largely secular newsrooms. They also said that religion stories are not seen as a good fit for hard news, except those on controversy or scandal.

They also mentioned the digital disruption that ended the business model which supported news through advertising. Consequently, shrinking budgets have affected all areas of newsgathering, including specialty beats. This “hollowing” out of expertise within news teams leaves generalists to cover topics, such as religion, that require proficiency.

That tracks with facts on the ground. In the United States today, only a few dozen reporters in the entire country covering religion full-time for mainstream media – locally, regionally, and nationally. In the 1990s, there were at least 100 such reporters. Many of them broke important stories that were picked up on front pages and television and radio news across the country. They wrote features putting a human face on local religious leaders and congregants.

But with newsrooms gutted nationwide, the few journalists remaining scramble just to keep up with the police blotter and city council meetings. As a result, covering religion, among other beats, is deemphasized and even ignored.

If news executives saw that coverage of religion attracts audiences whose lives are reflected in the stories, they might be more inclined to cover the topic. They also might provide more resources for the beat if they realized how coverage can build empathy, challenge polarization and strengthen democracy.


Four evaluators looked at four news sources representing different mediums and, in some cases, attracting different audiences. Three of the four sources have a track record of reporting on religion for at least four decades. The news outlets chosen were Washington Post (a legacy, and predominantly text-based news outlet), National Public Radio (national broadcast with a growing digital presence), Religion News Service (RNS), an independent, non-profit news organization, and televised documentaries. We include the latter since the television audience is large, and several recent documentaries on religion have been very successful. We had hoped to include a fifth, digital-only source – – but there was not enough religion coverage to scale.

Our criteria for excellence covered seven categories:



Lede/opening and nut paragraph (“so what?”) are well written, and it is clear why the story is important; story flows well because of organization



Number and diversity



History and background



Why is this story reported now


Broad Audience Appeal

Interesting to the public



What religion means in individual or communal lives



In-depth reporting that leads to unusual, unexpected, and insightful stories

Our choice to evaluate stories from July 17 to July 31 was arbitrary. We agreed to evaluate eight stories from each news source. As a result, some of the analyses ended before the final date.

To put these findings in context, during this same period religion stories in the U.S. and around the world included the following:


Mississippi began a court-ordered process of letting people cite religious beliefs to seek exemptions from vaccinations.


Presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy Jr. was caught on video suggesting that Covid-19 is targeted to whites and Blacks and that Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese are immune.


The King’s College, the last remaining evangelical college in New York City, announced it would shut down.


A Gallup report found that more than half of Americans (58%) believe the devil exists, down from 68% in 2001.


Europe’s iconic sacred sites struggled to accommodate millions of post-pandemic tourists amid the hottest summer on record.


A doomsday cult in Kenya claimed the lives of more than 400 people who fasted to death.


President Biden met with Pope Francis’ peace envoy as part of the Vatican’s peace initiatives for Ukraine.


The military-controlled government of Myanmar unveiled a giant statue of a sitting Buddha.


Marking Tisha B’Av, four Israeli newspapers blacked out their front pages in a sign of mourning and protest of a law limiting the Israeli Supreme Court’s ability to overturn government decisions.


A prosecutor filed felony charges against a Connecticut man accused of attacking that state’s first Muslim representative.


A Notre Dame University professor filed a defamation lawsuit against a student-run publication over news coverage of her abortion-rights work, exposing tensions between press freedom and academic freedom.


The Roman Catholic Diocese of Syracuse announced a $100 million settlement with people who say they were sexual abuse victims as part of its bankruptcy proceedings.


Jerry Falwell Jr. sued Liberty University, arguing its administrators are committing trademark infringement by using his father’s likeness without permission.


Presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy was attacked for his Hindu faith by right-wing minister Hank Kunneman.


Celebrity evangelical and never-Trumper Russell Moore, now editor-in-chief of Christianity Today, published his book “Losing Our Religion,” which recounts his struggles as he ended up quitting leadership in the Southern Baptist Convention.


The Washington Post covers religion primarily from a U.S.-centered perspective, with specific emphasis on stories related to the Christian and Jewish faiths. These stories, while well-sourced and engagingly written, do not engage with topics outside of the narrow band of Abrahamic faith-based issues or history, and with almost no eye on the broader global religious stage.

Between July 17 and July 31, 2023, the Post published eight stories under their “Religion” vertical. Seven of these were from Religion News Service. (The Post is a long-time subscriber to the RNS daily story feed.) Only one was from the Post’s religion staff. Of these eight articles, four were focused explicitly and solely on the Christian faith, from shrinking ministries, to political conflicts with U.S. Catholic Charities, to A.I. chatbots with “biblical” algorithms.

Two additional stories were tangentially related to Judaism, although both were centered on historical artifacts, rather than on Jewish doctrines or religious issues. Only one story pertained to a foreign government (Israel), and it was predominantly told from the perspective of U.S. officials and policy.

A single piece focuses on broader issues facing “organized religion,” only to utilize demographic data comparing American Catholics’ and Protestants’ relative likelihood of belief in heaven and hell. The article looks at how “early Christians” used the idea of the devil, as sourced from a “professor of Christian origins,” as well as Enlightenment-era attempts by theologians to “kick the devil out of Christianity,” A scholar of “ancient Judaism” is invoked in the final paragraphs, though no actual references to historical Jewish beliefs or trends regarding the topic are included.

Finally, Hinduism makes a surprise appearance in a piece on U.S. presidential hopeful Vivek Ramaswamy’s attempts to rhetorically merge his Hindu religious upbringing with the language of evangelical Christianity. The piece does an admirable job of providing background on Hinduism for the uninitiated reader, but again: all this in reference to its relationship with Christianity.

This piece also marks the sole mention of “Islam” among all eight articles: when Hinduism is said to “not always fit neatly into categories understood by those more familiar with Abrahamic faiths like Christianity, Islam and Judaism.” It’s amazing how well these three religions are frequently invoked as genealogical siblings when the Post’s coverage makes it clear who is the paterfamilias of newsworthy religions.

Within its coverage, the most elucidating pieces focus on the challenges facing religion in the 21st century. The attempts by Christian institutions to train new generations of pastors to replace flagging theological college enrollment rates brings to light new and interesting issues in the pedagogy of religion. A.I. chatbots interpreting scripture for curious believers highlights the sometimes complementary, sometimes contradictory interactions between the most cutting edge of technology and the deepest held of beliefs.

There is quality journalism focused on interesting and important issues within the world of religion, and the Washington Post, with the aid of RNS, reports on these topics. However, during this period, there seemed no interest in topics that fall outside the Christian-centered aperture of U.S. public policy.

See Appendix 1 for critique of stories.

NPR appears to have a desire to cover religion news: it occasionally produces some outstanding interviews and journalism about religion. But it doesn’t seem to have the expertise or resources to get the job done, resulting in what seems to be random story selection and suboptimal coverage.

Over a two-week period in July 2023, NPR’s religion coverage included eight stories. Half of them dealt with international controversies about Islam.

Three of the eight were about Qu’ran burning controversies in Scandinavia. (One of those three stories wasn’t an audio story – it was a text-only Associated Press pick-up.) The Qur’an-burning issue is important on the global stage: The controversy pits anti-Muslim acts of desecration against proponents of freedom of speech, and Sweden is now being targeted for terrorist attacks.

A fourth story described a Malaysian mother’s contesting her child’s conversion to Islam. Again, this is an interesting story. But as with the Qu’ran-burning stories, it’s unclear why NPR would devote that number of resources to these particular stories.

Considering all the above religion news happening in that two-week period – none of it mentioned by NPR — it is clear NPR has no religion editor to guide story selection. The good news, however, is that NPR produced a few outstanding religion pieces during this same period.

The best of the news stories was a deeply reported radio piece by Jason DeRose about two United Methodist churches in Southern California struggling with gay rights issues. One congregation wants to leave the denomination because its members oppose LGBTQ clergy and same-sex marriage, which the denomination is on the verge of permitting; the other congregation, led by a queer woman, plans to stay to see through the new rules.

DeRose contextualized the story by explaining how this struggle is playing out in other Protestant denominations – and by making note that fewer people remain in organized religion to fight these battles. Those people, the so-called “nones,” long ago embraced gay rights.

NPR also produced two interviews by Rachel Martin, whose franchise, “Enlighten Me,” presents conversations about building a life of meaning. Each of the two interviews was compelling and deeply nuanced. While neither of the interviews was about religion “news,” each moved listeners into a profound space.

If NPR can build expertise, it has the potential to produce first-rate religion journalism.

See Appendix 2 for critique of stories.

For almost 90 years, RNS has been a daily source for religion news—and more recently spirituality and culture. The non-profit news organization also sells its journalism to secular and religious news outlets. Some of its content, per a partnership with the Associated Press (AP) also appears on that wire. RNS’s sole focus on religion news and its publication of five to 10 stories (including opinion pieces and podcasts) per day, make it a major source for and distributor of religion news.

Unlike the other outlets studied, RNS had multiple daily options for evaluation. Seeking to cast a wide net, the stories chosen were both international and domestic; they covered Hindus, Protestants, “cults,” Jews, Roman Catholics, and spiritual practitioners, and they were written by a variety of reporters.

International stories ranged from a well-sourced, deeply reported piece on how Orthodox Jews have prevented photos of women in secular Israeli news outlets to an intriguing but underreported piece on a Kenyan “doomsday” cult that caused 400 deaths.  A piece from the Vatican examines the impact of a recent synod on expanding women’s roles in the church.

Most striking is the difference in quality among the pieces. The doomsday cult story avoided sensationalism, but it lacked context. It’s not clear what the cult taught and why the deaths occurred. The Vatican story provided a lot of contexts but much of it was inside baseball. For a story that should have had wide appeal, this insider report could turn off non-Catholic readers.

Domestic stories, likewise, ranged in quality. Several needed stronger editing and deeper reporting. A piece on a former prisoner helping ex-cons felt thin because it was based on one interview and a podcast. Another, on a white Christian couple teaching church classes on “the biblical, historical and societal aspects of race in America,” is diminished by run-on sentences and a choppy flow. A complex story on a California bill outlawing caste is hard to follow because of poor writing and inadequate sourcing.

Two outstanding stories share strong reporting, reportorial initiative, and good context. A piece on conservative Republicans targeting Catholic Charities’ immigration work looks at the impact on rightwing Catholics. The piece is well-sourced, well-organized, and enterprising. Likewise, a piece on walking as a spiritual practice uses domestic and international sources to investigate a trend that started during the Covid crisis.

RNS has expertise and is a leader in religion coverage. It would be even better with more editors and seasoned reporters.

See Appendix 3 for critique of stories.


Perhaps the most talked-about documentary series on Amazon Prime Video this summer was Shiny Happy People, which according to Amazon was the most-watched documentary in the history of Amazon Studios. The four-part series explored, in some detail, the history of the Duggar family (of the Discovery Channel reality show and its many spin-offs) as well as Bill Gothard and the Institute in Basic Life Principles. Basic Life Principles, a fundamentalist Christian conference / organization, was influential in key ways in American conservative evangelicalism beginning in the 1970s.

Compared with many other documentaries (such as God Forbid: The Sex Scandal That Brought Down a Dynasty, a transparently under-researched documentary about Jerry Falwell Jr. and Liberty University), Shiny Happy People is a good model for documentaries that seek to do journalistic work about religious groups.  

Like Netflix’s strong documentary series Keep Sweet Pray and Obey (about FLDS and Warren Jeffs) or HBO’s The Vow (about NXIVM), the Shiny Happy People filmmakers focus on bringing the voices of women who have deep, personal knowledge into the center of the story, working from personal experience outward. Experts are brought in to help expand and explain the backgrounds to those stories.

What’s most exemplary about documentaries like Shiny Happy People and Keep Sweet Pray and Obey is that while the series are driven by buzzy, juicy headlines that attract the interest of audience, the series aren’t tawdry or exploitative or, alternately, a view into “weird” religious people as if the audience is gaping at a train wreck. This is accomplished by integrating the voices of experts, archival footage, and the broader cultural context, helping illuminate the tale not by treating it as an isolated curiosity but as a product of several forces – in this case, the religious apocalypticism and fear of the 1970s and 80s, alongside the rise of reality TV and exploitative labor practices in the entertainment industry.

Because nearly all documentaries about religion are adjacent to true crime documentaries, and nearly all are about powerful men taking advantage of women under their influence (usually sexually, sometimes violently), telling the stories requires a delicate balance of truth-telling and journalistic investigation on the one hand and care for the affected on the other hand. Shiny Happy People is a strong example of how to do both well, and it resonated with audiences, no matter their connection to the story at its center.


Religion is to news what mental health was during most of the 20th century. Almost everyone had a stake in the subject, but news outlets shied away from reporting on such a personal and private topic, and shame surrounded the conversation. Today, thanks to generational shift and a more open dialogue about mental health issues, media outlets understand how important it is, and report on everything from discoveries in the field to ways to improve and preserve mental health. The stigma is gone, and we're all better for it.

Religion, likewise, needs to be taken out of the shadows.

Ten Key Take-Aways

Better coverage of religion and religion angles requires:


Buy-in from publishers, news managers, editors and reporters


Dedicated expertise and resources to guide story selections and coverage


Finding stories that focus on personal experience


Avoiding a focus on just scandal, or reporting on these as “gotcha” stories


Including the religion dimension in stories about politics, education, health care etc.


Encouraging reporters with an interest in religion or asking about it when hiring


Seeking opportunities for reporters interested in religion to gain expertise (online and in-person training, e.g. through RNA, RNS, Poynter and other providers)


Not expecting reporters without expertise to successfully nuance, contextualize, or dramatize religion stories


Encouraging reporters to include non-Abrahamic religions in stories


Looking for funding opportunities from foundations and other sources

Despite the statistical decline in organized religion’s reach and popularity, religion plays no less a role in international and domestic events than it ever has. Religion is also a resource in our attempts to consider some of the great challenges of our time: what it means to be human in the face of AI and other technological, scientific, and medical advances.

Yet media companies have marginalized the religion beat, while their coverage has simultaneously trivialized and sensationalized faith as a force in current events. The cuts to religion beats at many news outlets – while leaving many dependent on the excellent work of AP’s new religion desk and RNS – are shortsighted.

Thanks to Lilly Endowment Inc.’s support and its partnership with RNS, AP has created a religion team where it once had a single dedicated reporter. Today it has eight foundation-funded reporters and editors who produce on average six to eight stories weekly, resulting in a reported 180 downloads weekly from its 15,000 U.S. newsroom customers. (The actual number of downloads is likely higher, as many newsrooms copy and paste the content rather than downloading it directly.) This secondary distribution means the stories reach more readers than AP is able to track.

AP’s foundation-funded reporters produce six to eight religion stories each week, RNS publishes that many per day. RNS’ secondary distribution (beyond its monthly website readership of 1.2-1.5 million unique visitors and its 65,000+ daily newsletter subscribers) is limited by the cost of its service, given current media budgets and attitudes toward religion coverage (See above.).

In the past few months, journalism funders have announced ambitious initiatives to address the larger news crisis. Since 2005, the country has lost almost 2,900 newspapers, and residents in more than half of U.S. counties have no, or very limited, access to reliable local news.

There are several paths to improving this situation, but most depend on foundation and, perhaps, government support. Nonprofits like RNS and not-for-profits like AP are unable to scale up without funding to increase staff. Even for-profit news organizations receive grant funds – but that practice could raise knotty issues.

Journalism’s core responsibility is to help readers understand the forces shaping their communities, their country, and their world. Oftentimes that involves understanding what motivates people’s religious views and the role they play in daily life. Many Americans no longer affiliate with a religious institution, but a majority—80 percent -- call themselves religious or spiritual. Moreover, most believe in the importance of ethical and moral values. How could stories about religion’s role in altruism and humanitarianism—as well as its part in conflict and misunderstanding not be of interest to a wide public?

At a critical juncture when democracy is at stake worldwide and in the 2024 U.S. Presidential election— providing resources to meet the needs of robust coverage must be a priority.  Religion is a significant factor in both democracy’s defense and the assault against it. Religion coverage also is called for when technology demands ethical analyses and religious considerations, and when conflicts based on religion rage worldwide.

What is needed now is a campaign targeted to news outlets, journalists, funders, journalism educators, and sponsors, that explains why coverage of religion is crucial. The HarrisX study found that 63% of people globally wanted high-quality content on faith and religion. Newsrooms have an opportunity to restore trust with a large, underserved audience – as well as a chance to tell great stories.

Our snapshot of the current state of coverage offers hope that insightful reporting is possible. But the dearth of coverage at many outlets reflects the need for a hard look at what is needed now and, in the years ahead.

The 2022 Global Faith and News Study by Harris X captured the potential opportunities and challenges:

The Challenge

53% say the news media actively ignores religion as an aspect of society, rather than appropriately addressing it.

Many – 43% – feel the media’s current approach to faith-related coverage creates unease and anxiety.

61% say the media perpetuates faith-based stereotypes rather than address and protect against them.

The Opporunity

There is universal consensus – 63% – that quality faith-related content is needed

There is a market for more, and better – 56% say they are likely to engage with quality faith-related content

56% say there should be more coverage on complex religious issues

59% want to see news cover a diverse set of faith and religious perspectives

The majority – 78% – say religious stereotypes should get the same, or more, attention as race and gender stereotypes

84% say faith and religious groups need to provide the media with spokespeople, especially those with lived experience.


Appendix One

July 17 – July 30, 2023

Rare Einstein letter rebutting biblical creation is for sale 

The lede is concise and direct, and the piece overall is well structured. The seller is the only source provided – additional sources are needed to provide insight into how this letter, the previous auctioned Einstein letter, or other similar historical artifacts with similar religious content have been received by secular/religious communities. However, the story as it stands is focused narrowly on the sale of this particular item. Piece is well-written and provides background on the history of the letter, the other Einstein letter, and his opinion of biblical creationism, all of interest to the general reader. (This story is from RNS)

View article

Christian creators build chatbots with ‘biblical’ worldview

Interesting anecdotal introduction. Well-structured flow to the piece with numerous sources, though commentary from religious chatbot users could have provided additional depth: how do they incorporate technology like this into their faith/religious practices? And are there any political or legislative ramifications for this kind of technology, especially if it serves to offer only one “kind” of result to its users?  The piece highlights an unusual and interesting confluence of technology and faith, with ramifications for the future of traditional religious attitudes towards questions of doctrine. Definitely of interest to the general public. (This story is from RNS)

View article

Artifacts meant for a White House party ended up at Mar-a-Lago. Awkwardness Ensued.

Strangely worded headline, though the story flows well and the lede clearly lays out the issue at hand. Numerous sources and abundance of context and background to a strange and amusing tale of bureaucratic miscommunication.  The piece could do more to show the importance of these religious artifacts to the state of Israel, and the length the country has gone to in the past to maintain strict controls over these objects. Unclear what insight the general reader should glean from the piece beyond its peculiarity. 

View article

Former Southern Baptist leader Russell Moore reflects on the Trump era

The lede is engaging and personal. Piece mentions Moore’s ascendancy to leadership when the previous president “left amid scandal”, but does not expand on the background.  The story only provides a single source, who is the subject of the piece himself, and is quoted from an upcoming book. Additional commentary in the form of direct questions posed to Moore could help draw out more of the conflicts within SBC that Moore mentions. Additional sources needed. The book is the focus of this piece, which comes across as engaging and somewhat scandalous because of its revelations regarding American evangelicalism’s relationship with 21st century Republican politics. (This story is from RNS.)

View article

GOP lawmakers once praised Catholic Charities. Now they want to defund the group.

An engaging and clear exploration of conflict between faith-based charities and their long-time allies in the Republican party. Well-sourced, though only one direct source from the charity side and no commentary from the political side. Mentions multiple charity groups, including Jewish Family Services, but does not provide commentary from them on the issue. The overall timeline of the piece, going as far back as statements from Glen Beck and Ted Cruz in 2014 helps intensify the contradictions highlighted in the piece. Of definite interest to the general public. (This story is from RNS.)

View article

As churches shrink and pastors retire, creative workarounds are redefining ministry

Introduction is slightly muddled, with an unsourced claim that “a wave of older clergy will retire in the coming decades”. Also references “young Americans are increasingly losing interest in organized religion” and are predominately “drawn to large congregations” without specific data cited. Later, the piece mentions an “incongruity between what some seminaries are preparing students for and the reality of pastoring a small rural church” but does not expand on what these incongruities may be. The sources are predominately from organizations and university programs focused on training new pastors – additional commentary from pastors themselves (from both large and small congregations) would deepen the importance of the issue. (This is from RNS.)

View article

As organized religion falters, the devil falls on hard times

Well-written lede, but moves quickly into six paragraphs of unrelenting data dump without a sense of what the aforementioned “consequences” of that data (on declining belief in the devil/hell) could mean. Would be better to weave these data-driven demographic observations into the overall arc of the piece. No commentary from current or ex-churchgoers on their relationship with doctrinal ideas of hell or the devil. The topic itself is inherently interesting to those with religious affiliations, but not enough expansion on what religious institutions are either doing to combat this decline in belief or to incorporate it into new theological doctrines. (This is from RNS.)

View article

Vivek Ramaswamy and the Christian language of Hinduism

Not a well-organized start, with a “grabby” lede and late nut. Provides excellent background on Hinduism, but not much historical context around American Hinduism’s political interactions with the Abrahamic religions. Ramaswamy is an interesting character yet the piece does not highlight any of his policy platforms or how they might relate or appeal to the predominantly Christian right he is courting. Perhaps more on this topic could be written after the first few GOP debates, when his views are more crystallized.  Would benefit from additional sources from the American Hindu community, as well as skeptical or curious Christians on the right beyond Hank Kunneman.  (This story is from RNS)

View article

Appendix Two

July 17 – July 30, 2023

In Malaysia, a mom is contesting her kids' conversion to Islam. It's a landmark case

The story begins with a well-written explainer to help the listener understand the importance and context of the story. Throughout, it explains religion’s meaning in the lives of the woman profiled as well as in her community. The story is well-sourced but has an important short-coming: it lacks the perspective of the husband or even the mainstream Malaysian Muslim point of view. The story is appealing and enterprising, but it could have benefited from a broader explanation of how Muslims and Hindus globally – including in the U.S. – are in conflict for historic and political reasons. Interesting for general readers.

View article

QAnon supporters are promoting 'Sound of Freedom.' Here's why

The story begins with a well-written explainer to help the listener understand the importance and newsworthiness of the story – the film is a surprise box office hit and former President Trump hosted a screening at his New Jersey golf club. The piece also does a good job of providing the history and context of the subject matter. Where it falls down – and this is partly a function of the need for brevity in radio reporting – is its sourcing and its connection to religion. The reporter tried and failed to get comment from the film’s distributor, the main character in the movie, and his organization, Operation Underground Railroad.

View article

Iraq expels Sweden's ambassador over Quran burning, after protests at Swedish Embassy

This is a workaday recitation of events that hints at a larger religion story but never explains context or history. While the events described hold broad audience appeal, the story is confusing. Why did an Iraqi national set fire to the Quran in Stockholm? Why did that act invite massive protests at the Swedish Embassy in Baghdad. What is the religion angle? Readers have no idea. The story cites no original sources and instead relies on “news reports” and the Associated Press.

View article

Protesters try to storm Baghdad's Green Zone over Quran and flag burning in Denmark

This is an Associated Press story, included in this evaluation because it was categorized as a Religion story on the NPR website. The lead of the story is clear and conveys why the story is important to a broad audience. It follows an NPR-reported story describing a protest two days early about a planned Quran protest in Sweden. But it doesn’t clarify any of the religion aspects of this story. Who are the “ultranationalists” and why are they burning Qurans? And why are Iraqis protesting the Quran-burning? None of the people on either side of the issue is quoted – though, to be fair, these sources may be difficult to find and talk to. Given the stakes, however, and the fact that NPR has run several stories about this issue, it’s also fair to expect a lot more insight into religion’s role.

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Why this poet sees grief as its own kind of spiritual practice

What a beautiful interview. I’ve included it in the evaluation because it is part of Rachel Martin’s series “Enlighten Me,” conversations about “what it takes to build a life of meaning” that are part of NPR’s religion coverage. The interview touches on the Muslim religion of poet, author and music critic Hanif Abdurraqib. But mostly it takes a turn into how his spiritual identity is linked to the loss and grief he has experienced. And then he discusses how he handles depression and suicidal ideation and finally how grief “treats him well.” This is when coverage of religion moves into something more profound and  important.

View article

Denmark's latest Quran burning sparks more outrage in Iraq and other Muslim nations

This is a straightforward, clearly written news article about an ongoing international story with broad appeal. The lead makes a note of the religion angle. The second and third grafs provide context for the importance of the piece. Because this is a news story it lacks enterprise, but it does begin to hint at the importance of religion to the story by briefly describing the conflict between desecration of the Quran and freedom of expression. The story’s biggest fault lies in its lack of quoted sources.

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Congregations leave United Methodist Church over defiance of LGBTQ bans

If only more of NPR’s religion stories were like this one. It was a pleasure to listen to, and to read the transcript. The correspondent begins by putting the story he’s about to report into context – saying that United Methodists are among several mainline Protestant groups who have dealt with conflict over LGBTQ clergy and marriage. He explains the intricacies of the current conflict, and then interviews clergy on each side of the issue. This piece was interesting, insightful, and enterprising. Well done.

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This Ivy League researcher says spirituality is good for our mental health

The way this interview describes sacred moments and synchronicities is delightful. It’s impossible not to be captivated by the stories told by the subject of the interviewer, a scientist who studies mental health. I’ve included this piece in the evaluation because it is part of Rachel Martin’s series “Enlighten Me,” conversations about “what it takes to build a life of meaning” that are part of NPR’s religion coverage. The fact that the interview subject is a scientist works well because she also describes peer-reviewed studies and skeptics. While this is not a news story, its relevance is made clear early by the interviewer: having a spiritual life is good for your mental health. And she then interrogates that premise. This piece was appealing and enterprising and did a wonderful job elucidating what religion means in our lives.

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The Hindus fighting against ‘caste consciousness’

The story is about Indian American efforts to stop a California bill that would outlaw caste discrimination. It begins with a long sentence packed with too much information. The second paragraph, explaining why the story is important, is likewise difficult to follow. Fortunately, the conflict becomes clearer as more sources are cited and more information provided. The story would be strengthened by a clearer definition of caste and why it has become a flashpoint in the US. Quoting an expert source, someone without a stake in the conflict, would have been helpful in making issues clearer. This story could be interesting to non-Hindus but not as currently written.

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Appendix Three

July 17 – July 30, 2023

White Texas couple leads ‘Let’s Talk Race’ class to educate churchgoers

Nice parallelism to begin first three grafs with “For.” But each sentence is too long and would be clearer if broken into two. Run-on sentences are a problem throughout the story, tripping readers with a surfeit of phrases. The content of the story is excellent but reorganizing it and featuring participants who took the class up top would make a livelier read. It also would make it appeal to a larger readership.

View article

Kenya doomsday cult deaths top 400 as detectives exhume 12 more bodies, with the pastor in custody

In a story that could be easily sensationalized, the reporter writes in a sober and straightforward style. Relevant information is at the top of the piece. However, there is no context given for events: why did people join the group, what faith (if any) did they follow, and why did so many participate in a fast that killed them. The reporter notes that an opposition leader blocked the establishment of a commission of inquiry, but does not state why. The piece needs more context. As it stands, it is more sensational than newsworthy.

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Appealing to Orthodox Jews, Israeli media remove women from view

Strong start with a crisp, clear sentence. The subsequent quote builds out from the lede in a helpful way. The “nut graf” which explains the story’s relevance, is spread through the next several grafs, which contextualize the current conflict. The story is well-written, well-sourced, and demonstrates reportorial initiative. This exemplifies a story about one particular group that has broad appeal because it is well-reported and well-written.

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In targeting Catholic Charities, Republicans amplify right-wing Catholic fringe

Well-written piece that is reader-friendly in its presentation of information. Although on a controversial topic, the piece is straightforward, well-sourced and inclusive of different points of view. The reporter provides helpful context for understanding the issue. The story should be of general interest.

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Synod raises hopes for long-sought recognition of women in the Catholic Church

The lede of the piece could be framed more clearly. Starting the sentence with the “question of women’s ministry,” rather than ending with it, makes the stakes clear to the reader from the get-go. The writer repeats “loudly” in the first sentence and the one following. Adverbs slow down a story and one “loudly” is enough. The rest of the article presents information clearly and incisively. The call for female ordination is not sensationalized. The story is a little too inside-baseball for a wide readership.

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From apps to labyrinths, walking gained as a spiritual tool in COVID-19 crisis

The story begins with a 43-word lede. Arguably, it’s best to keep the first sentence to 20 words so it is not bogged down and difficult to follow. There is great information in this opener, but it would be easier to follow if it were broken into two sentences. The story has a solid nut graf, good description and detail. It’s well sourced though an expert’s quote on walking and spirituality would be a good addition. I’m not clear why the story is being done now. The reporter says there was an uptick of walking (including spiritually-informed perambulations) during COVID. This is two years later so why is the story appearing now? The author needs to be clear on that.

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He made it out of prison. Now he’s helping others do the same.

Short and snappy start! Fourth graf says he spent 18 years in prison when he left in 2017: How old was he then? The following graf says he is 32 now but the reader should not need to do the math to know how old he was when he was released from prison. Story has excellent detail and flows well. However, it would be better if the reporter had interviewed a graduate of the program and one of the volunteers. Most of the story is from one interview and a podcast. Despite all the good details, it feels thin. This is the make-lemonade-out-of-lemons story, which is always heartening to read. But it needs work.

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* Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the specific authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any religious institution or organization, including FAMI. The purpose of the content is to provide personal insights, reflections, and perspectives on matters related to faith and spirituality and media. Readers are encouraged to exercise their own discernment and judgment in evaluating the content presented herein. Additionally, the information presented in these articles is not intended to substitute professional advice, and readers should consult with appropriate legal, medical, or religious authorities or seek guidance from qualified individuals for specific concerns. The author and the publisher disclaim any liability or responsibility for any loss or damage incurred by readers as a result of the use of the information presented in this article.


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