New nonprofit news venture to expand and enhance coverage of religion nationwide with support from Lilly Endowment.
Religion News Service (RNS), which for 77 years has been the nation's leading syndicated wire service devoted to unbiased coverage of religion, ethics and spirituality, will become a nonprofit on June 1, 2011, in an innovative new relationship with the Religion Newswriters Association (RNA) and its affiliated institution, Religion Newswriters Foundation (RNF). The collaboration also forges ties between RNS and the University of Missouri School of Journalism and its Reynolds Journalism Institute.
Founded in 1934, RNS has been owned since 1994 by Advance Publications, Inc. On June 1, 2011, the company will transfer RNS assets to Religion News LLC, a new 501(c)(3) entity affiliated with RNF,, according to an agreement finalized today.
A three-year grant totaling nearly $3.5 million from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. will help RNS make the transition, expand its online presence and launch a series of community religion websites devoted to maintaining and expanding coverage of religion news in underserved markets.
"Religious beliefs motivate people in key aspects of their lives, yet most small and mid-sized media markets have abandoned coverage of religion," said Dr. Debra L. Mason, executive director of RNA and RNF and a professor at the University of Missouri, who will manage the new nonprofit. "We seek to seed communities with knowledgeable religion journalists, showcase RNS' terrific coverage and build on existing social networks to create a robust and economically viable model for local religion news."
The RNS editorial offices will remain in Washington, sharing space with University of Missouri programs at the National Press Building.
RNS subscribers can expect to receive even more of the quality religion coverage that has made RNS the most trusted source of religion news for the nation's daily newspapers, religious publications and websites.
"This new venture allows us to continue our award-winning religion coverage under the RNS name and expand our content for the 21st century," said RNS Editor-in-Chief Kevin Eckstrom. "We're grateful to Lilly Endowment for sharing our vision that we need more, not less, coverage of a subject that is at the heart of so much of our national and global life."
As part of the expanded RNS, readers and editors can expect:
- the launch of a revamped and interactive RNS website, www.ReligionNews.com (Fall 2011)
- the creation of up to 20 local community-based websites showcasing nuanced local and national coverage of religion in underserved markets
- entrepreneurial strategies to engage new audiences
- expanded coverage of targeted topics, including religion and politics
The transition to nonprofit status is the result of two years of work by both RNS and RNF staff. The acquisition was initiated by the late Deborah Howell, former Washington bureau chief of Advance Publications' Newhouse News Service. The RNF board approved the creation of Religion News LLC in fall 2009.
According to Steve Newhouse, chairman of Advance.net: "We're proud to have owned RNS these past 17 years, and we're excited about RNS' future after joining forces with Religion Newswriters Foundation."
The research capabilities, entrepreneurial activities and media collaborations of the University of Missouri-based Reynolds Journalism Institute, as well as the interdisciplinary Center on Religion & the Professions, will also enhance RNS as it moves forward.
Steven Maynard, president of RNA and RNF, said the board welcomes the new collaboration. "This is a tremendous opportunity for RNA and RNF," said Maynard, the religion reporter at The News Tribune in Tacoma, Wash. "We have great respect for the work Religion News Service has done, and we look forward to this new era for our organization and the advancement of religion reporting."
Editor-in-Chief, Religion News Service
(202) 463-8777 x225 or (202) 390-0240
RNS on Twitter: @ReligionNewsNow
Manager, Religion News LLC
RNA on Twitter: @ReligionReport
Religion News LLC, incorporated in the State of Ohio, is a nonprofit 501(c)3 corporation formed in 2010 and affiliated with the Religion Newswriters Foundation. Religion News LLC is overseen by a managing board consisting of Debra L. Mason, who also serves as executive director of the Religion Newswriters Association and Foundation; Deborah Caldwell of CNBC.com; and Steve Buttry of the Journal Register Company.
RNF is a charitable, literary and educational organization founded in 1999 as the supporting foundation to the 62-year-old RNA. Its mission is to promote excellence in media coverage and public discourse about religion. With philanthropic support, RNF has created numerous tools and training opportunities aimed at improving coverage of religion, including ReligionLink, Lilly Scholarships in Religion, ReligionStylebook.com, and more than 100 training events.
RNS is headquartered in Washington, D.C., and provides daily coverage of national and international religion news to some of the nation's leading news outlets, including The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, NPR, Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, Time magazine, USA TODAY, Beliefnet, The Huffington Post, Christianity Today and The Christian Century. It is led by Editor-in-Chief Kevin Eckstrom, Associate Editor Daniel Burke and Production Editor Adelle M. Banks.
Advance Publications, Inc. is a privately held communications company that, directly or through subsidiaries, owns Condé Nast Publications, Parade Publications, Fairchild Publications, American City Business Journals, and award-winning newspapers in more than 25 American cities.
The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri works with citizens, journalists and researchers to strengthen democracy through better journalism. RJI seeks out the most exciting new ideas, tests them with real-world experiments, uses social science research to assess their effectiveness, and delivers solutions that citizens and journalists can put to use in their own communities.
Lilly Endowment, a private philanthropic foundation based in Indianapolis, since 1937 has focused its grantmaking in the areas of religion, community development and education. The primary aim of its religion grantmaking is to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians, principally by supporting efforts to encourage, support and educate a new generation of talented pastors and to strengthen current pastors in their capacities for excellence in ministry. The Endowment helps congregations be vibrant, healthy communities of faith and encourages efforts that make available and accessible the wisdom of the Christian tradition for contemporary life. The Endowment also supports projects that strengthen the contributions that religious ideas, practices, values and institutions make to the common good of society and promote informed dialogue about religion in American life.