National network of religion sites launches, fills faith and values news gap

Nonprofit niche news company hosted by MU School of Journalism

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— In recent years, many newspapers have been forced to eliminate religion beat writer positions due to budget cuts, leaving religion news largely uncovered throughout many parts of the country. Now, the Religion News Service (RNS), which is headquartered at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, has launched a network of websites to cover national and local religion news thoroughly.

“The elimination of the religion beat at many media outlets presents a need for entrepreneurial journalists to fill,” said Debra Mason, a professor of journalism studies at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and director of the Center on Religion and the Professions. “Many meaningful faith and values stories are waiting to be told, which creates great opportunities for these niche religion website startups.”

Religion News Service is a wire service that recently converted from a for-profit to a nonprofit news outlet. In January, RNS relaunched its site, making all its content directly available to the public for the first time in its 78 year history. The main RNS website,, incorporates religion news and blogs from experts on different religious topics.

RNS is the national showcase that now connects to new locally based religion news sites, or Faith And ValueS (FAVS) sites located around the country. Mason, who is also the executive director of the Religion Newswriters Association, says these local news sites will be an important resource for communities.

“Religious beliefs motivate people in key aspects of their lives, yet media outlets in most small and mid-sized markets have abandoned coverage of religion,” Mason said. “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.”

Currently, there are two FAVS sites located in Spokane, Wash., and Wilmington, N.C., that are operating. Religion News will launch a third site this summer located in Columbia and plans to launch more than a dozen sites around the country in the next few years. FAV site managers are chosen through an application process. These FAVS sites are already partnering with local media outlets, including newspapers and radio news stations, to provide a source for reliable local religion news and information, as well as an outlet for civil discourse within each community.

The local sites and expansion of Religion News Service is funded by a three-year grant totaling nearly $3.5 million from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded last year. Since 1937, the Lilly Endowment, a private philanthropic foundation based in Indianapolis, has focused its funding in the areas of community development, education and religion.


Debra Mason