The collapse of local news has also led to a collapse of local reporting about religion. According to a survey by the Pew Research Center, nearly 75% of Americans say religion is very or somewhat important to them. Among U.S. adults, 24% say their faith has become stronger because of the Covid-19 pandemic, according to Pew.
Yet we estimate there are only two dozen full time local religion reporters in the entire country.
This has profound implications for not only the state of religious literacy and understanding, but also for the well-being of communities nationwide. Churches, synagogues, mosques and other houses of worship are integral to the civic glue that holds communities together. They provide summer camps and daycare centers, host Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, and run community food pantries, among many other activities. But houses of worship are more than that: they are communities’ spiritual and moral havens, and the drivers of their congregants’ beliefs and actions.
If local journalists are to help the public gain greater understanding of the forces shaping our inner lives and the world around us, it’s imperative they understand what motivates people’s religious views and the role they play in their communities.
A study by Northeastern University’s Readership Institute found that American newspaper readers are highly unsatisfied with current religion coverage. “Media powerhouses don’t quite get religion,” said New York Times Executive Editor Dean Baquet. “We don’t get the role of religion in people’s lives.”
Report for America — a national service program that places talented journalists into local newsrooms to report on under-covered issues and communities — can help. The program is an initiative of The GroundTruth Project, a nonprofit media organization.
Report for America recruits, vets and pays half the salaries of journalists for newsrooms around the country — now up to $25,000 per year. Applications are now open for newsrooms looking to host journalists for up to three years, beginning in June 2021.
Many current Report for America corps members cover traditional local beats—city hall, K-12 education, the local economy—and that’s great. But newsrooms can also craft a less-traditional beat. For example, Wyatt Massey covers religion for the Chattanooga Times Free Press.
These reporters will be employees of your news organization. Report for America has no influence on editorial decisions.
All local news organizations—nonprofit or commercial—are eligible to apply. Report for America partner newsrooms include daily and weekly newspapers, online news sites, radio and television stations.
The application deadline is September 30, 2020, and newsrooms will be publicly announced in December.
More information about how the program works can be found here.
For newsrooms with questions about the process, email [email protected].
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Sam Kille, Marketing & Public Relations Manager