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Reporting on Religion Conference

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Our March 14, 2016 conference on reporting on religion was well attended and we would like to thank all who participated, in particular our headliner David Gregory. We would also like to thank our sponsors:The University of Wisconsin Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions, and the Upper|House (an initiative of the Stephen & Laurel Brown Foundation) in collaboration with the University of Wisconsin School of Journalism and Mass Communications.

Additional support came from the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, the Wisconsin Broadcasters Association, the Wisconsin State Journal, WKOW television, and the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism.

Jim Davis, one of the conference participants, wrote a report for GetReligion.org.

Here are the sessions:

#1) America’s Changing Religious Landscape

The Pew Research Center has done groundbreaking work documenting shifts in religious beliefs, affiliations, and practices in the United States. The Center’s two recent studies of the “U.S. Religious Landscape,” each aggregating some 35,000 responses, provide an in-depth look at how American religious life is changing. The results pose interesting challenges and opportunities for journalists covering religion, for public policy and for practitioners of religion. Besheer Mohamed provided an overview of the current landscape and what it means now.

As a veteran journalist who specializes both in the coverage of religion and of survey research, Cathy Lynn Grossman helped connect Besheer Mohamed’s presentation with the issues this changing landscape raises for journalists covering religion. The moderator was prof. Charles Cohen.

#2) How the Press Covers Religion and Spirituality

Religious faith plays a big part in the lives of most Americans, and issues involving religious beliefs and practice crop up constantly in public life. Nevertheless, media generally cover religious issues poorly, often failing to inform audiences about the complexity of religious beliefs or the full contexts in which faith informs individuals’ decisions. Four veteran reporters provided an inside look at how they report religious news and offer critiques of how the media covers it. Participants were: Cathy Lynn Grossman, James Davis, Jaweed Kaleem, and Chuck Stokes. John Smalley was the moderator.

#3) Too Hot to Handle? Journalists at Work

As with many topics in journalism, religion is an area that can evoke strong emotions in the midst of controversy. Differing understandings of religious tenets and structures add to the difficulties. Three journalists talked about how they managed to keep both their professional and personal balance in the midst of particularly hot religious topics that they have covered. Participants were Doug Erickson, Bob Smietana, and Dilshad Ali. The moderator was Rev. Phil Haslanger.

#4) Faith on the Street

Tony Carnes and Christopher Smith presented their work covering religion at the street level in New York City. Over the past five years, “A Journey Through NYC Religions” has explored, documented, and explained the great religious changes in New York City. Using videos from the project’s web site, Carnes and Smith demonstrated how journalists might use this approach to gain a whole new perspective on their communities. The moderator was Gordon Govier.

#5) Religious Freedom and Freedom of Conscience

This panel explored the tension between competing goods: the value Americans place on religious freedom, and the value Americans place on equality among citizens. How do we as a society negotiate this conflict? How can people covering this issue in the media appreciate all the points at stake? Panelists were Greg Jao, Rev. Scot Anderson, and John Huebscher. The moderator was prof. Donald Downs and the respondent was David Gregory. The respondent was David Gregory.

#6) KEYNOTE: A Journalist’s Unlikely Spiritual Journey

David Gregory, author of How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey, brought his understanding of the demands of journalism at the highest levels and, more recently, how he has grappled with the role faith plays in his own life. He brought a perspective to the covering of religious issues from someone who understands how journalism works and from someone who has thought deeply about religious questions. Introduction by prof. Kathleen Bartzen Culver.

And finally, thank you again to John Terrill and The Upper|House for hosting our sessions in your beautiful facility.

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