More than a hundred journalists, editors, publishers and other communications professionals gathered at the Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago last month for the combined annual conventions of the Religion Communicators Council (RCC) and Associated Church Press (ACP).
The convention opened with a challenge from its organizing committee to those attending to answer the question: in a world of chaos, what are we doing as communicators to make it better?
With the title “Seeing in New Ways: Possibilities and Perceptions,” the convention brought together two of the oldest professional associations in the field of religion communications.
Celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, RCC, formed in 1929, the oldest interfaith professional organization in the world, has the mission “to provide opportunities for networking and professional development for people working in communications for a wide variety of faith-based organizations.”
ACP members are brought together by a “common commitment to excellence in journalism as a means to describe, reflect, and support the life of faith and the Christian community.”
Rev. Brian Fesler, pastor of the Church of Scientology in Nashville, Tennessee, and member of the national board of governors for the Religion Communicators Council, covered the opening plenary in an article on the RCC website. Award-winning journalist and author Judith Valente, senior correspondent for NPR affiliate WGLT Radio and writer for U.S. Catholic magazine and National Catholic Reporter, set the tone of the conference by describing the challenges and offering insights drawn from years of experience with the Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and PBS-TV.
“Reporting is a sacred trust,” she said. “Journalists must live on the margins of life. Stand apart to see more clearly the forest for the social media. … Ours is a ‘post-truth’ era, an age of ‘alternate facts.’ We’ve reached a crisis point—we’re all too willing as a society to accept exaggeration, misrepresentation of facts and sheer delusion as truth.”
Valente implored those present to play a primary role as listeners. Only then can one channel another’s experience. “How can we as religion communicators be seekers of truth and still uncover new perspectives?” she asked.
Her most recent book, How to Live: What the Rule of St. Benedict Teaches Us About Happiness, Meaning, and Community, provides a basis for some answers to that question.
Faith reporting today is about “what it means to be alive in the 21st century,” Valente said. “The most compelling story can be someone living out their faith.” She detailed coverage of a meeting between a Muslim leader and a leader in the LGBT community in the wake of a tragic incident, and a story about a Tennessee pastor pushing the envelope to shine light on the HIV crisis. She stressed “how people live out their faith” is as worthy of attention as other news, politics and the arts, and that the contraction of faith and values coverage by mainstream media outlets should be viewed as an opportunity for the religious press to use other avenues for getting out the stories.
She stressed that there is much religion communicators can do to make this world a better place: Listen attentively. See in new ways. Find the truth in every story, and find stories in the truth of the lives of those who live their faith. Consider the views of those who conspire as well as those who inspire. Write the good, expose the bad. Push pens across pages and keys into keyboards. In short—communicate.
For more information about Religion Communicators Council, visit religioncommunicators.org.
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