Reporters Get Religion  | American Journalism Review
 AJR  The Beat
From AJR,   September 1994

Reporters Get Religion   

By Melanie A. Lasoff

Joan Connell , the new editor of the Newhouse-owned

Religious News Service , based in Washington, D.C., says writing about religion takes a special flair.

"It's a different kind of skill," she says. "Asking the morality question is something journalists tend not even to think about. It goes against our basic training."

Julia Lieblich , who leaves the arvard Business 
Review to take over Connell's religion beat at Newhouse News Service , agrees.

"Editors don't always place a high enough emphasis on religion and the religious roots of conflict," says Lieblich, 36, who is Jewish and attended divinity school at Harvard. "Perhaps they still think religious news is about church socials."

Connell, 46, who doesn't consider herself "a practicing anything," was a Pulitzer finalist last year for her coverage of religion's roles in international conflicts, Pope John Paul II's relationship with U.S. Catholics and ethics in cyberspace. She had been news editor at the Religious News Service since April before being promoted, and is a former editor of the San Jose Mercury News ' religion and ethics page, the nation's first.

The news service, which counts some 50 dailies, 200 religious publications and various broadcast outlets among its clients, plans to broaden coverage to include more reporting on Islam and Asian religion and New Age beliefs, she says, as well as "ethics, spirituality, and the moral aspects of public policy and popular culture."

Íonnell sees religion as a beat without limits. "Religion can be humankind's greatest treasure or it can be its most destructive weapon," she says. "Journalistically, it's fascinating material."



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