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Web fills the void of shrinking religion coverage in print media

Newspapers are a bit thinner than they used to be, but a simple Google search shows that there’s no shortage of religion news online. However, choosing credible websites is a new challenge.

The economy dealt a blow to many newspapers, says Diane Winston, the Knight chair for Media and Religion. But it may have helped spur alternative outlets.

“It’s a curse in that it’s killed print media and since print media was a home for so much paid religion reporting, it’s taken a tremendous toll on the beat,” she says. “That said, it’s been a blessing because it’s really opened up space for all kinds of voices that were just never heard on mainstream media.”

Websites such as Heeb Magazine and The Table have brought new readers to the faith beat, mostly younger adults who seldom pick up the print paper, she says.

In addition, many, secular sites such as Slate, The Huffington Post and Washington Post’s On Faith – one of the few old media websites devoted to religion – are expanding their religion offerings.

“This reflects their realization that readers are interested in religion,” says Winston.

David Gibson, editor of ReligionLink and blogger for Politics Daily says he has dozens of religion news sites bookmarked and peruses most of them daily, particularly the Religion News Service blog, Religion Dispatches and Spiritual Politics.

“In my definition, a good blog is often one that picks out stories you wouldn’t find other places or analyzes stories from a different angle that makes you think about it in a different way,” Gibson says.

According to the Religion Newswriters Association, faith news has become more popular because of international conflicts, schisms in the church over homosexuality and abortion and the politics of issues such as stem cell research.

RNA Director Debra Mason said in a recent interview with Scripps Howard News Service that dedicated religion writers are evolving with the changing industry.

“New forms of religion news and opinion can be found in a variety of settings online …  Read the Spirit, Immanent Frame, and the powerful Catholic blog, Whispers in the Loggia. CNN leaders recently announced the creation of several specialty news sites, including a religion blog. Beliefnet.com, one of the pioneers in the online world, continues to evolve,” she said.

Mason says religious organizations, such as Duke University Divinity Schools Call & Response blog, Episcopal News Service and Baptist Press, are stepping up their online religion coverage.

Though the future is uncertain, Winston says she’s confident the religion beat won’t be going away.

“The 21st century looks to be an important time for religion,” she says, noting that politics, environmental issues, poverty, sexuality and other issues all revolve around faith issues. “Undoubtedly there’s going to (continue) to be a need for intelligent religion reporting.”

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