I teach at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Among my course offerings is religion coverage, an increasingly marginalized beat within a progressively problem-ridden industry.
Although religion is a key element in reporting on politics, culture, and society, cash-strapped news outlets are cutting back specialty beats to save money. Even more troublesome, legacy news jobs are fewer than ever, the news hole is shrinking, and the favored style of story telling is sensational, simplistic, and conflict-driven. Nevertheless, my goals remain the same: helping students to write clearly, think critically, and probe religion’s role in social and political trends and events.
For the last two years, I’ve pursued those goals by focusing on the fault-lines in the coverage of global religion. Using the Israel-Palestinian conflict as a starting point, I’ve asked students to find alternative frames for the conflict along with new voices to lift up and unsung stories to tell.
In 2010, students explored the nexus of religion, politics and gender in Israel and the West Bank. In 2011, the class will look at religion, ethnicity, and coexistence In Israel’s Arab villages, mixed towns and Jewish-majority cities. Students report across multimedia platforms with the goal of seeing their work in outlets ranging from the Washington Post to Global Post.
This class’ 13 graduate students represent a cross-section of races, religions, regions, and ethnicities. Some are in their 20s; others in their 30s. Many have traveled widely, but only one has visited Israel. They’re all interested in politics and international relations and see religion as an integral part of coverage.
Diane Winston holds the the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California. A national authority on religion and the media, her expertise includes religion, politics, and the news media as well as religion and the entertainment media. A journalist and a scholar, Winston’s current research interests are media coverage of Islam, religion and new media, and the place of religion in American identity. She writes a smart blog called the SCOOP and tweets too.
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