Course Title: J-348 Religion Reporting & Writing (3 hours credit)

Edmund B. Lambeth

Instructor: Professor Emeritus Edmund B. Lambeth

Winter Semester 2004, Tuesdays and Thursdays, 3:30–4:45 p.m.

Neff 27, School of Journalism

Dr. Edmund B. Lambeth, Professor Emeritus
Room 26-A, Walter Williams Hall
School of Journalism, 9th & Elm Streets
University of Missouri
Columbia, MO 65211
573-882-2831 (O) 573-445-3595 (H)

Course Description
Seminar in religion reporting and writing. The course also examines the role of religion journalism in covering faith, public life, and culture. Prerequisite: J-306 or its equivalent in professional writing experience and consent of the instructor. [Note: If you have not already pre-registered, contact Professor Lambeth or Denise Meyers in the Editorial Department Office, 181 Gannett.]

Whatever else it did, September 11, 2001 brought religion to the front pages of newspapers and magazines and to the top side of radio and TV news programs. It began to reverse an American journalistic tradition of neglecting stories of religion and of the spiritual journeys of both individuals and groups. In short, 9/11 brought the world of religion and values more sharply into focus as a major element of American culture and as a new area of challenge to American journalism.

This newly approved, non-fiction writing course gives J-School students — and others outside the school with appropriate writing skills and interest — the opportunity to try their hand at an emerging and important venue of non-fiction writing. The goal is not necessarily to recruit seminar members into religion journalism but to equip them to communicate well on a subject of growing importance. For journalism students, the prerequisite is Reporting J-306 or the equivalent in experience. Students outside journalism with comparable preparation may enroll with the permission of the instructor.

J-348 will be taught as a small seminar in reporting and writing. Participants may produce articles on such topics as religion and public life; profiles of men and women active in their faith communities; reportage on emerging cross-cultural issues related to religion; narratives of the spiritual journeys of individuals and groups; background articles on faith and values in the news; and timely features on ethical issues within congregations, denominations, or public arenas. Special attention also will be paid to the increasing religious and associated cultural diversity in North America.

Subjects covered in seminar sessions will include how to originate story ideas, useful web sites on religion and religion journalism; developing sensitivity to the religious and cultural language of different traditions; and generating news and background sources. Students also will be given access to the work of distinguished religion journalists whose articles and broadcasts have won awards by the Religion Newswriters Association and the American Academy of Religion. Seminar participants will be encouraged to interview these nationally recognized writers and share their insights with student colleagues and MU faculty members. An emphasis will be placed on one-to-one dialogue with a teacher-editor. Where appropriate, there also will be a working relationship with MU’s Center for Religion, the Professions, and the Public.

Required Text
William F. May, Beleaguered Rulers: The Public Obligation of the Professional (Louisville & London: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001). Available at the MU Book Store, Brady Commons.

Journalism Library Reserve Text
Judith M. Buddenbaum, Reporting News about Religion: An Introduction for Journalists (Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1998). Note: EBL has purchased three personal copies of this book and put them on closed reserve in the Journalism Library. A copy may be checked out only for a two-hour period or overnight at the end of the day. The book is intended as a background resource to help you navigate areas of religion and recommended best practices of journalism. Its chapters, listed below, give you a sense of how it can be useful to you. Consult them as needed.


  1. Religion in America
  2. The Role of the First Amendment
  3. The Varieties of American Religions
  4. Beliefs & Behaviors
  5. Organization & Leadership
  6. Trends in Religion News
  7. The Audiences for Religion News
  8. Responses & Responsibility
  9. Recognizing … Religion News
  10. Choosing and Using Sources
  11. Writing Stories
  12. Improving Religion Reporting


Weekly Readings
The readings marked by an asterisk (*) are required for all of us in the seminar. Volunteers are encouraged to read those without an asterisk and are encouraged to weave them into the discussion and show their relationship to the weekly themes.

Almost all articles in the readings are on the Journalism Library's Electronic Reserve System (ERES), which can be reached at Click on "Electronic Reserves and Course Materials." On the next screen, choose the name of the instructor (Lambeth). The articles are in alphabetical order. Readings marked as "handouts" in boldface usually will be photocopied by EBL and given to you in advance of the class in which they are used.

Web sites containing the articles are provided wherever possible in the hopefully infrequent event that the journalism library's ERES is not "up" or is illegible due to faint or incomplete scanning.

As a small seminar focused on religion reporting and writing, grading emphasis is distributed as follows:

  1. Active and consistent attendance at twice-weekly seminars and in scheduled one-to-one working conversations with the seminar instructor. Two misses are allowed. (20%)
  2. Knowledge of and participation in the weekly readings and quality of oral contributions to seminar discussions. Volunteering to read and report on articles without an asterisk bolsters performance, including chapters and sections from the Buddenbaum resource book. Reports can be made orally during discussion in class or completed by one-page, single-page commentaries placed in my faculty mail box by the Monday preceding the class for which they are listed. No late one-page reports will be accepted. (30%)
  3. Reporting and writing performance, reflected in the following:
    • the originality of the reporter's story ideas;
    • the development of those story ideas (and/or ones suggested by the instructor and accepted by the reporter);
    • the completeness, accuracy, and quality of written work;
    • and the quality of re-write response to critiques.
    • A story that is accepted and published by the Missourian or other outlets is a plus for any J-348 reporter. They add to a student's clip file and contribute to an institution that is important to faculty, students, and the University. (50%)

    Ethics Alert
    J-348, like other courses in the School of Journalism, requires that its students observe the accepted rules of behavior for journalists. We wish to prevent any instances of plagiarism, conflicts of interest, libel, willful neglect of privacy, and other breaches of good conduct. Infractions that fall within the University of Missouri's written standards will be reported to the appropriate campus officer for possible action

Schedule and readings

January 20
Orientation: Introducing Ourselves, Reviewing the Semester


January 22
The Contemporary Context of Religion Journalism, Circa 2004

  • *David Brooks, "Kicking the Secularist Habit," Atlantic Monthly, March 2003, pp. 26-283.
  • *Lydia Saad, "Religion Is Very Important to Majority of Americans," Gallup News Service, Dec. 5, 2003, 4 pages.
  • *Joe Strupp, "Value Judgments: Thirteen famed journalists discuss the roots of today's ethics crisis — and suggest a few solutions for the future," Editor & Publisher, June 9, 2003, pp. 10-12, 21-22.
  • *Carol Zaleski, "Mr. Rogers," a Faith Matters column, Christian Century, Apr. 19, 2003, p. 35.
  • Larry Witham, "Immigration changes the face of U. S. religion," Third of a three-part series, Washington Times, 2000, reprinted in The Templeton Award for Religion Reporting, 2002, Reprinted by the Religion Newswriters Association, with permission by the Washington Times. Handout. 8 small pages.
  • DO: Come with questions and reflections on the meaning and implications of the readings for religion reporting and writing. For example, What does "Mr. Rogers" have to teach us, if anything, about the practice of journalism? What does the value judgment dialogue in E. & P. have to do with the religion journalism specialty? Etc.


January 27-29
What do the professions profess? Practice? How are we different from barbers, tinkers, or circus barkers?
  • William F. May, Preface and Introduction to Beleaguered Rulers: The Public Obligation of the Professional, pp. 1-22, and Chapter 6, "Media Professionals (and Celebrities), Unordained Teaching Authorities," pp. 193-212.
DO: Identify the key arguments of May's chapters. Relate them to one or more of the readings we did in our first week. What questions or reservations do you have about his arguments? Based on what you've read, done or thought about religion journalism, what kind of stories do you see as needed to fulfill the professional obligations that May — and you — have in mind?

February 3-5
What is good religion reporting and writing?

  • Michael Paulson, "On Ash Wednesday, A Wider Observance," Boston Globe, February 28, 2001, 3 pages.
  • *Peter Smith, "Islam in America, Muslims a diverse presence in Kentucky," plus sidebars, "African Americans, Despite movement's splits, empowerment still is theme," + "SUFIS, Mystical tradition's outlook strikes a chord with converts," + "SHIITES, Differences with Sunnis matter little at center," +3 INFORMATIONAL GRAPHICS, "Five Pillars of Islam" + "Six core beliefs" + "Glossary," all in the Louisville Courier-Journal, Nov. 28, 2001.
  • *Beth McMurtrie, "For many Muslim students, College Is a Balancing Act; Campus life consists of frequent conflicts and occasional compromises with secular culture," Chronicle of Higher Education, Nov. 9, 2001, 9 pages.
  • *Beth McMurtrie, "Crusading for Christ amid Keg Parties and Secularism," May 18, 2001, Chronicle of Higher Education, 6 pages.
  • *Jane Lampman, "Where are the young clergy?" Christian Science Monitor, Features & Ideas Section, July 19, 2001. 5 pages.
  • Deborah Caldwell, of, "If Luther Had E-Mail," May 16, 2002, 3 pages.
  • *Mike McManus, "Jewish Study Bible a Great Hannukkah Gift," Commentary Section, The Birmingham (AL) News, p. 4-C. Handout.
  • *John Dart, "Simpsons Have Soul," Christian Century, in the Jan. 23, 2001 issue, 6 pages.

    DO: On Feb. 3 we will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of the stories above. Each person will be asked to be a lead discussant to one or two of the articles above. We'll also explore what story ideas these readings trigger for development in J-348. On Thursday, Feb. 5, EBL will bring to class a number of specific story ideas for discussion. We'll also make appointments for individual discussions on Feb. 10 and Feb. 12.


February 10-12
Individual discussions with EBL regarding story ideas for J-348. Meet in EBL's office. Please be on time.


February 17-19
Building Competencies in Religion Reporting and Writing
  • *Deborah Caldwell, "Confessions (and Counsel) of a Religion Writer," Poynter Reports Online, May 6, 2003, 3 pages.
  • *Diane Connolly, Religion Link, "Rediscovering Religion, The Faith Connection," Poynter Reports Online, 7 pages.
  • *Alicia Shepard, "The Media Get Religion," American Journalism Review, December 1995, pp. 19-25.
  • *Peter Steinfels, "Constraints of the Religion Reporter, Leading the List Are Breadth of the Beat, Space Limitations, Lack of Time to Write About Faith of Ordinary People," Nieman Reports, Summer 1993, pp. 3-5, 55.
  • John Dart's the dartboard, "Religion, media people and issues," a first blogging contribution by the news editor of the biweekly magazine Christian Century, 3 pages.
  • *Joyce Davis, "Covering Muslims in America," Poynter Reports Online, May 6, 2003, 4 pages.
  • *Martin Baron, Editor of The Boston Globe, "How Multicultural Communities Are Shaping the Future of Journalism," with Jan Schaffer, Executive Director, Pew Center for Civic Journalism," August 7, 2001, 12 pages. Handout.

DO: Come prepared to discuss these articles on Feb. 17. On Feb. 19 we will discuss the first story ideas you are developing for J-348. Completed stories are due in my mail box on Monday, Feb. 23.


Monday, February 23: First story due in EBL's faculty mail box by 4 p.m.


February 24-26
Covering the Value Dimensions of Public Life: What Can It Mean to the Practice of a Reporter with Religious Beliefs?
  • Michael Burden and Joel Currier, "Kmart Closing, February Shutdown clears way for Best Buy and Hobby Lobby; neighbors hope for revitalized shopping center," Columbia Missourian, December 5, 2003, p. 1, 10-A.
  • *E. Katherine Underwood, "Malpractice deaths increase," Columbia Missourian, Dec. 5, 2003, p. 1.
  • *Steve Lohr, "Is Wal-Mart Good for America?" New York Times, News of the Week in Review, Section 4, Dec. 7, 2003, p. 1, 4.
  • *May, Chapter 2, "Money and the Professions, Medicine and the Law," and Chapter 4, "Unacknowledged Public Rulers: Corporate Executives," in Beleaguered Rulers, pp. 27-50 and pp. 129-160, respectively.
  • Charles Layton, "News Blackout," a critique of news coverage of the Federal Communication Commission's effort to "loosen the rules limiting the rules of concentration," and the opposition to such a move American Journalism Review, December 2003/January 2004, pp. 18-31.

    DO: Using one or the other of May's chapters as background, outline how you might do an in-depth local story on a) Wal-Mart's plans for a second Super Store in Columbia; or b) a sequel to the Kmart/Best Buy/Hobby Lobby news; or a follow-up to the Underwood story on the increase in death-related malpractice cases. Or, how and why might you wish to develop an article for a hypothetical Missouri Journalism Review on how well the media concentration issue was covered in the Show-Me state. This week's "do" is intended to explore whether and, if so, how religious beliefs can legitimately inform the moral dimension of journalistic practice in the secular arena.


March 2-4
Religion and Spirituality, The Emergence of a Journalistic Genre?


March 9-11
Popular Culture, Faith Traditions, and Religious Practice
  • *Bill Moyers, "America's Religious Mosaic," USA Weekend, Oct. 11-13, 1996, pp. 4-6.
  • *Stewart M. Hoover, "Religion in the Media Age," Denver Post, Nov. 20, 2003 at, 3 pages.
  • *Gene Edward Veith, Culture Beat, "Gods and country, America's civil religion is becoming polytheistic, raising the question: Should we prefer a naked public square to the pagan alternative?" World, Oct. 4, 2003, p. 12. Handout.
  • *William Harms, University of Chicago Chronicle, NORC survey finds Americans practice what they are preached," Vol. 22, No. 20, Aug. 14, 2003, 3 pages.
  • *Bernadette Murphy, "How American culture influences worship," a book review of Alan Wolfe's The Transformation of American Religion: How We Actually Live Our Faith (Free Press, 310 pages) from the Los Angeles Times, 3 pages.
  • Michael Medved, "Faith-film interchange can break down barriers," USA Today, Thursday, September 25, 2003, p. 23-A.


DO: Be prepared to compare the theme of Murphy's review of Alan Wolfe's book with the empirical data summarized in Harms' article. What contradictions, if any, do you find? Bring to class a story idea that you think might be developed by you and/or a colleague in J-348.


Monday, March 15: Second story due in EBL's mail box by 4 p.m.


March 16-18: Individual Interviews with EBL; appointments arranged by March 9-11.

March 20-28: Spring Break


March 30-April 1
Religion, the Professions and the Public


*Explore the web site of MU's Center for Religion, the Professions, and the Public ( and consider how it might be even more helpful to one or more of the constituencies it seeks to reach and serve. Bring suggestions for it to class for discussion.


*May, Chapter 8, "Professors, Credentialed for What?" in Beleaguered Rulers, pp. 243-269.


DO: Use the web sites provided at the end of the J-348 reading list to identify one article that you think should be added to the reading list of one of the nine professional disciplines represented in MU's Center for Religion, the Professions and the Public.  

Monday, April 3: Third story due in EBL's mail box by 4 p.m.


April 6-8
Religion, Politics and Culture
  • *May, Chapter 5, "Politics, the Despised Profession," Beleaguered Rulers, pp. 161-190, or Chapter 2, "Adversarialism in America and the Professions," pp. 53-88.
  • *M. A. Muqtedar Kahn, Chapter 1, "Islam in America," Chapter 2, "American Muslims and American Politics," in American Muslims: Bridging Freedom and Faith (Beltsville: Amana Publications, 2002), pp. 25-45.
  • *The IRE Journal, Vol. 26, No. 3, May-June 2003, pp. 22-31: Meade Jorgensen, Dateline NBC, "PRIEST SCANDAL, Hidden cameras help, Hidden records frustrate probe into televangelist," pp. 22, 26; Jill Lawrence, USA Today, "CITY PORTRAIT, Role of Religion starkly different in town Profiles," pp. 23, 27-28; Tom Merriman, WJW-Cleveland, "IMAM UPROAR,"

    DO: In your hypothetical role as an arranger of a joint visit by May and Kahn to a J-348 class, what would be the questions that you would ask them to a address…and why those questions? Write them out and bring them to class. Include in your questions at least one topic related to American coverage of religion in the 2004 presidential campaign.
April 6-9: Individual interviews with EBL regarding your final story. Make appointments by April 5.

April 13-15: To be announced

April 20-21: To be announced
April 27-29: To be announced


For more information about the course, contact Professor Emeritus Ed Lambeth at (573) 445-3595 or