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16 Times Media Found Religion in 2016


Here at TMP it's our mission to keep stories about the role of religion in public life around the world from slipping through the cracks. So, we want to highlight and congratulate those journalists and media outlets that do the hard work to find and report great religion stories.

TMP reached out to our leaders, our international network, and our friends over at GetReligion for examples of how journalists nailed the story or the religion angle in 2016.

There is a lot of good work being done even in newsrooms that have taken criticism for their handling of religion in the past. We hope to see more of this kind of solid reporting in the year ahead.


1/16 -  The AP's January 19 scoop on ISIS’ destruction of the oldest Christian monastery in Iraq was impressive. The monastery had survived 1400 years until ISIS arrived, and was recently used by US troops as a place of worship while they were stationed in Iraq. AP got word of the destruction and hired a satellite imagery firm to spy out what happened to the structure.

2/16 -  Alina Mosendz's UNN piece (in Ukrainian) "Cyborg Chaplain," looked at the role of clergy in the war front in eastern Ukraine and the battle for city of Donetsk. Ukraine's soldiers earned the name "cyborgs" for their fierce, robot-like defense of the city's airport with no sleep and few resources. The chaplains kept pace. Mosendz, a TMP member, let chaplain Andrii Poluhin speak in his own words. Poluhin was not allowed to fight, but only offer spiritual assistance. He was wounded in the fight, and talked about the hellish conditions and the "importance of looking for miracles" on the battlefield.

3/16 - The March 16 New York Times piece "ISIS, rape and birth control" is the kind of headline that makes you drop everything and click until the piece pops up in living color on your screen. This stunning feature and a companion article about the Islamic theology of rape was written by Rukmini Callimachi, a female reporter whose contacts in the region had access to Yazidi women. The article recorded more than three dozen interviews with freed Yazidi women who lived through this hell for 18 months.

4/16 - In June, The Washington Post looked into the trend of people putting #NeverTrump or #NeverHillary parting shots in their own obituaries. The story, while lighthearted, hits on the changing taboos about what's permissible in the US to discuss "in polite company." Politics and religion used to be very private topics, but the 2016 campaign moved both more out into the open. The experts say that modern Americans are getting used to sharing their innermost feelings in digital settings where a wide variety of people have a chance to see them, share them, and pass them around. The Post did well to not soften the highly religious language of the deceased in their coverage.

5/16 - The New York Times stepped up its scrutiny of Saudi Arabia and its close ties to Wahhabism and engines of Islamic radicalism around the world. A page-one piece in July, published in English and Arabic (online), looked at death threats against a one-time Saudi moral enforcer who called for more a more tolerant Islam. The Times also reported on how the Saudis are turning Kosovo into fertile ground for ISIS.  TMP's fall 2016 research fellow Naser Miftari (Kosovo) spoke and wrote on the subject at MPJI in New York City.

6/16 - The Atlantic did great work last summer on the religion beat challenging the sensational "Jesus’ wife" story. The original story made headlines after a piece of papyrus bearing the words, "Jesus said to them, My wife.” was made public in 2012. The affair turned out to be based on a lie. Author Ariel Sabar followed the chain of custody of the scrap of text that was the source of the claims, and traced it back to a forger. Sabar's shoe-leather reporting destroyed the authority of the document, and showed how eager reporters and academics were to accept at face value a finding that contradicted Christian claims.  

7/16 -  ABC News’ 20/20 set the record straight on Kayla Mueller’s witness to her Christian faith. ABC's previous reporting on Mueller's ordeal had muddied the religious details. It was clear with the latest report they’d been following this story for some time and they got the exclusive on how this unlucky woman stuck to her guns in terms of her faith. Ms. Mueller even stood up to the infamous "Jihadi John" and confessed her faith at the moment of her execution.

8/16 - As we've pointed out, obituaries are a good test for how well a journalist captures the religious essence of a person’s life. We were glad to see the New York Times chose to run a sizable obituary on billionaire Howard Butt Jr., founder of Texas grocery chain HEB. The story explained how his Christian faith was the driving force of his life and philanthropy. 

9/16 – This excellent Los Angeles Times story of one nun from the Servants of Mary order who stands vigil with the families of the dying is deeply spiritual and full of crucial details. The Servants of Mary, founded in Spain in 1851, work with the dying around the world, and prefer to assist people in their homes instead of hospitals or hospice. In Los Angeles, the Servants work mostly with immigrant families. This poignant story is among the year's best.

10/16 - Past stories on honor killings have sometimes failed to deal with the religious details. This Associated Press piece does not make that mistake. Reporter Kathy Gannon gets deep into the mindset of a Pakistani man who murdered his sister for disgracing his family by having married a Christian man. This story is not perfect, but it impressed our analysts as a courageous piece of reporting.

11/16 - We were likewise impressed with a piece from TIME Magazine's Elizabeth Dias on Donald Trump's inner circle of spiritual advisers. Dias takes readers behind the scenes of the Trump campaign on election night. With this and other good stories during the campaign, Dias has shown her ability to report on the key theological details of the story without any snark. 

12/16 - "The New Evangelical Moral Minority” by Kalefa Sanneh in The New Yorker took a long and nuanced look at the Southern Baptist Convention and its activism in Washington D.C. The story highlights the fractures within the denomination with the rise of Donald Trump. It focuses on the emergence of Russell Moore, now head of the Southern Baptist's Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Moore became one of the evangelical world's most vocal critics of Donald Trump.

13/16 - Jaweed Kaleem of the Los Angeles Times delivered another excellent story on Muslims in America as they come to terms with a Trump presidency. This report from the US heartland of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, stands out for Kaleem's focus on real Muslims rather than the typical talking-head advocates. Kaleem actually listens to what his sources say without forcing a storyline.

14/16 - The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette has put together a series of beautifully written stories and photos about the city's “silent sanctuaries.” Though built in a more religious past, the unloved structures still haunt the city today. The series was a joint effort by reporters and photographers to report on the wasting disease of shuttered churches that has affected western Pennsylvania’s congregations for 25 years. Take some time to click around in the interactive feature.

15/16 - The killing of Freddie Gray was one of several high-profile cases of black men shot by police officers in the US in 2016. The trend became one of the greatest national controversies of the past year. It is easy to lose sight of the real people at the center of these crises. The Baltimore Sun, however, did a great job exploring the human and religious side of Alicia White, the only female officer charged in that death. It's clear that the Sun team did extensive background work in the community, digging into Ms. White's life and work, including the basic details of her Christian faith and identity.

16/16 - In December, The New York Times business section took on Hollywood and religious moviegoers. If you expected another quick-turn news feature about this "hot topic," you would be wrong. The basic message of this in-depth feature was that this topic is not new and is not going away. This is in part because Hollywood has entered an era in which making profitable niche-market films is almost as important as making special-effects blockbusters. Thus, religious audiences and their target marketers have become key constituencies.

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