In early October, Santa Clara hosted a roundtable to examine what happens "When Politics, Religion, and Journalism Collide," as the program was titled. The event was hosted by Sally Lehrman, the Knight Ridder/San Jose Mercury News Endowed Chair for Journalism in the Public Interest in SCU's Department of Communication. Here Joshua Richman offers the veteran newspaper reporter's angle on what it means to cover the intersection of religion and politics today.
Religion has played into 2012's presidential race more than any race for the White House in recent memory: persistent, pernacious myths about President Barack Obama's faith, and curiosity and misunderstanding of Gov. Mitt Romney's faith.
I've written about both, as have many journalists. But there aren't nearly as much of us as there used to be.
If a big political story broke in the Bay Area just a few years ago, you'd likely have seen reporters from the San Jose Mercury News, the Oakland Tribune, the Contra Costa Times, and the San Francisco Chronicle covering it.
Today, there might be just two: somebody from the Chronicle, and me. As a political reporter for the Bay Area News Group—which includes the Mercury, Tribune, Times, and many other daily and non-daily papers—my story might run from Marin to Monterey, but it's still just one where once there were several.
I'm happy to have survived the journalistic bloodbath that has swept the nation in recent years, but I can't help but wonder if readers are ill-served.
I'm from a brand of journalism that strives for objectivity. Yet ultimately each of us sees the news through our own eyes, and whenever we go from having three pairs of eyes on a story to just one pair, the readers lose a diversity of news-gathering experience and methods from which they once could have assembled an aggregate picture of their world.
This might be especially true when politics, religion, and journalism collide. I like to think that because I'm not a person of religious faith, I have no bias here—I put no faith over any other.
But a clear lens, rather than a stained-glass lens, might be a lens nonetheless, and I often wonder whether a person of faith would have a different nuance, a different way of framing and reporting a story.
More from the Roundtable: Gerardo Fernandez, an editor and journalist of an important Spanish-language outlet in the Bay Area, Alianza Metropolitan News, examines how Latino voters may play a pivotal role in this year's elections—and what's most important in their minds when it comes to voting—in his piece, "Hispanics, religion, and the elections."
And still more about the roundtable on "When Politics, Religion, and Journalism Collide."