Shop Notes

Workshop researcher reports on religion for the Post

Posted: March 24, 2016 | Tags: The Washington Post


Photo by Jeff Watts

Ashley Campbell

Participating in The Washington Post Investigative Practicum was one of the many opportunities that led me to attend the American University graduate program in journalism. The experience has been more than I expected, as the faculty and Post staff worked to develop a position unique to my interest in religion. 

As a religion reporting intern for Acts of Faith, I have been able to talk to Morgan Freeman about God and contribute to the coverage of Pope Francis’ changes to Catholic rituals. This experience has let me work alongside religion reporters I’ve followed since I first began studying religion as an undergrad at Macalester College. 

Although my academic knowledge of religion and interest in contemporary issues of religion in society has been an asset to reporting, it has also been a hinderance at times. Translating academic information and writing to journalistic style is not super easy. My editors have been helpful in showing me how to modify leads to be more conversational and condense my elaborative academic writing to pithy paragraphs. 

Thanks to this experience at The Washington Post, my writing abilities have expanded. Also, I have a new understanding of religion reporting that will assist me in my future pursuits as an aspiring academic-journalist examining media representations of religion. 

Religious-studies scholars often wish the news would offer more nuance or educational information about religion because it is often misunderstood. What I’ve learned from the other side, though, is it’s not as simple as writing a story about an important issue or topic. Journalists have to consider the news cycle, find a news peg so a story is timely, and produce content that will engage readers. Of course, journalists aim to inform society, and education is part of that mission. However, news has to be relatable, making it difficult to write a piece purely aimed at examining the nuances of a topic. 

The solution? More cooperation and collaboration between journalists and scholars of religion. Each community has resources to contribute to the common goal of informing the public about religion’s role in society — nationally and internationally. The specifics of this relationship are still foggy to me, and it is an issue I intend to explore as I continue my academic and professional development. 

Read Ashley's work for The Washington Post on Pope Francis' ritual changes and reaction to using contraception in fighting against the Zika virus.  

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