Why is covering religion so important nowadays? How to separate our own beliefs from the story we are covering? What are the best practices when visiting places of worship and interviewing members of religious communities? How to cover religion under Trump administration?

Elisa Di Benedetto
Elisa Di Benedetto

When OUSPJ—Ohio University’s chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists—invited the IARJ to take part in its program about best practices in covering religion, I was pleased to accept the invitation and represent the IARJ. From Italy, where I am based, I shared with the students advice and insights that I had prepared for this session with the help of my colleague Larbi Megari.

Interacting across Skype in the Ohio classroom, we talked about the basics of religion journalism and the reasons why it is such a challenging and complex topic. The students’ active participation gave me the opportunity to tackle the ways journalism can enhance or mitigate stereotypes, prejudices and hatred, thus fostering responsible coverage of religion.

As a co-managing director of the IARJ, I have the privilege to be in touch with colleagues from different countries, traditions and cultures. During the IARJ’s international conferences on journalism and religion, they share ideas and experiences, as well as the challenges they face and their recommendations for a better coverage of religion and spirituality. Their first-hand experience around the world represents the best resource for any journalist covering religion.

Journalism students’ willingness to talk about the basics and best practices of covering a topic, which often is underrated by media organizations, shows how important and needed is balanced, accurate and fair reporting on religion. As religion reporting becomes more and more challenging, journalists are asked to answer—and to ask new questions.

While talking to the Ohio University students I realized once again how enriching sharing experiences with colleagues can be, especially when covering such an extremely sensitive issue for billions of men and women around the world. Religion touches nearly every aspect of daily life from cultural traditions and the most basic ethical assumptions to meals people share with each other. As I discussed with the Ohio students, nearly every story we cover in journalism has a religion angle. Finding that angle and showing it to the reader with fairness, accuracy and ethics is our job, our responsibility and our mission.

For more advice on covering religion, have a look at Tips for journalists and Spotlight categories and at the Resources in the IARJ website.