Press-Republican

On Religion

April 15, 2013

After 25 years, familiar religion-beat questions

Every year or so, editors are asked to sit patiently while market researchers dissect thick reports about what consumers say they want to see in their newspapers.

That was already true back when Harry Moskos was editor of the Knoxville (Tenn.) News Sentinel. But he immediately noticed something strange when handed the executive summary of one late-1980s survey.

Two words near the top of the subjects valued by readers caught his attention -- "religion" and "family." Yet the professionals interpreting the data offered zero suggestions for improving coverage of those subjects.

"I remember saying, 'Look at that.' ... Those words just jumped out at me, primarily because I knew people in Knoxville tend to see those subjects as connected," said Moskos, 76, in a telephone interview. He recently ended his 60-year journalism career, with most of that work in Knoxville and in Albuquerque, N.M.

Of course, he admitted, the fact he noticed the words "religion" and "family" also "says something about the life I've lived and how I was raised" in a devout Greek Orthodox family. "I just knew we had to do something ... to respond to that interest among our readers," he said.

Thus, Moskos asked his team to create a section on faith and family life. As part of that effort, he asked -- at a meeting of Scripps Howard editors -- if the newspaper chain could start a national religion-news column.

That's how -- 25 years ago this week -- I began writing this "On Religion" column for the Scripps Howard News Service. At that time, I was the religion reporter for one of the chain's major newspapers and then I continued this work while teaching, first in a seminary, then in two liberal arts colleges and, now, as director of the Washington Journalism Center.

Text Only | Photo Reprints
On Religion
  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Easter with doubters and the 'nones'

    Should more pastors ask this blunt question: "Do you really believe Jesus was raised from the dead?" wonders religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    April 18, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg A monastery in the Hebrides, after 1,000 years

    Before Father Seraphim Aldea can build a monastery on Scotland's Mull Island, he needs to have a working septic system, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    April 11, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg World Vision wars 2014, and the future

    It's getting harder to work with broad coalitions when culture wars keep rocking churches, writes religion columnist, Terry Mattingly.

    April 4, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Death of an orthodox missionary -- in America

    Metropolitan Philip, leader of the Antiochian Orthodox Christians in North America, was a fierce advocate of Orthodox unity in the U.S., writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    March 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Praying for better journalism at the New York Times

    Bringing fair, informed religious viewpoints into the New York Times newsroom environment can be a challenge, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    March 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Yet another online rant about Lent

    Small sacrifices add up, and they can help believers focus on bigger questions says a former nun, writes religion columnist, Terry Mattingly.

    March 14, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg The evolving state of Mormon heaven

    Mormon leaders attempt to reframe the faith's longheld doctrine of "exaltation," the belief that truly devout Mormons can rise to godhood and even create new worlds, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly..

    March 7, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg The pope and the Pentecostal smartphone

    In a call for Christian unity, Pope Francis addressed a crowd of Pentecostal Protestants with a surprising request ... and received a surprising response, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    February 28, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg God and millenials: it's complicated

    Nomad faith is now the American way, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    February 21, 2014 1 Photo

  • Terry_Mattingly.jpg Obama on religious freedom -- overseas

    The president's defense of religious freedom doesn't square with his administration's policies on mandating health-insurance coverage of sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, writes religion columnist Terry Mattingly.

    February 14, 2014 1 Photo