- University of Southern California
- Los Angeles, CA
- Personal Website
Knight Chair in Media and Religion (University of Southern California): Diane Winston and the Center for Religion in the Media are prolific commentators on the impact of news coverage (or lack of coverage) of religion.
Diane Winston is a veteran journalist, author and scholar.
The Knight Chair will suggest new ways journalists can cover faith and values, and be an articulate advocate for the improvement of journalism and its contributions to society. The chair will design curricula for graduate journalism students and teach in the religion track in the master’s program. The chair will implement programs to train mid-career journalists, including those at small newspapers, about special issues related to religion and society. As a result of teaching and research by the Knight Chair, USC will serve as a new resource for religion and media nationally, as a training center for young journalists and as an intellectual center for the public on issues involving the news media in the coverage of religion.
In January 2011, as part of a practicum in immersion journalism that was funded in part by a two-year grant from the Luce Foundation, Knight Chair Diane Winston’s J585 Reporting on Religion launched an innovative partnership with “On Being,” American Public Media’s talk show on meaning, religion, ethics and ideas. During Skype sessions with host Krista Tippett and the “On Being” staff, Winston's graduate students mapped out reporting strategies for coverage of religion and ethnicity among Israelis and Palestinians as well as Jews and Arabs in Los Angeles and in Israel. The class posted photos, audio clips and stories on Tumblr, and many of these pieces were picked up by the “On Being” blog. Subsequent to the class’ 10-day trip to Israel in March, students produced multi-media reportage that appeared in a variety of news outlets, including the Spiegel, Huffington Post, Global Post, PRI, Truthdig, Religion News Service and theJewish Journal. A complete roster of student work can be found on the Israel-Palestine Project 2011 web site.
In January, another component of the Knight-Luce “Religion on the Move” project funded fellowships for seven working journalists to support their reporting on how religion influences politics, economics, gender relations and other aspects of culture on a global scale. The 2011 Knight-Luce fellows have already established impressive credentials in outlets ranging from TIME magazine to Mother Jones and the BBC. Their work will cover topics such as the export of Islam from Saudi Arabia, the political implications of reincarnation in Tibetan Buddhist lineages, evangelical “orphan theology” and LGBT rights in Latin America.
“Promoting Excellence in Journalism,” a Knight Chair project funded by a two-year grant from the Ford Foundation, serves as a domestic-reporting complement to the international reportage generated by “Religion on the Move.” Some of the recipients of the first round of Ford-funded grants are developing stories about faith-based mentoring programs for the children of incarcerated parents, the political as well as religious dimensions of end-of-life decisions, immigrant religion in New York City and an evangelical plan to influence the way philosophy is taught in secular colleges and universities.
The Knight Chair has written and spoken widely as a commentator and interviewee over the past year. Her perspective on religion, politics, media and culture has been featured on numerous outlets, including Chronicle of Higher Education, Huffington Post, NPR, USA Today, Religion Dispatches, New York Times, Washington Post, Christian Century, Kansas City Star and Charlotte Observer. Professor Winston's current research is on religion and the news media. She is finishing two books, The Oxford Handbook on Religion and the American News Media (Oxford University Press, 2012) and Heartland Religion: The American News Media and the Reagan Revolution (Oxford University Press, 2013). The Oxford Handbook is an edited volume with sections on world religions, religion and hot-button social issues, the history of religion and the news in the United States, and the religious press. Professor Winston wrote the book's introduction and a chapter exploring coverage of religion and sexuality in early reporting on AIDS in theNew York Times, Los Angeles Times and Dallas Morning News. Heartland Religionrevisits the 1970s and 1980s to explore how the news media contributed to the conservative ideological shift known as the Reagan Revolution.
Question and Answer with Knight Chair
What disturbs you most about journalism today? What excites you most?
Most journalists continue to see the phenomena reported in “hard” news categories—politics, economics, health-care and business, for example—as somehow isolated from the ideas and activities that enliven the arts, popular culture and religion, according to Professor Winston. “That’s baffling. How could you not link and investigate, for example, the current profusion of zombie tropes in film, television, fiction and video games as well as in upstart political movements like Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party? Or why would you gloss over the profound policy-making consequences of conservative evangelical influence within the GOP? Or overlook the deep religious roots of activism on both left and the right in American politics?”
She believes that one unfortunate consequence of this general failure to see the religious elements that figure into the composition of just about every journalistic frame is a ceding of story-telling priorities to the sources who are most eager to cast issues in starkly oppositional terms. This situation, she said, is most apparent in political reporting. “Religious conservatives tend to see the world in Manichean terms, whereas progressives, both religious and secular, are often more inclined toward the kind of circumspection that can bog down a brisk conflict narrative. Thus, often without seriously probing the implications of their choices, many journalists allow conservative religionists to establish the parameters of a given cultural or political debate.”
The profusion of online news outlets beyond those branded by legacy media gives her hope that this reactive tendency within the journalistic profession might find a counterweight in independent-minded journalists who are both willing to explore new ways of telling stories and eager to upend the hoary assumptions that have often shaped the profession. Of course, one outcome of this return to a kind of partisan-press fragmentation may be that innovative impulses seldom move beyond the rarefied niches that nurture them. But she suspects the easy and rapid transmission of ideas through online and social media will mean that, unlike in previous eras of cultural insularity, insight and innovation, rather than orthodoxy, will shape the way stories are told.
Should universities expand their role as community content providers? How?
As her own institution begins construction of a new building to house components of the schools of communication and journalism, Professor Winston is hopeful that plans to integrate instruction in narrative, visual and electronic reporting will benefit both students in programs and communities in which they hone their skills. “On the one hand,” she said, “it seems self-evident that journalism education must more closely mirror the real-world circumstances that students are likely to face. Annenberg’s integrated newsroom-laboratory is a step in that direction—most obviously in its nurturing of collaboration and its intention to equip students to tell stories across multiple platforms.”
On the other hand, Professor Winston posits, hyper-local reporting is urgently needed (and, happily, growing) as larger legacy media organizations trim staffs and become less fine-grained in their coverage of local news. Distinct needs become complementary resources — many communities are underserved by news media, and forward-thinking journalism programs in those communities are beginning to train students as hyper-local reporters.
She believes these developments serve, more broadly, to acknowledge the debt that institutions of higher learning owe to the civic culture that sustains them.
“This debunking of the myth of the ‘ivory tower’ also acknowledges the importance of helping students to connect their work in academia with work in the wider world. And finally—circling back to the proposition that journalism programs can be content providers for their communities—if a commitment to service is the sole item on the agenda, we will be equipping students with the most important ethical imperative a journalist can heed.”