Knight Chair at USC Annenberg School of Communication Will Focus on Media and Religion

MIAMI – At a time when many Americans are examining the role of religion and spirituality in their lives, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has funded the Knight Chair in Media and Religion at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication in Los Angeles.

The $1.5 million endowment enables the Annenberg School to bring a seasoned journalist to the USC campus to help improve coverage of religion in the U.S. media.

“This magnificent gift from Knight Foundation will enable USC Annenberg to marshal its resources to become a center for thoughtful dialogue about media coverage of religion and train a new generation of journalists prepared to report on the myriad issues involving faith in America and around the world,” said Geoffrey Cowan, dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

The creation of the newest Knight Chair in Journalism comes at a critical time in the nation’s history. The events of Sept. 11 and the scandals involving the Catholic Church have dominated the news. The discussion about the civic role of religion has gone from the pulpit to the front pages, prompting journalists to seek a spiritual context to key issues such as prayer in the classroom, abortion rights, politics in the Middle East and human cloning.

“Polls, the participation of millions of the faithful in regular worship, and the inescapable impact of each day’s news all demonstrate that religion is a subject of deep and abiding interest to a vast majority of Americans,” said Hodding Carter III, president and CEO of Knight Foundation. “We expect that the Knight Journalism Chair in Media and Religion at USC’s outstanding Annenberg School will help focus the media’s attention to and deepen its understanding of an issue that is central to American life.”

The Knight professor will design graduate and undergraduate courses, suggest ways journalists can cover faith and values, and be an advocate for the improvement of journalism and its contributions to society.

“The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Religion Newswriters Association, The Freedom Forum and a number of journalists in all media are working to improve religion coverage,” said Eric Newton, Knight’s director of journalism initiatives. “But I think we all would agree that true journalism excellence in this field is still a long way off. USC’s Annenberg School has the dynamic leadership, diverse talent and growing resources that a great journalism school needs to make a major contribution.”

USC, the oldest private university on the West Coast, was selected from a national pool of universities that sought to host the Knight Chair in religion. The university is home to the Center for Religion and Civic Culture, and its academicians write about the civic role of religion and faith-based organizations. USC’s rich history of study in the field helped advance its proposal.

“As a school, USC Annenberg is committed to the improvement of the practice of journalism, and this is an area where we can bring the resources of a great university to bear on an issue of critical importance to the world, particularly today,” said Michael Parks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning international correspondent and former Los Angeles Times editor who now directs Annenberg’s School of Journalism.

From 1990 through 2002, the foundation has established 17 Knight Chairs in Journalism at major U.S. colleges and universities, investing $25.5 million in the program. The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities.