April 19, 2023

When Alejandra Molina speaks with someone as part of her job as a reporter with Religion News Service, things can get pretty deep.

“It’s common to have sources and people you interview ask if it’s OK for them to pray for you,” she said Tuesday during a Poynter training in Los Angeles on faith. “And I usually say it’s OK.”

Molina said it happened to her recently when she was speaking to Latino evangelical pastors in Florida who were pushing back against Gov. Ron DeSantis’ crackdown on immigrants, who are the lifeblood of their congregations.

A pastor asked Molina if he could pray for her, which she agreed to, but wasn’t sure what to say when things got specific.

“He asked me, ‘What would you like? What would you like (me) to pray for you?’” she said. “I was thinking like, OK, maybe he could pray that I get the story right.”

Her anecdote was met with good-natured laughter from the two dozen local journalists who’d gathered in a hotel in downtown Los Angeles to hear from Molina and other experts on becoming more faith-informed across their beats in a free Poynter training. Organizers said that the very nature of reporting on different faith traditions means that journalists may encounter unusual situations and traditions they don’t understand. The key is to remain humble and not be afraid to ask questions — which journalists should be naturally good at.

Molina said, “One of the reasons I don’t mind (being prayed for) is that I get to hear — if I’m interviewing somebody outside of the faith that I grew up in — I get to hear how they pray. And also, I asked so much of them, so it kind of evens the playing field.”

The full day of training allowed journalists from all beats to better understand the ways in which faith traditions infuse our lives, and to consider how better to cover our communities with a faith-informed perspective.

Attendees got lots of advice from session leaders: how to remain humble and ask sensitive questions about religious traditions they didn’t understand, build relationships outside of breaking news events, and find the most helpful religious texts for understanding faith traditions (spoiler: it’s children’s literature).

Instructors included Knight professor of media ethics Aly Colón from Washington and Lee University, Aleja Hertzler-McCain of the National Catholic Reporter, Terry Mattingly of GetReligion and Molina.

Lead instructor Colón said the point of the full day of training was to combat bias and improve journalistic understanding of faith and the faithful, an area that diversity, equity and inclusion efforts sometimes skate over.

“What we’re trying to do is be alert to opportunities and to recognize that there’s not one thing that is Christian, or Muslim,” he said. “At the core, what you’re reporting on is people who follow a faith, and you’re going to try to help us understand the dimensions of that faith.”

About Telling Stories of Faith and the Faithful

A second version of this training is planned May 12 in New York City in Manhattan at the Harvard Club, 35 W. 44th St., from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.

Read more about the speakers and the schedule, but hurry — the registration deadline is this Friday, April 21. We are accepting working journalists on a rolling basis with limited seating.

The program targets journalists from all coverage areas — not just religion reporters, but those who recognize that faith and the faithful infuse different beats and our communities in deep, multifaceted ways. You must be able to attend live and in person.

The event is free and breakfast, lunch and coffee are provided.

Support high-integrity, independent journalism that serves democracy. Make a gift to Poynter today. The Poynter Institute is a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization, and your gift helps us make good journalism better.
Barbara Allen is the director of college programming for Poynter. Prior to that, she served as managing editor of Poynter.org. She spent two decades in…
Barbara Allen

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