Journo student: Thoughts and exploits

Do you need to be religious to be a religious reporter?

As part of my journalism course, I specialise in world faiths. At the beginning of the course I quickly began to realise that I knew nothing about religion and started to question my place on the specialism. I was studying to be a reporter of world faiths, training to convey important religious issues to those who knew far more about it than I did. I failed to see to how my coverage of or opinion on religion was worth anything. I mean, I have never been religious and grew up in a secular household.

Once into the course I began to realise that I was wrong and that you don’t actually have to be religious to be a religious reporter. World Faiths has turned out to be one of the highlights of my course. Religious site visits and interviews have actually taught me a lot about different religions and through these I have begun to develop my own opinions of them.

Last Friday, one of our tutors Ruth Gledhill, faith correspondent for The Times, gave us a crash course in becoming a religious reporter. She explained that objectivity is key when reporting on religion so not belonging to one doesn’t make you any less likely to report accurately. Ruth told us that being a good religious reporter is not about being religious; it’s about following certain rules like in any other area of journalism. It’s about doing the right research, not using a story to teach or preach and letting people label themselves.

Religion, in our community,is much more than believing, or not believing in something. People are all motivated by faith, in one way or another in their lives. The point is, religion provokes opinion and activity and activity provokes news.


Who’s got the best trauma?
February 26, 2009, 5:08 pm
Filed under: journalism, journalism student | Tags: ,

We all knew that we were going to have to sell our souls at one time or other on the road to becoming a journalist-but we didn’t realise it would be quite so soon.

A few weeks into our second term we were coached on ‘sensitive interviewing’ techniques and were then told to interview someone who had been through the ‘best of times’ or the ‘worst of times’. Predictably the majority of us chose to find someone who had been through the ‘worst of times’ although some sunnier souls went for something a bit lighter.

Trawling through organisations and charities, looking for the victims of trauma, the bereaved and the emotionally scarred became commonplace in the City university journalism department that week. For some, it became an arduous task and eventually the inevitable desensitisation set in and calls of , “I think I’ve got an ovarian cancer-what have you got?” or “I’ll swap you an HIV for child bereavment” could be heard over the computer screens.

OK, so it wasn’t quite that bad but we are all becoming aware of just how ruthless we were going to have to be to get a good story. We were beginning to think of these unfortunate people in terms of who would give the most sensational interview.Sitting in a class and discussing ‘sensitive interviewing’ is one thing but actually interviewing a trauma victim is entirely another.

I found someone relatively easily-a great subject who was easy to interview and seemed to be entirely open to all lines of questioning.However, I think some of us found it hard and an altogether unpleasant experience. Some, on the other hand, discovered a new passion and talent for interviewing ‘real’ people.  

I found that all feelings of guilt and apprehension about motives slipped away as soon as the interview began-I became involved in the story and realised that I would be able to write a truthful account about an interesting individual.

After initial uncertainty, I found that sensitive interviewing and writing real life stories is OK. Actually, I enjoy it. Spending your time interviewing extraordinary people and having the chance to tell their story in a truthful way can be pretty rewarding-and hell, it pays well.