I don't know about you, but all of a sudden, bloggers are popping up everywhere in my Rolodex. In June, the Southern Baptist Convention made headlines after a group of bloggers challenged the denomination's endorsed candidate and succeeded in getting someone else elected. How many religion reporters covering the convention interviewed pastor and blogger Wade Burleson, from Enid, Okla.? My guess? They all did.Some of you will remember that Shimron did a piece on religion blogs for the N&O shortly after the Southern Baptist vote... Southern Baptists being for the Tar Heel State what our lot are in the Northeast.
As a religion reporter with 10 years experience, this is new to me. I've seen how e-mail, then websites, has changed the dynamics of religious institutions. Blogging, I think, has even broader implications. Bloggers have the ability to wreak havoc on religious institutions used to top-down structures and orchestrated spin control. Sure, there's a lot of drivel in the blogosphere. But every so often, an intelligent voice rises to the surface with something substantial to say.
More important for us, religion reporters, blogging is changing the nature of our beats. Some reporters, Frank Lockwood, of the Lexington Herald-Leader, for example, have become bloggers. Many more are challenged to respond to bloggers. First, it means we must get to know them. In addition to picking up the phone, we have to get in the habit of scanning online journals if we want to stay on top of the game. And we have to be a lot quicker about it.
In many cases, bloggers are ahead of us, reporting-wise. Often, they are insiders with deep knowledge and deeper sources. We couldn't scoop them if we wanted to—at least not all of them. In most cases, bloggers are specialists interested in a particular institution, while we're generalists writing for a wider audience. As with the introduction of a 24-hour news cycle, our job is to analyze the chatter and interpret the news fairly and accurately. Or as Samuel Freedman writes in his new book, Letters to a Young Journalist, "You must shape reality without misshaping it."
And, yes, someone you know recently had a long dinner with the RNA chief. An enjoyable time was had by all.