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3 tips for covering faith when you usually don’t

Elizabeth Dias national religion correspondent at The New York Times.

Religion can touch just about any story — from coronavirus to the presidential election. But  few newsrooms today have a full-time religion reporter.

The Institute reached out to Elizabeth Dias, the national religion correspondent at The New York Times, for advice on how journalists can cover stories intersecting with faith. 

What are your strategies for covering faith in a polarized environment? 

Dias: I am always aware that I am talking to people about what may be the most important part of their lives. Listening and asking open questions is invaluable. Religion at its heart is about people, not just ideas to which people ascribe, and so understanding the whole of someone’s life is so helpful for the coverage. I also try to spend more time talking with people than I do reading social media commentary.

What are some of the common mistakes reporters can avoid when writing about faith? 

Dias: Specificity matters: Do you mean all evangelicals, or only white evangelicals? Also, it can be easy to assume that the narrative you think you know always holds true. It does not. 

What advice can you give local reporters covering other beats like politics, health care or education when the story intersects with religion?

Dias: It might not be obvious that a political or education story intersects with religion, so the first thing is to consider that it might. The United States is in a slow shift away from Christian dominance, and the reach of that is enormous. Also, don’t be afraid to engage religion or spiritual themes, even if they feel unfamiliar. Reporting at its heart is asking questions of the unknown.

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