News Story

Why Faith Reporting Matters

Latter-day Saint Christine Baronins addresses issue as part of panel discussion.

Christine Baronins, Winnipeg area communication director for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, participated in a “Faith and the Media” panel to discuss why faith reporting matters. The event, which marked the release of a new book comprising a collection of religion columns written by John Longhurst over his distinguished career as a faith reporter for the Winnipeg Free Press, was held on June 12, 2024.

Baronins, who is also an executive member of the Manitoba Multifaith Council and member of the Winnipeg Free Press Religion in the News project’s advisory board, said the most meaningful part of participating on the panel was “the opportunity to connect faith reporting to the work of promoting and encouraging interfaith dialogue, increasing interreligious understanding and collaboratively building a just and caring society.”

Baronins believes “faith reporting in the media creates a greater awareness of faith’s significant and contributory role in the lives of individuals and society. Faith reporting can counter the negative reporting of faith often found within mainstream media and can dispel stereotypes.”

Presenting faith in the media is important to Longhurst, who has written on the subject for the Winnipeg Free Press since 2003. His new book shares a snapshot of his 20 years of faith reporting, throughout which he has written more than 900 columns.

According to Michael Wilson of Winnipeg Charleswood United Church, Longhurst “has not simply reported on what faith communities do; he has been more interested in what faith communities are thinking and experiencing, and how faith is being changed in a rapidly altering world. John asks out loud the questions we are all thinking to ourselves, and our community is better for it.”

In 2006, the Association of Roman Catholic Communicators of Canada recognized Longhurst for his distinguished contribution to religious communications. In 1998, he organized Canada’s first major conference on faith and the media, and in 2021, he received the Manitoba Lieutenant-Governor’s Award for Advancement of Interreligious Understanding.

Baronins knows firsthand that faith reporting increases understanding and knowledge of our neighbours. A case in point was her experience of getting to know Longhurst better while participating in the Winnipeg Free Press Religion in the News project. Baronins said, “John highlighted, before working with me, how he previously knew very little about the Latter-day Saints faith community. He spoke of getting to know me and how that had been a positive experience.” This is just one of the many benefits of the “faith beat” in news reporting.

The Religion in the News project began in 2019. Unique among Canadian newspapers, this project directly seeks help from faith communities and individuals to support ongoing faith reporting and ensure such stories are included in the Winnipeg Free Press. Stories of faith help readers recognize a shared humanity regardless of differences, thus reducing prejudice and discrimination and increasing understanding and compassion.

Baronins noted that sometimes faith communities hesitate to engage with media because of the sacred nature of faith and fears of being misrepresented or ridiculed. She said, “Faith reporting ideally helps educate and increase awareness of various faith communities and provides a voice for sharing the best that can be found in each faith community. Faith reporting helps dispel stereotypes and prejudice, increasing communication and awareness.”

Panellists discussed how faith reporting can cross into other areas of media reporting. They noted that faith and spirituality are a part of the human experience and can effectively be reported throughout a newspaper, not simply relegated to a faith section.

Baronins emphasized that the message she took home from the panel discussion is that “faith reporting builds and strengthens community. Faith matters to people of faith and people of no faith, as it plays a key role in social justice issues. People of faith often have great awareness of the humanitarian needs within a community and an organized vehicle to address those needs. Faith reporting helps connect us to these needs and the individuals able to address them.”

Read the article in French

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