Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Expansive Religion Section

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Expansive Religion Section

Article excerpt

THE DALLAS MORNING News has thrown a can-you-top-this gauntlet to newspapers across the country in the form of a novel six-page religion section.

Unveiled last Dec. 5, the weekly section involves three staff writers, a section editor, a researcher, designer, part-time copy editor and a stable of freelancers.

No other paper in the nation has a section of such scope, as only a handful of papers even have two full-time religion writers. Only 50 to 60 papers have even one.

Its backers say sports sections get this breadth of coverage every day and, thus, religion, which consistently outdraws and out spends sports by billions of dollars every weekend, should get equal treatment.

Feedback about the Dallas section has been overwhelmingly favorable.

"It is one of the most positive section launches I've ever seen," said executive editor and senior vice president Ralph Langer.

In an era where some dailies have been gutting their prize-winning religion pages, the Morning News' sophisticated product has gotten extra attention.

"People are really happy that we are approaching religion coverage like we cover business and sports," says section editor Sharon Crigsby. "All the most critical issues of our time have religious components."

"I'm very pleased, very pleased," managing editor Bob Mong said. "People really like the fact the paper is paying more attention to the subject."

The new section has color on the front and back pages, and a range of relentlessly ecumenical topics. One week's section, in mid-March, included a book review on a secretive Catholic brotherhood in New Mexico, an article describing local classes for nonobservant Jews, a profile of former surgeon general nominee Henry Foster's Baptist faith, and a short calendar of the week's religious highlights.

That was just page one.

Page Two profiled a local house of worship, listed personnel changes among local clergy (helpful in sorting out Dallas' 3,500-plus houses of worship), and a quote-of the-week from a local clergy person. Also listed were the month's holy days, including fetes for Buddhists, Baha'is and Zoroastrians. In addition, there was a weekly planner listing religious meetings, special events and speakers.

Page Three was a "good works" page, usually profiling someone involved in helping the needy.

"We think there's a hunger for news that explores the spiritual life of the community," Mong notes. "When you look at stories with religion themes, you often find there are a lot of bridge builders in your community working to solve problems. Every issue isn't just one conflict after another, but they are actually issues being addressed by people working in good faith trying to deal with these complexities."

Other pages included local and guest columnists, letters to the editor and wire stories from Religious News Service. Page Six listed extensive religious TV programs in Dallas and previews visiting religious artists and musicians.

A "Literary Spirit" column announced religious best sellers and combined excerpts from religious magazines, with informed commentary. Material for this page came from staff elsewhere in the paper, who have seminary or religious education backgrounds.

"I feel we've gotten a lot of cooperation paperwide, especially from the metro staff," Grigsby added. "I've been involved in a lot of sections and startups since 1980, and nothing has ever been greeted like this from within and outside the staff."

Planning for the product took two years.

In August 1993, Mong and Langer made the pitch to publisher Burl Osborne for expanding the religion coverage via a comprehensive section. …

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