News From the Church Worldwide: How and Why The Banner Uses Religion News Service

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Point one of The Banner’s mandate from the Christian Reformed Church’s synod is “inform readers about what is happening in the CRC as well as the church at large.” A great deal of that mandate is carried out by me, the news editor, and the team of news correspondents and freelance reporters who contribute weekly stories about the congregations and ministries of the CRCNA. (Read my earlier Behind The Banner article “How The Banner Reports the News.”) For the “church at large” part we also use stories from the Religion News Service.

RNS describes itself as “an independent, nonprofit, and award-winning source of global news on religion, spirituality, culture, and ethics, reported by a staff of professional journalists.” Because of its wide focus and commitment to “objective reporting and insightful commentary” RNS is a good source of news from the church worldwide about matters of importance to Banner readers, even if they don’t directly connect to the CRC. But the service does have some drawbacks. RNS is based in the United States, affiliated with the Missouri School of Journalism at the University of Missouri, so much of the reporting takes that focus. (Banner editors have noticed, for example, that the service doesn’t always note the deaths of influential Christians who aren’t American.) If we choose to use a story from RNS, I have to be mindful of our binational readership and change phrases like “across the country” to “across the United States.” But more often than not the talented reporters and photographers at Religion News Service do help us to convey news to our readership that we don’t have the resources to report on our own.

When The Banner republishes a Religion News Service story online, we make that clear in a few ways—using the tag “CHURCH WORLDWIDE,” noting the author as “Religion News Service,” and including an editor’s note to indicate if we have edited the story and in which ways (usually for length, often to add context for our CRC audience).

Before selecting a story to republish, I evaluate potential stories along several criteria. We updated our guidelines for story selection in December 2020. Here are the type of stories I try to give priority to:

CRC/Reformed-connected stories (includes stories about or with examples from congregations or ministries of Reformed denominations, including RCA, PCA, etc. )

Trend stories (includes stories about surveys or research dealing with Christianity, the Bible, the church, religious freedom, race relations, etc.)

Update stories (includes stories about events or developments related to protestantism, e.g. Supreme Court decisions; decisions/events from particular denominations; news items about Christian figures)

Window into stories (Profile-type stories from any denomination if the window into their story connects with a trend. Common RNS topics here are immigration and LGBTQ stories.)

Other stories (Less often we may have relevant stories from the Catholic Church or other religious groups.)

 

Even among this list of types of stories, I will make choices based on The Banner’s usual publication guidelines; looking for honesty, balance, mitigation of bias, and edification for readers.

I track how often we use stories from RNS, and we evaluate our subscription every year. Religion News Service has been around since 1934, and we haven’t found an equivalent subscription service that effectively covers news from the worldwide church. When there is a story from a different publication—such as Christianity Today, ChristianWeek, or Faith Today, for example—that might be of interest to our readership, we sometimes share that through our Facebook page, but those publications don’t offer the same kind of re-publishing arrangement that is available through RNS.

About the Author

Alissa Vernon is the news editor for The Banner.

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