W&L Professor Leads Journalism Seminars on the Coverage of Religion Aly Colón created and organized “Covering Faith and the Faithful” seminars for journalists in Los Angeles and New York City.
Aly Colón, the John S. and James L. Knight Professor of Media Ethics at Washington and Lee University, recently led a pair of seminars for professional journalists. The first seminar, “Covering Faith and the Faithful,” took place in Los Angeles on April 18. The second occurred in New York City on May 12.
The sessions were funded by a grant received by the Poynter Institute; the day-long events featured more than 20 participants on each coast. Poynter, which is viewed as global leader in journalism, contacted Colón to create, organize and lead both free seminars. Previously, Colón spent a decade teaching and writing about ethics at Poynter, where he created and led previous seminars on religion coverage.
Colón sketched out the sessions, sought out professional religion journalists, and created a program that could educate local journalists who wanted to cover religion accurately and holistically. He used his own experiences and expertise in covering and editing stories about religion to create and work with the presenters.
“I realized years ago that the tendency is to report a story on the surface, but that doesn’t necessarily give all the facts,” said Colón. “Sometimes to gain a full understanding of a story that surrounds a religious aspect, you need to delve deeper and have more of an appreciation for religion ideology rather than reinforcing stereotypes.”
Colón sought out professional journalists who had extensive experience covering religious communities. He wanted the seminar to offer diverse perspectives about faith, as well as provide insight on how to build trust with faith leaders, where to recognize the nuance in news coverage, and how to cultivate relationships in communities of faith before news breaks.
“Pulling these seminars together proved to be a challenging task, but was very satisfying because of the professionals that I had the opportunity to work with,” said Colón. “We sought individuals from varied religions and journalistic beats in order to give the attendees a diverse blueprint for how to be faith informed.”
Colón believes that both sessions proved effective and helpful. He noted that the feedback collected following the L.A. session served to improve the New York event.
“The first session was good, but the second session was even better,” he said. “We were able to process the feedback and allowed for more engagement with the speakers and left more time for questions so the speakers could address those directly. Our hope is that Poynter will want to expand sessions to other regions and across more religions moving forward.”
The Poynter Institute is the world’s most influential school for journalists. Founded in 1975, Poynter is an instructor, innovator, convener and resource for anyone who aspires to engage and inform citizens.
Colón has been a member of the W&L faculty since 2014. He holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Loyola University New Orleans and a master’s degree in journalism from Stanford University. He spent a year at Columbia University as Knight Bagehot Fellow, focusing on business and had a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship on ethics at the University of Kansas. Most recently, Colón served as a director of standards and practices at NBC News and Telemundo Network News.
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