Meet the Media: AP Religion Reporter Tom Breen

By on Tuesday, October 4, 2011
Associated Press (AP) religion reporter Tom Breen recently gave a lengthy interview to Get Religion, about his perspective on covering faith and religion for one of the largest news agencies in the world. He was originally drawn to the religion beat by genuine interest in the types of stories waiting to be told and shared.

He was helped along the way by editors who appreciated stories about religion – a rarity amid a newsroom landscape that often seems to ignore faith and devotes minimal amounts of shrinking resources to it. About his editors, Breen wrote:

“One of them put it to me in a way I’ve always remembered: compare the amount of resources the press spends on covering primary elections, he told me, with the number of people who vote in primary elections. Now compare the resources spent on covering religion with the number of people who attend a weekly worship service.”

In the interview, he talks about the growing role of social media and blogs in helping him locate story ideas and reach out to sources. Any faith community or faith-based nonprofit that wants to be part of critical stories that impact our society should take note of his comments, and realize that social media engagement is one piece of an outreach strategy. One of Breen’s most helpful comments goes to building bridges of trust between faith communities and reporters:

“I’ve had plenty of experiences where I’ve called a member of the clergy or a layperson for a story on a religious topic and as soon as I identify myself as a member of the press, they react like a babysitter in a 1980s horror movie hearing the words, “The calls are coming from inside the house!” One of my fondest wishes is that I will one day be able to make people understand that the vast majority of reporters want just two things: to tell a good story and to get it right. And the only way reporters can tell good, true stories about religion is by developing relationships with people who know faith and aren’t afraid to trust their story to someone.”

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