Annenberg offers online religion class

USC Annenberg’s Knight Program in Media and Religion and The Poynter Institute are joining forces to launch an online course on religion coverage.

Although the Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism offers students a number of classes focused on religion and journalism, USC Annenberg’s Knight Chair in Media and Religion Diane Winston said this new online course helps improve public understanding about religion and improve reporting on it.

“The e-course isn’t for people who want to be religion reporters. It’s for anyone writing a story where religion is part of the mix,” Winston said. “It’s a quick way to learn about covering religion if you are unfamiliar about the topic.”

Winston said she went to a seminar at The Poynter Institute, where she learned how creative online courses could be used. She then decided that an e-course would be a great way to reach journalists who wanted to know more about covering religion. The Ford Foundation provided a grant to develop resources for this course.

“It is designed for general assignment reporters, independent journalists and others who do not normally cover religion stories,” Winston said.

The course, Religion, Culture and Society: Getting Beyond the Cliches, will be offered for free online. The class will integrate scholarly and informed writing on religion into all areas of news coverage.

Howard Finberg, director of interactive learning at Poynter, said the collaborative initiative for the Knight Program and Poynter’s News University initiative began when Winston approached the organization.

“As we note in the course, religion and politics has become part of almost all coverage areas,” Finberg said. “It is important that journalists [and journalism students] be equipped with the tools to improve their coverage and avoid the clichés.”

Along with editors, producers and reporters, Winston said the course would serve anyone in journalism, including educators, who may want to discuss religion in their journalism classes.

“I’d like all journalism classes to add the e-course to their curriculum,” Winston said. “It’s an easy way for students to see how religion is part of all kinds of stories.”

Winston said the course would allow its students to cover stories about the environment, international relations, sexuality and politics — among other topics that intertwine with religion.

Becca Louisell, a senior majoring in print journalism, said she is looking forward to the new course.

“I don’t think there is a clear separation of religion and state, so not covering religion is ignoring a central part of the fabric of the American society,” Louisell said.

Winston said the collaboration with Poynter would serve as a valuable resource.

“The Poynter Institute provides continuing education for journalists and journalism education. It’s the gold standard for teaching the art and craft of journalism,” she said.

Winston said she believed the two working together would provide great content in a cutting edge package. She said she hopes to get additional funding for more courses.

“Recently, the Pew Forum released a survey showing that many Americans are ignorant about religion. Reporters are no different,” Winston said. “We could do specialized courses on Islam or on Christianity. We also could do courses on topics such as covering religion and science or religion and politics.”