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Inside the Upheaval of Journalism

Reporters Look Back on 50 Years of Covering the News

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Edited By Ted Gest and Dotty Brown

In the spring of 1969, 101 students received master’s degrees from Columbia University’s prestigious School of Journalism, where they had learned the trade as it was then practiced. Most hoped to start a career in newspapers, radio, television or magazines, the established forms of journalism of that era. Little did they realize how the news world they were entering would be upended by the internet and by the social forces that would sweep through the country over the next 50 years.

This book tells the story of the news media revolution through the eyes of those in the Class of 1969 who lived it and helped make it happen. It is an insider’s look at the reshaping of the Fourth Estate and the information Americans now get and don’t get—crucial aspects of the vibrancy of democracy.

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Chapter Ten Covering the God Beat in a Time of Change

Extract

Covering the God Beat in a Time of Change

TAMMY TANAKA

Fresh out of the Columbia University Journalism School in 1969, I was hired as a staff writer for Religion News Service (RNS). It was an exciting prospect given that my stories would go to media all over the country since RNS is like an Associated Press for religion news, with major news organizations publishing the stories it reports.

But unlike its staff of religion specialists covering mainline Protestants, Orthodox Christians, Roman Catholics, Evangelicals, and Jews, I was given an unusual assigment: covering “other.” Editor-in-chief Lillian R. Block was prescient in recognizing that at a time when the Hari Krishnas were seen as a sideshow to the Beatles, Americans were seeking spiritual fulfillment in new ways. So I began writing stories about religion in everyday life, features which attempted to understand the spiritual underpinning of an ever more diverse America.

During the next 50 years, religion writers would face a vastly changing spiritual landscape as a predominantly Christian country transformed into what is today described as one of the most religiously diverse industrialized nations in the world. Media spotlight on the hippies and their flights into nirvana and transcendental ecstasy would inspire waves of Americans to seek their own personal experience of God, spawning a spirituality movement that continues to evolve. “Religion” would come to encompass not only the major world faiths, but pantheism, agnosticism, atheism, secular humanism, mind-body-spirit groups, a “feminist...

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