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Conference to discuss religion, media

Nov. 11, 1997

By Jennifer Jones

Reporter for The Baylor Lariat

A three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and an active television commentator will highlight 'Religion and Journalism,' a conference regarding the media's coverage of religion, Friday in the Barfield Drawing Room of the Bill Daniel Student Center.

'We are bringing together speakers and panelists who are involved with religion and journalism at the national level to give Baylor students and faculty who are interested in this combination the opportunity to hear discussion at the highest level,' Dr. Douglas R. Ferdon Jr., associate professor and acting chair of the journalism department, said.

The conference will run from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and will feature three speakers and several panelists who will participate in discussions after the talks. The conference is open to the public, but specific invitations are being sent to student leaders and faculty in the religion department, the journalism department and Truett Theological Seminary. President Robert B. Sloan Jr. will attend the coffee at 9 a.m. and give the opening remarks.

Pam Schaeffer, three-time Pulitzer Prize nominee and editor and reporter for National Catholic Reporter, will present 'Stalking the Holy: Covering Religion From a Local and National Perspective.' Fred Barnes, executive editor of The Standard, a public opinion magazine, and commentator for CBS, will also speak. Barnes has spoken on 'Nightline' and 'Good Morning America,' among other television appearances.

Panelists include Will Norton, dean of University of Nebraska journalism, Jim Jones, religion writer for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and several others. Norton earned a Ph.D. in mass communications from Indiana University and a master's of divinity from Garrett Theological Seminary. He currently serves on the board of trustees of Freedom Forum, an international foundation dedicated to improving relations between the public and the media while protecting first amendment rights. Jones served as a front-line correspondent in the Southern Baptist wars and followed the stories of televangelists in the 1980s.

In addition to Ferdon, Brad Owen, a journalism professor at the University of North Texas, Dr. John Tisdale, assistant professor of journalism at Baylor, and Charles Overby, a Baylor regent and chief executive officer of the Freedom Forum collaborated to select the speakers and panelists for the conference.

'We believe these speakers and panelists represent good journalism and an understanding of religion,' Ferdon said. 'These speakers are going to give us an opportunity to hear highly capable people express their viewpoints.'

Tisdale, who is also serving as conference coordinator, agrees that the purpose of the conference is to allow participants to gain insight concerning the media's coverage of religion.

'According to certain surveys, evangelicals and fundamental religious groups distrust the media,' Tisdale said. 'I'm trying to bring a better understanding of how the print medium covers religious issues and why, so that we can find what we can do to help.'

The recommendation of Stewart Hoover, author of 'Religion and Public Discourse: The Role of the Media' encouraged Tisdale to begin planning the conference in March, Tisdale said. Hoover challenges academia to hold conferences and informal discussions to enhance the relationships between religion and the media's coverage of religion.

'What we're trying to do is facilitate the coming together of successful journalists to effectively cover the role of religion in the public medium,' Tisdale said.

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