New model invites donations and increases religious coverage
Winnipeg Free Press editor Paul Samyn sees faith and religion as
"a very rich area for coverage" in the paper.
(Photo above by Mike Aporious / Winnipeg Free Press.)
In a day of fiscal strain for print news, the Winnipeg Free Press has pioneered a new way of funding faith reporting – ask places of worship to pitch in. Freelance faith reporter John Longhurst says he proposed the plan after the paper told readers it wanted to engage with the community better. In March the new model completed its first year with a total of 219 articles – available free on the paper’s website.
Faith groups "agreed that religion was not being covered adequately on a local level," Longhurst says. "So they knew they wanted to have better coverage. Secondly, everyone agreed that in Canada religion [is] being squeezed out of the public square, that the voice of religious people, not just Christians, not just Jews, but the voice of religion was being more more marginalized. And yet we knew it was important for that voice to be heard."
But the paper had no money for more faith coverage, says Longhurst. So he and publisher Bob Cox approached churches and other places of worship asking for money to support more faith articles – $250 for most congregations, $5,000 for large ones, and some have given more. One Heart Winnipeg donated on behalf of its network of almost 170 evangelical churches and almost 70 ministries.
Gateway Church, with campuses in northeast and central Winnipeg, participated in the One Heart contribution. "We live in a secular culture which is almost anti- everything Christian," says pastor Ron MacLean. "So to have some people that were saying, ‘Hey, would you be willing to consider this like a mission, keeping [faith] before the public?’ Personally, I thought it was a great idea."
Longhurst says this funding model is unique in Canada and possibly the U.S. For integrity’s sake faith groups don’t have oversight over the articles he and others, including fellow freelancer Brenda Suderman, produce, though the paper will run articles about upcoming church events. Yet Longhurst says they’ve managed to cover every faith group that’s participated – not out of obligation, but because "A good story is a good story." And he welcomes tips.
"It’s a very rich area for coverage," says Winnipeg Free Press editor Paul Samyn. "And we’re trying to make sure that we’re doing our part." –CALEB BURNEY