Hi Religion Unplugged readers!
You're receiving this email because you're signed up for one (or both!) of our email newsletters. Our columnist Bobby Ross Jr. is on vacation this week, so we wanted to take a look back at some of his best Weekend Plug-In columns and give you the chance to get to know him a little better.
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Maybe you haven’t yet had the pleasure of meeting Bobby. In addition to contributing to Religion Unplugged, he’s also the editor-in-chief at The Christian Chronicle, based in Oklahoma City. He’s also written for The Associated Press and The Oklahoman.
We asked him three questions about his career as a religion journalist.
You've covered religion since 1999. How did you first get onto the beat, and what's a favorite story you reported in your early days?
I had covered a religion story or two in my career up to then, including writing a 1994 piece about the Christian conversion of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. But in 1999, the editors at The Oklahoman assigned me to cover Pope John Paul II's visit to St. Louis. That was an important and challenging assignment, and my favorite story probably was the one I wrote about a big youth rally where dc Talk sang "Jesus Freak" to an "arm-waving, hip-shaking, foot-stomping" crowd before John Paul appeared on stage, and the decibel level got even louder.
As the news industry has changed since you began your career, the religion beat has certainly changed too. What's been the biggest challenge you've faced as a religion reporter because of these changes?
I think the biggest challenge is simply keeping up with news that never stops. To a certain extent, journalism has always been a 24/7 gig. But with the rise of the internet and social media, deadlines are truly "all the time." My favorite religion reporters are those who can find the truly important angles or lessons in the constant noise and produce stories that really make a difference and/or help readers make sense of a particular issue or circumstance.
What makes a truly great religion story?
I think it's one that is nuanced and complicated and avoids easy answers and stereotypes. It's one where the main character may surprise you, or you find that the evil villain has a redeeming quality or two. Or you find that the hero is not as perfect as you assumed, and in some ways, that makes him/her more of a hero. Also, a truly great religion story has to take religion seriously.
In the first edition of the Weekend Plug-In, Bobby discussed the tragic 2019 church shooting at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas — and why he was the only journalist the minister would talk to.
[Minister Britt] Farmer said he was getting inundated by media calls. But he didn’t want to talk to CNN or “Good Morning America.” He wanted to talk to me.
“I lost my best friend today,” he said, referring to [Richard] White. “In fact, both of them were two of my best friends.”
Farmer told me he trusted me and knew that, even if I asked uncomfortable questions about what happened, it would be “from a good heart.” I told him I’d make the three-hour drive from my home in Oklahoma City to White Settlement the next morning.
Here are some of our other favorite Weekend Plug-In columns:
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