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MU’s RJI to Collaborate in New Nonprofit News Service

New venture to expand and enhance coverage of religion nationwide

May 19th, 2011

Story Contact: Nathan Hurst, 573-882-6217, hurstn@missouri.edu

COLUMBIA, Mo. – A new nonprofit news collaboration with the Missouri School of Journalism and its Reynolds Journalism Institute will work to create models for local religion news sites and expand quality religion news across the globe.

The upcoming June 1, 2011 sale of Religion News Service (RNS) by its for-profit owners, Advance Publications Inc., is part of an innovative new relationship with the University of Missouri-based Religion Newswriters Association and its nonprofit foundation. The collaboration also forges ties between RNS and the University of Missouri School of Journalism and its Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Debra Mason, the executive director of the Religion Newswriters Association and a professor in University of Missouri School of Journalism, will manage the business side of the new nonprofit. The RNS editorial offices will remain in Washington, sharing space with University of Missouri programs at the National Press Building.

Mason says RNS subscribers can expect to receive even more of the quality religion coverage that has made RNS the most trusted source of religion news for the nation’s daily newspapers, religious publications and websites. She believes this acquisition will help improve coverage of important issues within society.

“Beliefs motivate people in key aspects of their lives, yet most small and mid-sized media markets have abandoned coverage of religion,” Mason said. “We seek to seed communities with knowledgeable religion journalists, showcase RNS’ terrific coverage and build on existing social networks to create a robust and economically viable model for local religion news.”

The project includes creating up to 20 local or regional religion sites across the United States. Mason said one of those local religion news hubs will be based in Columbia.

The research capabilities, entrepreneurial activities and media collaborations of the University of Missouri-based Reynolds Journalism Institute, as well as the interdisciplinary Center on Religion and the Professions, will collaborate with RNS as it moves forward.

A three-year grant totaling nearly $3.5 million from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc., will help transition RNS to nonprofit status, expand its online presence and launch the community religion websites.

“This new venture not only allows us to continue our award-winning religion coverage, but expand it for the 21st century,” said RNS Editor-in-Chief Kevin Eckstrom. “We’re grateful to Lilly Endowment for sharing our vision that we need more, not less, coverage of a subject that is at the heart of so much of our national and global life.”

The Religion Newswriters Foundation (RNF) is a charitable, literary and educational organization founded in 1999 as the supporting foundation to the 62 year-old Religion Newswriters Association. Its mission is to promote excellence in media coverage and in public discourse about religion. With philanthropic support, RNF has created numerous tools and training aimed at improving coverage of religion, including ReligionLink, Lilly Scholarships in Religion, ReligionStylebook.com, and more than 100 training events.

Since 1937, Lilly Endowment, a private philanthropic foundation based in Indianapolis, has focused its grantmaking in the areas of community development, education and religion. The primary aim of its religion grantmaking is to deepen and enrich the religious lives of American Christians, principally by supporting efforts to encourage, support and educate a new generation of talented pastors and to strengthen current pastors in their capacities for excellence in ministry. The Endowment helps congregations be vibrant, healthy communities of faith and encourages efforts that make available and accessible the wisdom of the Christian tradition for contemporary life. The Endowment supports projects that strengthen the contributions that religious ideas, practices, values and institutions make to the common good of society. The Endowment also funds projects designed to promote informed dialogue about religion in American life, generate new knowledge, communicate fresh insights, and renew and sustain vital institutions of American Christianity.

The Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri works with citizens, journalists and researchers to strengthen democracy through better journalism. RJI seeks out the most exciting new ideas, tests them with real-world experiments, uses social science research to assess their effectiveness, and delivers solutions that citizens and journalists can put to use in their own communities.

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