Reporters, with blog on their side

Anyone who follows what Ruth Gledhill has to say at her "Articles of Faith" website knows that she has strong religious opinions.

This is especially true when it comes to Anglican battles. Here is her take on the challenge facing Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams after U.S. Episcopalians elected Bishop Katherine Jefferts Schori as Anglicanism's first female archbishop and then refused to retreat on homosexual issues.

Will the Anglican Communion shatter, with Third World conservatives pitted against modernists in Europe and America?

"All is not lost," wrote Gledhill, just before the end of the American church's 75th General Convention. "A kind of schism might result, but it will not be schism as generally known. Anglicans are great at fudging crises, especially liberal ones. ... All Rowan Williams has to do is apply his formidable intellect to the question of how both sides can be kept at the same communion table, albeit at opposite ends."

Gledhill has a right to her opinions, of course.

But she isn't just another Anglican with a "weblog," one of dozens of "bloggers" who flooded the Internet with news, rumors and opinions during the tumultuous events this week in Columbus, Ohio.

Gledhill is the religion correspondent for The Times of London. Thus, she writes waves of regular newspaper stories, as well as columns that mix traditional reporting with her own analysis. And now, blessed by her editors, she writes thousands of words each week at her "blog" -- ranging from coverage of theological issues that may be too complex for the regular news pages to personal observations about her own parish and her own faith. She isn't alone. The Times offers dozens of blogs by reporters covering everything from politics to fashion footwear, from movies to gay family life.

Many editors want their reporters to blog and many others do not. What happens when journalists who are supposed to write unbiased stories about hot issues start airing opinions online that tell readers what they really think? When is a reporter a reporter and when is a reporter a blogger?

This can lead to confusion. A Church Times columnist recently challenged Gledhill's decision to refer to the Bishop of Chelmsford as an "extreme liberal," calling it a sign of bias.

"This is a difference of opinion," wrote Father Giles Fraser, who teaches philosophy at Wadham College, Oxford. "But Ms. Gledhill presents it as if she were seeking a degree of objectivity rather than admitting that she is a campaigner herself. ... It isn't that journalists such as Ruth Gledhill ought to keep their views under wraps. That's why her weblog is so welcome: it is only when we know where people are coming from that we can learn to play their spin. In order to be empowered as a reader or listener, I want to know more about what journalists believe, not less."

Actually, said Gledhill, she used the "extreme liberal" label because of the bishop's role as a patron for Changing Attitude, an important lobby for "gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender" causes in the church.

When she first started blogging, said Gledhill, it was tempting to dig deep into her personal beliefs and experiences in an attempt to reach out to readers and to offer a form of writing that was completely different from her regular reporting. But it didn't take long to realize that "this seam was going to run out pretty quick," she said. She has also learned to pay close attention to the feedback she receives from readers, who can respond directly to her online posts.

After nearly two decades on the religion beat, Gledhill said she welcomes a chance to put more and more news and information on the record in The Times of London, even if it is published in pixels rather than ink.

"I?m never bored by the subject of religion, it was a little restrictive just writing news all the time," she said. "There were things I so much wanted to say and there was nowhere to say them. I feel completely re-energized by blogging and am slightly addicted to it. I believe, and hope this is a true belief, that it is making me a better reporter because it is making me more accountable, making me think more deeply about what I am reporting and is also, in a strange way, making me more involved, more compassionate."