Beat The Devil: Real life on the religion beat (1985)

On the religion beat, you can be your own worst enemy. But sometimes it's your editor 
By Terry Mattingly (Copyright) The Quill: The Society of Professional Journalists April of 1985

“Mattingly!” the editor said.  “There’s too much Jesus in this story.” It was hard to tell if he was joking. I took him seriously and tried to explain that whenever the person I was writing about opened his mouth some kind of faith-soaked religious language came out. His speaking style was part of the story, I argued. The editor was still a little uncomfortable: “Well, okay. Just try to tone it down a little. OK?” I tried to tone it down a little.

When I wrote what became “The religion beat: out of the ghetto, into the mainsheets” (the QUILL, January 1983) I was a graduate student at the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. I had worked for three or four years as a copy editor and reporter (and rock’n’ roll columnist, for that matter). I had not, however worked as a full-time religion writer.  Now, two years later, leaving my first job as a religion writer, in Charlotte, N.C., for my second, in Denver, I have the perspective of personal experience.

Organized religion, like journalism or politics or any other subculture, has its own jargon and a system of symbols encrusted with centuries of history.

American politics can get complex, and its symbols are often strained to the limit. Still, there is one national political system. The nation’s churches and denominations operate with systems of government ranging from the intricate, gray-suited formality of a Presbyterian convention to the spirit-filled, hard-earned dollars-on-the-table freedom of a business meeting in a local Assembly of God church. News events may exist in words openly distributed in a denominational newspaper or in whispered prayers between shouted sermons at a healing rally.