Three cities chosen as inaugural sites in new hyperlocal religion coverage project

You can’t see them yet, but they’re there. Right now, the visions for three hyperlocal religion news websites are being carefully crafted, refined and readied for an early 2012 launch. And that’s just the beginning.

Who’s on board

Tiffany McCallen

National Community Manager Tiffany McCallen

Religion News LLC, the new entity created by the Religion Newswriters Foundation, made its first hire in the venture to create up to 20 community websites for faith and spirituality news over the next three years as part of a $3.5 million Lilly Endowment grant.

Tracy Simmons, creator of the Connecticut-based Creedible website, was recruited in August to create the first hub site in Spokane, Wash. To help generate buzz about the site, Simmons (@SpokaneFAVS) developed a “construction blog” to highlight news about the project, the community contributors she’s recruiting and the plans to collaborate with other media organizations in the area.

Tracy Simmons

Religion News Spokane's Tracy Simmons

“Like most of us, I’ve been watching in horror over the past few years as too many newspapers have reduced or killed their religion sections. Religion News Spokane, and the hubs, are a way to keep the faith beat alive in this digital age,” Simmons said. “Through daily news coverage, blogs and multimedia production I hope to engage the community in an online dialogue about the theological issues that make people tick.”

Earlier this month former (Wilmington, N.C.) StarNews reporter Amanda Greene (@iwritereligion) began work on the second hub. She, too, has a construction blog for project updates — “WilmingtonFAVS” — including the development of a partnership with her former employer. For Greene, who moved from the religion beat to education in 2010, the project is a chance to return to her passion for telling nuanced stories of faith.

Amanda Greene

Religion News Wilmington’s Amanda Greene

“This opportunity is a homecoming for me,” Greene said. “After covering religion here for nearly a decade — and being away covering education for a few years — I recognize the importance of expressing how local people live their faiths.”

Both Greene and Simmons bring award-winning talents to the hyperlocal project. Greene’s “Divine Diva” StarNews blog was recognized in 2009 by the New York Times Regional Group as a model for WordPress blogs, and Simmons’ work at Creedible took first place in the Schachern online section category for the 2011 RNA Awards for Religion Reporting Excellence.

Joining them by the end of the year as our third hub will be a reporter chosen to work in a unique partnership with KBIA 91.3, the NPR affiliate in Columbia, Mo. In addition to the standard site editor and management duties, this person will be part of the KBIA news team, writing and producing radio spots and potentially hosting programs.

What’s next

In the next few months, work for the hubs will center on:

  • Creating a website template that will seamlessly share content with the project’s primary partner, Religion News Service;
  • Launching our first three sites — Spokane, Wilmington, Columbia — in early 2012;
  • Hiring editors for other sites, with a goal of 10 sites up and running by December 2012.

Want to apply?

Job descriptions and applications are available online (KBIA position, other site positions). Columbia (KBIA)-based candidates should apply by Nov. 30; applications for other site positions are accepted on an ongoing basis. Criteria for community sites include locations:

  • With populations between 100,000 and 400,000
  • At least 100 miles from any RNA active members
  • Where religion is not a full-time beat for reporters at daily, general circulation media outlets
  • Where partnership possibilities are plentiful
  • Where opportunities for advertising and other support are abundant
  • Where there’s a rich mix of both academic institutions with religion experts and diverse faith traditions
  • Where faith-based social networks are solid and functional.

Direct questions to the project’s national community manager, Tiffany McCallen.

Home page image: The Clocktower on Havermale Island in Spokane (Bigstockphoto)