National network of religion sites launches, fills faith and values news gap

Nonprofit niche news company hosted by MU School of Journalism

COLUMBIA, Mo. ­— In recent years, many newspapers have been forced to eliminate religion beat writer positions due to budget cuts, leaving religion news largely uncovered throughout many parts of the country. Now, the Religion News Service (RNS), which is headquartered at the University of Missouri School of Journalism, has launched a network of websites to cover national and local religion news thoroughly.

“The elimination of the religion beat at many media outlets presents a need for entrepreneurial journalists to fill,” said Debra Mason, a professor of journalism studies at the University of Missouri School of Journalism and director of the Center on Religion and the Professions. “Many meaningful faith and values stories are waiting to be told, which creates great opportunities for these niche religion website startups.”

Religion News Service is a wire service that recently converted from a for-profit to a nonprofit news outlet. In January, RNS relaunched its site, making all its content directly available to the public for the first time in its 78 year history. The main RNS website,, incorporates religion news and blogs from experts on different religious topics.

RNS is the national showcase that now connects to new locally based religion news sites, or Faith And ValueS (FAVS) sites located around the country. Mason, who is also the executive director of the Religion Newswriters Association, says these local news sites will be an important resource for communities.

“Religious beliefs motivate people in key aspects of their lives, yet media outlets in most small and mid-sized 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.”

Currently, there are two FAVS sites located in Spokane, Wash., and Wilmington, N.C., that are operating. Religion News will launch a third site this summer located in Columbia and plans to launch more than a dozen sites around the country in the next few years. FAV site managers are chosen through an application process. These FAVS sites are already partnering with local media outlets, including newspapers and radio news stations, to provide a source for reliable local religion news and information, as well as an outlet for civil discourse within each community.

The local sites and expansion of Religion News Service is funded by a three-year grant totaling nearly $3.5 million from the Indianapolis-based Lilly Endowment Inc. awarded last year. Since 1937, the Lilly Endowment, a private philanthropic foundation based in Indianapolis, has focused its funding in the areas of community development, education and religion.


Debra Mason

Religion news sites launch with nod to community engagement, resources

By Tiffany McCallen
National Community Manager

Religion News LLC

It’s been five weeks since the Spokane, Wash., community caught the first glimpse of in its professional, beta format. The aqua-splashed site is both bright and bustling — a marriage of veteran and citizen journalism intersecting with tools and resources that connect Spokanites to faith and values news.

Nearly three weeks ago, Wilmington, N.C., had its own party to celebrate the beta launch of This is the blueprint coming to life in Religion News LLC’s three-year hyperlocal religion news project, funded by the Lilly Endowment.

Each FAVS (Faith And ValueS) site features daily news and opinion content from site editors Tracy Simmons and Amanda Greene, community contributors and bloggers, national partner Religion News Service and local partnerships with area newspapers and broadcast stations. Special attention is given to multimedia content; we regularly produce original audio, video, photos, polls, slideshows and other media.

In addition to in-depth and engaging religion reports and dialogue, the sites also provide tools to help readers explore beliefs within and outside their traditions, including:

  • A faith-based directory of houses of worship, businesses, organizations and educational institutions, searchable by faith, company type and other data
  • A calendar of community events and religious holidays
  • Press release listings
  • Obituary notices

Already, the FAVS sites are positively impacting their communities. The Rev. Eric Blauer, blogger, shared this: “I appreciate how this site has provided me with some very rich opportunities to engage and grow by an expanding sphere of views and beliefs. Thanks for your work here in Spokane.”

And Annie, a reader, said, “This is such a well-written article. It presents the facts, but offers a personal voice. I love that it is non-judgmental in either direction. We need more of this in our country! It illustrates a story about a Christian… without the usual Christian privilege.”

Next month we’ll formally welcome aboard Missourian Kellie Kotraba to begin work on, which includes a unique partnership with the NPR/University of Missouri affiliate, KBIA 91.3.  Other FAVS sites will follow this July and next January.

Want to apply?

Applications will be accepted through June 1 for potential sites in Athens, Ga., and Hartford, Conn. We also accept site location proposals on an ongoing basis. Details can be found at