GetReligion readers really don’t need an introduction to religion-beat veteran Bobby Ross, Jr.
After all, he has been a contributor here since March 8, 2020 — which is longer than anyone other than the founders of the blog. There’s about 15 million words in our files, at this point, and Ross has to have written about 25% of them. And don’t forget that his wife, religion-beat veteran Tamie Ross, was a contributor here for several years, as well.
Bobby, of course, covered religion and all kinds of other topics for The Oklahoman and also spent several years with the Associated Press, working with religion-beat patriarch Richard Ostling, which is as good a credential as you can get. These days, readers around the world know him as editor-in-chief at The Christian Chronicle. He continues to write his weekly Plug-In feature for Religion Unplugged, which still runs here at GetReligion.
As a re-introduction to Ross, Religion Unplugged recently ran this short Q&A with him (and offered a short list of some of his top recent Plug-in pieces). I thought GetReligion readers who have followed him for a decade or more would like to see them.
You’ve covered religion since 1999. How did you first get onto the beat, and what’s a favorite story you reported in your early days?
I had covered a religion story or two in my career up to then, including writing a 1994 piece about the Christian conversion of serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. But in 1999, the editors at The Oklahoman assigned me to cover Pope John Paul II’s visit to St. Louis. That was an important and challenging assignment, and my favorite story probably was the one I wrote about a big youth rally where dc Talk sang “Jesus Freak” to an “arm-waving, hip-shaking, foot-stomping” crowd before John Paul appeared on stage, and the decibel level got even louder.
As the news industry has changed since you began your career, the religion beat has certainly changed too. What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a religion reporter because of these changes?
I think the biggest challenge is simply keeping up with news that never stops. To a certain extent, journalism has always been a 24/7 gig. But with the rise of the internet and social media, deadlines are truly “all the time.” My favorite religion reporters are those who can find the truly important angles or lessons in the constant noise and produce stories that really make a difference and/or help readers make sense of a particular issue or circumstance.
What makes a truly great religion story?
I think it’s one that is nuanced and complicated and avoids easy answers and stereotypes. It’s one where the main character may surprise you, or you find that the evil villain has a redeeming quality or two. Or you find that the hero is not as perfect as you assumed, and in some ways, that makes him/her more of a hero. Also, a truly great religion story has to take religion seriously.
The best-of list from the past year or so opens with Ross discussing a poignant interaction with the pastor caught up in the 2019 shootings at West Freeway Church of Christ in White Settlement, Texas.
[Pastor Britt] Farmer said he was getting inundated by media calls. But he didn’t want to talk to CNN or “Good Morning America.” He wanted to talk to me.
“I lost my best friend today,” he said, referring to [Richard] White. “In fact, both of them were two of my best friends.”
Farmer told me he trusted me and knew that, even if I asked uncomfortable questions about what happened, it would be “from a good heart.” I told him I’d make the three-hour drive from my home in Oklahoma City to White Settlement the next morning.
Here are some of our other favorite Weekend Plug-In columns:
Here are the other recent Plug-In posts that made the list.
CLICK HERE to subscribe to the Substack early edition of this weekly Ross feature.