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EDITOR’S NOTE: Anna-Liza Kozma is currently a Visiting Fellow at St. Michael’s College at the University of Toronto, while on leave from her work as a senior producer at CBC Radio.

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“What do you mean by blog?” I asked my friend Terry Mattingly nearly a quarter of a century ago in Jerusalem as we attended a conference on religion in the news, which took place just before Pope John Paul II’s millennial visit.

“The style is informal and conversational,” tmatt explained. “And,” he promised, “It won’t take you as long to write a blog post as it does a news story or a column.”

Terry’s vision was to create an online place — we didn’t use the word platform then — for journalists to write what he called orphaned religion stories. You know, religion ghost stories, stories with missing in action religion hooks, buried in plain sight.

I was fascinated and sceptical.

I was fascinated because I was writing and producing CBC radio’s “spirituality” show and steering it towards the kind of unembarrassed religion coverage I’d grown up with on the BBC. As a career-long public broadcasting staffer who assuaged my writing itch by freelancing, I loved talking to unusual,thoughtful people. As a baptised Catholic turned Anglican via British Evangelicalism, I knew the religion beat was full of unheard voices. L’Abri and Os Guinness had taught me that journalism was as worthwhile a vocation as being a vicar or an academic or a mother. You could even combine them!

How I longed to be part of Terry’s vision. But I was sceptical because as a full-time staffer at Canadian Broadcasting, I couldn’t take on a regular commitment outside the Mothership. Worse still would be management perceiving my association with — God-Buddha-Allah forbid — a “religious” outfit of some kind making judgments about journalism.

As my friends in what became the Religion News Association used to say, sports reporters can play their favourite sport and their editors see it as evidence that they understand the beat. But in religion, as in politics, the best journalists are expected to stay out of the fray.

In reality we all identify with some teams more than others. My mentor, the late John Pilger insisted on journalists owning up to this. We all have opinions and biases, so mange them well. Don’t make blithe claims of neutrality. Strive for fairness and journalistic balance through a body of work.

Terry and I had discussed these concerns with friends in the international fellowship of senior Christian journalists, Gegrapha. We noted swathes of believers who were frustrated by misunderstandings of their faith in mainsteam news. Journalists unschooled in religion make careless mistakes and sometimes

betray their neutrality with condescension. This does not make for winsome reading or listening or for healthy public broadcasting.

In the end though, love of my current gig, my growing family, future pension and a pinch of natural wariness compelled me to say “no” to Terry’s enticing offer of being in at the start of GetReligion. Even its double-entendre title was a little too emphatic I thought, with its overtones of canvas-tent preacher along with an implicit promise to map the missing religious stories of America and the world beyond.

I was wrong about the title. It was perfect from the beginning. From the sidelines I watched and I cheered my friend as his vision became reality and grew into one of the most influential religion news sites on the internet.

And what fascinating stories he and his team dissected. What orphaned voices he corralled into the arena of public debate. What talented journalists he nurtured and gave wings to. What persecution they brought to light and scandals they parsed. What a resource the GetReligion team created for us all.

Journalists know that our best gift is a sympathetic editor. Someone who works to strengthen every bit of syntax, checks the pesky facts, holds a healthy scepticism. Someone who works behind the stage as much as front-of-house doing the quiet, hidden work that turns a production into a hit. Terry, large-capital-O

Orthodox, won’t like me comparing his work to the Holy Spirit, but there I’ve done it. Three cheers.

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