Columbia, Mo. (Sept. 8, 2006) — Debra L. Mason, a nationally recognized, award-winning and widely published specialist in religion journalism, has been named the new director of the Center for Religion, the Professions and the Public at the Missouri School of Journalism.
The Center’s research and teaching seeks to advance religious literacy and public knowledge of America’s increasing cultural and religious diversity. It is also affiliated with the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute and has close ties to the College of Arts and Sciences and other professional schools at the University of Missouri-Columbia. The Center was founded in April 2003 with a $1.4 million grant from The Pew Charitable Trust.
Debra L. Mason
“With religion so central to the world’s most virulent conflicts, it’s vital that professionals better understand the role faith and values play as they serve an increasingly diverse public,” Mason said. “I’m excited by the Center’s potential for interdisciplinary and entrepreneurial work within and beyond the University.”
For the past 10 years Mason has headed the Religion Newswriters Association (RNA), the world’s only professional association for journalists who write about religion in the mainstream media.
As the founding executive director for RNA’s nonprofit foundation, Mason helped secure more than $5.4 million in grant funding to provide tools and training for journalists writing about religion with balance, accuracy and insight.
RNA’s tools include the acclaimed online news resource ReligionLink, distributed free to more than 5,000 journalists each week, and an extensive online reference library. Under her leadership, RNA has become the nation’s preeminent trainer of religion for journalists. She manages a staff of 19 employees across the country.
Religion Newswriters Association will move from its suburban Columbus, Ohio, home to the School by 2008, where Mason will also be a professor of journalism. The move was unanimously approved by RNA’s Board of Directors and by the School of Journalism last month. Mason will remain executive director for RNA on a part-time basis.
As Center director, Mason succeeds Professor Emeritus Ed Lambeth, who retired from the directorship on Sept. 1 after serving in the job since February 2004. He led the successful effort to gain a $1.5 million renewal grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts, which was awarded in December 2005. The latest grant will fund a major new study of the future of religion journalism, new research on the relationship between spirituality and the coping skills of long-term disabled patients as well as new public outreach and continued teaching initiatives.
“Debra Mason is an outstanding leader, mentor and administrator known across the country for her energy and understanding of academic and professional education,” Lambeth said.
Mason brings more than 25 years of professional reporting, research, and teaching experience to the position.
Her major religion and media research work includes a content audit of religion news spanning 50 years and the largest telephone survey of religion journalists. She edited the recently published Religion Reporting: A Guide to Journalism’s Best Beat, and co-edited Readings in Religion as News, a collection of religion news from the colonial era to the present. Mason also serves on the editorial board and is book review editor for the Journal of Media and Religion.
Mason holds a doctoral degree in mass communication from Ohio University in Athens, a master’s in journalism from Northwestern University in Chicago and a master’s in theological studies from Trinity Lutheran Seminary in Columbus, Ohio.
Mason has received numerous grants, awards and other honors for her work. She is a member of the American Academy of Religion, Society for the Scientific Study of Religion, the Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication and the Council for National Journalism Organizations, among many others.
Mason is married to Attorney John K. McManus and has three children, Ian, Rose and Camille.
The School announced a $31 million gift from The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation for the creation of the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute in February 2004. The award is the largest private donation ever to the University of Missouri. The Donald W. Reynolds Foundation is a national philanthropic organization founded in 1954 by Mr. Reynolds. Headquartered in Las Vegas, Nevada, it is one of the largest private foundations in the United States.