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Knight Foundation Selects USC Annenberg for Chair in Media and Religion

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Young Muslims gather for prayer.

Photo/Jerry Berndt

Citing the need to deepen understanding and news coverage of religion and spirituality in America and around the world, the USC Annenberg School for Communication has established an endowed chair in media and religion with a $1.5 million grant announced today by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

The Knight Chair in Journalism enables the Annenberg School to bring a veteran journalist to the USC campus to share experience and knowledge on issues of faith.

“Polls, the participation of millions of the faithful in regular worship and the inescapable impact of each day’s news all demonstrate that religion is a subject of deep and abiding interest to a vast majority of Americans,” said Hodding Carter III, president and CEO of the Knight Foundation.

“We expect that the Knight Journalism Chair in Media and Religion at USC’s outstanding Annenberg School for Communication will help focus the media’s attention and deepen their understanding of an issue that is central to American life.”

“September 11 once again taught us the importance of understanding the power of religion in the world – from the story of New York City fire department chaplain, Father Mychal Judge, who was killed as he administered last rites to a firefighter in the World Trade Center; to the need to understand Islam as one of the world’s great religions,” said Geoffrey Cowan, dean of the USC Annenberg School for Communication.

The Knight Foundation gift, he said, “will enable USC Annenberg to marshal its resources to become a center for thoughtful dialogue about media coverage of religion and train a new generation of journalists prepared to report on issues involving faith in America and around the world.”

Michael Parks, the Pulitzer Prize-winning international correspondent and former Los Angeles Times editor who directs USC Annenberg’s School of Journalism, will lead the search for the holder of the Knight Chair In Media and Religion.

“Religion, spirituality and moral values are so much a part of American life that they deserve – but do not get – good coverage,” said Parks.

“As a school, USC Annenberg is committed to the improvement of the practice of journalism, and this is an area where we can bring the resources of a great university to bear on an issue of critical importance to the world.”

The individual appointed will be a leader in the profession and an expert on religion and spirituality, said Parks.

The Knight Chair will be “a journalist who inspires excellence, collaborates with others and creates innovative classes – a visionary who strives to have a major impact on American journalism.”

The holder of the Knight Chair in Media and Religion will design classes for graduate journalism students, teach in the religion track of the master’s program, and teach a course for undergraduates focusing on an aspect of media and religion.

The chair holder will also study and write about current issues relating to the media and religion, train mid-career journalists about special issues related to religion and society and organize an annual conference focused on a key issue emerging in the news. The conference will be developed in partnership with the USC Center for Religion and Civic Culture and the Western Knight Center for Specialized Journalism.

“The Pew Charitable Trusts, the Religion Newswriters Association, the Freedom Forum and a number of journalists in all media are working to improve religion coverage,” said Eric Newton, the Knight Foundation’s director of journalism initiatives.

“But I think we all would agree that true journalism excellence in this field is still a long way off. USC’s Annenberg School for Communication has the dynamic leadership, diverse talent and growing resources that a great journalism school needs to make a major contribution.”

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation promotes excellence in journalism worldwide and invests in the vitality of 26 U.S. communities. The USC teaching position is the 17th such endowed position established at U.S. colleges and universities since 1990 by the Miami-based foundation. The foundation has invested $25.5 million in the Knight Chair program.

Located in Los Angeles at the University of Southern California, the USC Annenberg School for Communication is among the nation’s leading institutions devoted to the study of journalism and communication, and their impact on politics, culture and society.

With an enrollment of more than 1,500 graduate and undergraduate students, USC Annenberg offers bachelor, master and doctoral degrees in journalism, communication, and public relations.

For more information about the school, go to http://ascweb.usc.edu/home.php.

For information on the Knight Foundation, go to http://www.knightfdn.org/.

Contact: Geoffrey Baum (213) 821-1491.

Knight Foundation Selects USC Annenberg for Chair in Media and Religion

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