Religious News Service accepts funds to provide more atheist articles

As RNS admits taking money, is there any conflict of interest? Ethical questions? Should an "impartial" news agency provide additional coverage in exchange for much-needed cash?

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“If there’s anything I find a little frustrating, they err on the side of not covering things I do or things I’m involved with,” Stiefel said of RNS. “I have to accept that they kind of ignore the things I’m involved with – it’s less likely to be covered.”

Regardless of the fact that he doesn’t have editorial control and that he is sometimes not relied upon for original sourcing, Stiefel says that he plans to continue funding RNS. But he’s hoping that other secular groups will join him in footing the bill.

As for critics who take issue with the funding model that RNS has chosen to embrace with the SFF, the atheist leader has a question for

them: If a Christian group were donating to RNS and receiving positive coverage as a result, what would your reaction be?

To better understand this arrangement, TheBlaze also spoke with RNS’s editor-in-chief Kevin Eckstrom. He explained the news organization’s path from being owned by a for-profit corporation (Advanced Publications) to becoming a non-profit organization back in July 2011. This transformation created some intriguing opportunities for the traditional news group. Funding, of course, was at the center of the decision (RNS is now part of the Religion Newswriters Foundation umbrella) to engage Stiefel’s foundation.

“Part of the reason [we became a non-profit] was to be able to solicit and accept donor support [and] foundation support both for general corporations and specific projects,” Eckstrom explained.


“It just happened, honestly, that The Stiefel Foundation was the first one that we got. Our development director had known Todd and had worked with him in her previous career,” he added.

Eckstrom explains that the relationship between RNS and the SFF commenced a few years ago when the Religion Newswriters Association (also an entity under the Religion Newswriters Foundation), also received a donation from Stiefel. The association, which brings together religion reporters from across America, puts together helpful briefs about various faith groups.

At the time, Stiefel donated to help the organization put together an atheism source guide (this is a separate entity and gift from the funds that have been given to RNS). This was the parent organization’s first contact with the SFF — one that led to the current coverage agreement between RNS and Stiefel.

Eckstrom says that it was never RNS’s intention to go after funding for atheism coverage. He also noted that the news organization is seeking out other grant proposals that would help bolster coverage of evangelicals, Muslims and other specific faiths and subjects. The SFF arrangement, Eckstrom claims, isn’t much different from what National Public Radio (NPR) does to bring in funds on a specific topic (read about NPR’s funding strategies here).

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Billy Hallowell, editor, The Blaze, a daily news, information and opinion site where you'll find thousands of articles about politics faith, technology, business and more
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