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I participated in a Religion Newswriters Association panel at Columbia’s journalism school last night with David Gibson (PoliticsDaily) and Rachel Zoll (AP), and someone in the audience wondered about how we determine whether something is worth covering — do we base it on news value or popularity? Rachel noted that the beat used to be more features-oriented, but shifted to more hard news around 2001-2003, with the events of 9/11, the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal, the Episcopal Church’s first gay bishop, etc. Still, David noted that stories like Jesus Christ appearing on a Cheeto remain very popular, which makes a difference when news organizations analyze Web traffic so thoroughly these days.

With that in mind, check out RNA’s list of the top 10 Religion Stories of 2010, as decided by religion reporters (not readers). The top story, which I agreed with, is the controversy over the proposed Park51 Islamic center near Ground Zero, with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf also voted as the top religion newsmaker of the year (beating out Pope Benedict and Sarah Palin). 

Time also led with the “Ground Zero Mosque” on its picks for the top 10 religion stories of the year, but the magazine’s list otherwise seems skewed towards more recent headlines and softer news. (The absence of the earthquake in Haiti seems particularly glaring.)

What do you think? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below.

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