Portuguese journalist Filipe d’Avillez understands how difficult it can be to report on faith-based stories.
“One of the problems I have had is getting people to understand that religion stories are actually important,” he said.
d’Avillez spoke to journalism students at CMU in September as part of the Visiting Professionals program.
d’Avillez knows that people take religion very seriously, and he told students that they need to remember that.
“There are aspects of religion every reporter should be aware of,” he said. “Be aware of issues and be sensitive to these issues.”
He said religious coverage can shape how readers feel about the journalists covering the story and the media outlets they work for.
“Your readers do not necessarily see the world through your eyes,” d’Avillez said.
He encouraged students not to shy away from covering difficult or unpopular topics.
“If you find a niche area that is not that explored and you know a lot about, you can become an influential voice in that area,” d’Avillez said.
He talked about his reluctance to use Facebook and Twitter to promote his work. He started out with an e-mail mailing list to gain more readers and then expanded that by starting his blog.
“I can write up my own opinion and say what I think,” d’Avillez said.
As he saw his readership grow, he decided to start a group on Facebook and follow other religious reporters on Twitter.
“You cannot work in this industry these days and not have an online presence on social media,” he said.
He talked about the tensions in Syria and how religion is a big factor in the fighting. d’Avillez said everyone has an interest in Syria, including Iran, Lebanon and Turkey.
He cautioned students to carefully research sources on each side of a topic.
“We have to think about who these people are, where they are coming from, who they are backing,” he said.
d’Avillez also spoke about translating mainly radio content into the online medium. He said they have veteran reporters who use all caps, write phonetically and don’t include accents, so it has been difficult to break those habits.
“A big advantage of online news is that you can correct your mistakes,” he said.
The focus on expanding their online coverage and breaking away from just copying the radio material has earned the staff three first prize awards for excellence in cyber journalism.
d’Avillez talked about the online feedback he receives and some of the interesting people he hears from. He told students it’s important not to develop a sense of superiority to their readers.
“Try and be as humble as you can in what you do,” he said.