The Winnipeg Free Press is one of the last papers left in the country to have a faith page, a commitment that ensures we are part of the discussion on issues that not only shape the lives of many of our readers, but also our society.
And starting this month, we will have even more faith coverage, driven largely by the faith that members of our community have in the Free Press.
Over the past nine months we’ve been on a mission, meeting with various members of the city’s faith groups to gauge their willingness to help fund the journalism we produce. The offer was simple: if you value faith coverage in your newspaper and you want to see more — help us do more.
We have now raised more than $25,000, money which will be used to fund coverage of religion beyond what is typically found on Saturday’s faith page. The collection plate that has been passed around has seen donations from all corners of our city’s faith community.
We’ve been blessed with pledges from the Presbyterians, the Evangelicals, the Mennonites of River East Church and Charleswood United Church. The Jewish faith as well as the Muslims by way of the Islamic Social Services Association are also on board. Our initiative has been embraced by the Anglican Diocese of Rupert's Land and Albert LeGatt, the Archbishop of St. Boniface, who made a sizeable personal contribution. We pray more will join us as this new initiative moves forward.
The money raised will allow us to make more use of the reporting skills of John Longhurst and Brenda Suderman, two well-regarded journalists who have written extensively on religion for the Free Press over the past two decades. All our faith-related stories will be in front of our paywall, enabling as many people as possible to read for free what we publish. And just to be clear, the money we receive comes with no strings attached that will limit or influence how we cover faith issues.
There is freedom of religion in our country just as there is freedom of the press. Those are rights to cherish. But this partnership does more than simply cherish, as it will help sustain both.
"In today’s world, [the work of journalists] is, in every sense, not just a job; it is a mission," Pope Francis wrote last year in a message that stressed the importance of reporters in combating fake news in today’s world.
)"Your free and responsible voice is fundamental for the growth of any society that wants to be called democratic, so that a continuous exchange of ideas and a profitable debate based on real and correctly reported facts are assured."
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The Free Press has been in the business of real and correctly reported facts since 1872. But as we have all seen in recent years, that business model as it currently exists is not economically sustainable. By showing faith in our role in the community, Christians, Jews and Muslims have created a revenue stream that breaks new ground for newspapers in Canada.
In exchange, our reporting mission will ensure a greater understanding of what is really happening within our faith community. We will get at misrepresentations of religion that are frequently the root of racism. We will provide a better understanding of the religious diversity that should be seen as a sign of strength in our community. And we will do a better job of recognizing how religion is embedded in the everyday experience of our city, our province and our country.
On behalf of the Free Press, I want to thank the churches, the places of worship and the religious for believing in the journalistic mission of our newsroom. And I encourage our readers — those of faith and those of little faith — to share your thoughts with me as we expand our coverage of religion.
Paul Samyn is the Free Press editor
Paul Samyn Editor
Paul Samyn has been part of the Free Press newsroom for more than a quarter century, working his way up after starting as a rookie reporter in 1988.