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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Among the more interesting elements of the relationship between the SFF and RNS is that the funding that was granted has allowed for a reporter — Kimberly Winston — to focus more diligently on the atheist movement. Winston, who has been working freelance with RNS for quite some time, is now able to write much more regularly on the subject for the outlet.

While Stiefel claims he’s free to pitch ideas, he says the RNS team rarely uses them. Additionally, Stiefel told TheBlaze that Winston rarely uses him as a source for her stories about atheism.

“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.

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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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