Q&A with Religion and Ethics Newsweekly's Kim Lawton
Last week, Inside Thirteen spoke with Religion and Ethics Newsweekly‘s Managing Editor, Kim Lawton, to discuss her career and the wide range of stories she has covered during her time with the show. Lawton has been with Religion and Ethics Newsweekly since its start 14 seasons ago. Previously, she served as Washington bureau chief at News Network International in California until 1996, and has covered political news including the White House, Supreme Court and Congress. An award-winning reporter, producer, and writer, Lawton recently was honored by the Religion Newswriters Association for her work on Mainline Protestants and Same-Sex Marriage.
Produced by THIRTEEN, Religion and Ethics Newsweekly takes a unique look at national and international news from a religious/ethical standpoint. The shows airs Saturdays at 10:30 a.m. and Sundays at 5:30 p.m. on THIRTEEN.
Inside Thirteen: What has been your favorite story that you have covered on Religion and Ethics NewsWeekly?
Kim Lawton: It is really hard for me to say. This year, it was very interesting going to Haiti after the earthquake and do several stories in the wake of the earthquake. That really stood out for me this past year, although there have been a lot of other memorable stories as well.
IT: Religion & Ethics Newsweekly is unique in its coverage of the news from a religious/ethical standpoint. What interested you in looking at the news from this angle?
KL: We are actually the only mainstream television program that focuses solely on this dimension of life, the areas of faith and spirituality, religion and ethics. So, we really fill a unique niche in the world of journalism. We’re really careful to emphasize that we cover these topics as journalists. A lot of stuff out there advances one particular strain of religion. We don’t do that, but we try to as journalists look at this really fascinating area of life. I didn’t set out to be a religion reporter, I sort of fell into it in my first job as general assignment reporter – I kept getting religion assignments and they fascinated me. So, the more I would cover them, the more they sort of became a beat for me. I think over the years that I covered religion, I’ve covered foreign affairs, I’ve covered war, I’ve covered pop culture, I’ve covered presidential campaigns and Supreme Court decisions, and art. Every dimension of life has that faith, religion, ethics element to it, and it often gets ignored by journalists. As a journalist, it’s been wonderful to have such a diversity of topics to cover.
IT: Your career has spanned broadcast, print, and radio. Do you prefer working in any one of these mediums most?
KL: I think all of the different media where I’ve worked build on each other or there are different positives and different strengths about each one. I’ve certainly enjoyed working in television because it’s almost sort of 3D writing, or 3D reporting, and I enjoy that, I very much enjoy the power of the image and how the image helps tell a story. So, that’s a real challenge for me as a journalist trying to convey a story, but also do it in a compelling manner. I think using sound, pictures, as well as words and thinking how all of those things work together to tell the story is challenging, but I like working in that medium. If I’m covering a famine somewhere, I can try to painstakingly describe in words the skeletal child walking across the street and maybe try to use words to convey what he looks like; in a three second image on television, you can convey so much.
IT: Last month you attended a journalism conference in Indonesia – can you tell us about what you spoke about there?
KL: This summer, I was very fortune – I was invited to participate in a conference of journalists from all over the world. We were focusing on the topic of defamation of religion and looking at where the lines are between freedom of speech, freedom of the press, and freedom of religion. In different parts of the world, those are very different lines and very different sets of questions. So, for me coming as the American representative describing how things are here, of course I talked a lot about freedom of speech – certainly people may say a few things in the media that they don’t like or that insult their religion, but that’s part of the freedom of speech that we have here. But in many parts of the world, those are life and death issues. Things that they write or broadcast could endanger someone’s life. We talked about how as journalists we attack those issues. So that was really fascinating. It was a wonderful experience to be there – I was there during the time of Ramadan, which was also interesting…just exploring all these tricky questions with people from all over the world.
IT: What was the experience of covering the Haiti earthquake earlier this year like?
KL: Going there and just seeing the devastation, it’s hard to describe in words. It’s hard to even convey in video. The destruction was so massive and even a television camera couldn’t begin to capture it. For me, it had a real personal dimension as well because my grandparents had been missionaries in Haiti when I was a kid and I actually visited them. So, I knew people there and that of course made it all the more compelling of a story for me. One of the things we did which I had never done before as a journalist was put myself into the story – one story we did this spring, I went back to the mission that my grandparents helped start thirty years ago. My grandparents hadn’t been back in well over a decade. It was amazing for me to go back and see. To talk with people who knew them and get a real picture of the situation from real people who knew my grandparents, that was personally a very interesting story.
Sometimes it’s a crazy lifestyle – in the month of August I was only home 11 days the whole month. I started the month in New Orleans, doing a story about the Gulf Oil spill and how that affected religious communities and how religious communities were trying to help people affected. Then I went to Indonesia. Also in the Gulf Coast, the story of the 5th Anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. We just started season 14 – I’ve been there since the very beginning. It’s pretty amazing that we’ve hung in all these years and we still have stories to tell!