Top ‘Wash Post’ Blog Mixes Religion Views

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By: Joe Strupp

The most popular blog on The Washington Post Web site is not about politics, local nightlife, or even Redskins football. Its list of regular contributors ranges from Bishop Desmond Tutu to Watergate conspirator Charles Colson, while its moderator is none other than Sally Quinn.

So what issue could draw such a large crowd and span such a range of personalities? Why, religion, of course. Or more specifically, faith.

“I have been an atheist all of my life, but I got interested in it from a political standpoint,” says Quinn, a Post writer since 1969 and wife of former executive editor Ben Bradlee. “It was a subject touching everything – politics, the environment, national interests. I got really fascinated with it doing a lot of reading about religion.”

The blog, “On Faith,” launched last November and now boasts more traffic than any of the Post’s 75 other blogs, according to Quinn and Jim Brady, washingtonpost.com executive editor. “It took off right away and it is unique,” says Brady. “It is a great topic for discussion. Faith remains an under-covered topic.”

One of the reasons for such high traffic is that it’s a joint project of the Post and Newsweek, both of which are under The Washington Post Company. The site is linked to both publications’ web pages and moderated by Quinn and Newsweek editor Jon Meacham. “We wanted to leverage our strengths,” said Meacham, an Episcopalian and author of “American Gospel.”

“I have a long-standing interest in the subject and this is a model that makes sense,” he said.

Quinn said the idea for the blog first arose last year when she began to work on a book about religion and faith. “I had been talking to the paper about doing more religion coverage for several years and I thought about the book on religion because it is taking on more of a role,” she recalled. After some talks with Post Chairman Donald Graham and Meacham, the blog idea arose. “Combining the resources [of the two Web sites] seemed like a no-brainer,” Quinn said. “I am involved in it all day, everyday.”

The site includes a mix of responses to questions posed by moderators, items posted from the dozens of panelists, and even requests for sermons. Postings have ranged from conservative columnist Cal Thomas urging that religion be taught in schools to Nobel Peace Prize winner and Auschwitz survivor Elie Wiesel advocating dialogue among differing religious viewpoints. Meacham and Quinn also post items.

“We are going to have video capability soon,” says Quinn. “I will start doing a regular interview show where I will interview people about their faith.” She also hopes to have many presidential candidates on in the next year or so.

The blog’s organizers contend that interest in religion has increased from a variety of areas, including the conservative Christian movement in politics, the Iraq War and its related religious elements, and various other issues. “I think the turning point was Mel Gibson and ‘The Passion of the Christ’,” Meacham said about the controversial 2004 film that drew anti-Semitic accusations against Gibson.

Quinn, who continues to work on her book, also is planning to leave next week on a three-week trip through several foreign countries to study religion for the Web site and the book Starting in Rome, her tour group will visit Israel, India, Japan, Tibet, Ethiopia, Eqypt and Australia.

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