News21 A Journalism Initiative of the Carnegie and Knight Foundations

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Medill Belief and Public Life

About This Project

In this nation that has separation of church and state as one of its key precepts, the deep connection between politics and belief is undeniable. Carnegie-Knight News21 Fellows at Northwestern University's Medill School have been looking at that relationship since January, examining how it is expressed and what role religion and belief play in public life, from the campaign trail to the classroom and at many points in between. It has been a remarkable journey that carried the fellows to a Christian rock concert, where they examined the phenomenon of religion-based tattoos, to a biblical theme park in Florida, to a creation museum in Kentucky, to street corners and workplaces across the nation, where they asked people to explain what role faith plays in their daily life. A team examined the faith experiences and traditions of the major presidential contenders, an assignment that yielded a robust and engaging multi-media tool for examining candidate positions.

The effort, which carried the fellows everywhere from prisons to churches to mosques and onto the campaign trail, yields an impressive multi-media presentation that dissects many aspects of the nation's sometimes uncomfortable connections to its own beliefs.

Biographies of News21 Fellows and Reporters
Image: Lynae Anderson - Profile picture
Lynae Anderson

Lynae Anderson, a California native, earned her Bachelor of Arts with high honors in Religious Studies at University of California, Berkeley. She also received the Departmental Citation Award for outstanding undergraduate accomplishment in Religious Studies.

Before attending the Medill School of Journalism, she worked as an assignment editor at News10 (KXTV) in Sacramento, California and at Medill is in the broadcast sequence.

Lynae is captivated by the intersection of religion and public life – particularly when it enters the political arena, but also when it touches on peoples’ deepest-held spiritual beliefs. She’s a devout college football fan, and on fall Saturdays can be found cheering on her Golden Bears.

Andrew Baltazar
Ben Branham

Benjamin M. Branham is a John F. Kennedy Fellow at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, where he is completing a master's degree in public policy. He serves as the news editor for the school's newspaper, The Citizen, and in moments of levity (or clarity, depending on your perspective) he writes for its satirical counterpart, The Octopus. Branham also spends time as freelance writer and communications consultant for the Boston Redevelopment Authority, among other clients. Prior to returning to school, Branham worked in the administration of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as a press secretary for the NYC Department of Small Business Services.

He attended college at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where he majored in English. Other past jobs of his include waiting tables, mowing laws, giving campus tours, and selling pies to raise money for helping people with HIV/AIDS. Originally from Chicago, Branham now lives in Cambridge, MA. He's a Scorpio.

Leah Fabel

Leah Fabel grew up in St. Paul, Minn., and graduated in 2000 from St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn. She then moved to Chicago where she taught history at Paul Robeson High School through the Teach for America program. After a brief stint back in her hometown, she moved to Amman, Jordan, for a year before beginning graduate school at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. She will graduate from Medill in December, 2007, with a reporting and writing concentration. While in Chicago, she has freelanced for the Chicago Tribune's and its free daily, Red Eye. While in Amman, she worked as co-editor of Luxury Magazine. She has also freelanced for The Rake in Minneapolis. Throughout graduate school, she has written for Medill Reports, a Chicago-area news service. Over the course of the News21 fellowship, Leah focused on the intersection of faith and public education.

Brad Flora

Brad Flora is an Illinois-based freelance writer, producer, photographer and web developer. He speaks four languages, plays three instruments and spends way too much time online.

He's written for Slate Magazine, covered crime in Chicago's suburbs for a metro wire service, music on the city's south side and digital content management strategy for eContent magazine.

In 2007 he helped a Midwestern daily vet a new, hyperlocal strategy. In a prior life he read applications and scoured the United States for its best and brightest as a Princeton University Admission Officer.

Brad is the publisher, developer and founder of The Chicago Methods Reporter, a daily news magazine with a focus on local politics and culture.

You can reach him using the form below.

Link to Christian Tattoo: The Needle for the Nail

Katherine Glover

Katherine Glover has been a freelance writer for several years. Her work has appeared in numerous magazines and newspapers in the Twin Cities and Chicago, as well as national publications Dollars and Sense, Clamor and Her radio pieces have aired on KFAI, the Great Lakes Radio Consortium and WBEZ Chicago Public Radio. She is working on a joint business and economics reporting program with the Medill School of Journalism and the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University. She is most interested in immigration issues and international trade policy.

Benjamin Helfrich

Benjamin Helfrich is entering his final quarter of graduate study at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism. Raised in Northbrook, Ill., he graduated from Miami University in 2004 with a BS in Education. Prior to Medill, Benjamin taught middle school history in Skokie, Ill. and high school history and psychology in Cincinnati, Ohio. Benjamin's work has appeared in a variety of Chicago area newspapers including: The Daily Herald, The Northwest Indiana Times and The Chicago Defender.

As a News21 Fellow, along with Brad Flora, Benjamin explored alternative Christians using tattoo as a major form of faith expression and youth outreach. Coupled with a print story about the subject is an interactive map highlighting 11 individuals who explain their religious ink in candid detail.

With Hilary Oswald, Benjamin worked on projects involving the Hill Cumorah Pageant in Palmyra, N.Y. and the Days of '47 Parade in Salt Lake City, Utah. Both events marked a unique blend of belief and civic life involving members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Benjamin will intern for Agence France-Presse in Bangkok, Thailand and Phnom Penh, Cambodia this fall before moving to Washington, DC to complete his degree.

Hilary Masell Oswald

A native of Naples, Florida, Hilary earned a degree in English literature and composition from Davidson College in 2001 and set out to prove that Garrison Keillor's jokes about English majors aren't entirely true.

She worked for Apple Computer for several years and then took a job writing and recruiting for a small liberal arts college in the Midwest. In the meantime, she freelanced for several magazines and realized that she might have been on to something 17 years ago when she told her fifth-grade teacher she wanted to be a journalist.

So, she headed for Medill's grad program, where she reported on federal court, 16-year-old geniuses and a trio of quirky women entrepreneurs, among other topics. As part of Medill's famed magazine publishing project, she served as editor-in-chief of her class's vision for the iconic Ebony magazine. She graduated from Medill in June.

Hilary's work has appeared in Chicago Parent, AA Golf, Art Business News and the Northwest Indiana Times, among other publications. In her free time, she enjoys traveling with her husband, skiing (badly), reading (especially great nonfiction) and getting riled up by American politics.

Sarah McCann

Sarah McCann is in the reporting religion program at Medill and is particularly intrigued by the intersection between religion and progressive public policies. Of great interest is how faith communities influence and respond to national and local public policies. Before coming to Medill, Sarah was a research assistant at the Kennedy School of Government focusing on achievement gaps in the public schools. She holds a master's degree in religion with a focus on public policy from Harvard. After graduating, she hopes to be a religion writer for a newspaper or magazine.

John McDermott

John McDermott is a Master in Public Policy degree candidate at the John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University. A graduate of the London School of Economics and Political Science, John is a Fulbright Scholar from the United Kingdom. His academic interests include foreign policy, poverty, electoral politics and political philosophy. A keen supporter of Heart of Midlothian Football Club, John is fascinated by twentieth-century American literature, British cinema and the Chicago Bears. John is a resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, though his heart will always be in Edinburgh, Scotland.

Mrinalini Reddy
Image: Matthew Streib bio pic
Matthew Streib

Matthew Streib, 25, is one of the last participants in the now-defunct Religion and Reporting program at Medill, which was eliminated to make way for the school's new curriculum. For the past few years, Matthew has specialized in reporting on socio-political issues, especially ones involving Muslims. His journalistic endeavors have taken him to Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Morocco, the Netherlands, France, and he is will be interning this fall with the Associated Press in Thailand.

He likes to fish, to cook, and to ride his bicycle. He does not know how to drive, and does not want to learn, as by not driving, he minimalizes his contribution to global warming.

Beckie Supiano

Beckie attended Miami University (that's the one in Ohio), graduating with a BA in comparative religion in 2006.

She is now a reporting and writing student, and part of Medill's religion, spirituality and ethics program.

Beckie hopes to cover religion in her future career.

In her free time, she rides horses.

Biographies of News21 Editors
Manya Brachear, Deputy Managing Editor

Manya Brachear joined the Chicago Tribune in June 2003. As one of the paper's religion reporters, she has helped chronicle the papal transition from Rome, the Dalai Lama’s visit to Chicago, Protestant debates about gay clergy, progress and pitfalls of interfaith dialogue and the emerging role of religion in American politics. Manya earned a bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University and masters' degrees in journalism and religious studies from Columbia University. She also has written for Time magazine, The Dallas Morning News, and the News & Observer.

Congressional District Listening Posts, Fellow
Charles Madigan, Managing Editor

Charles M. Madigan spent 40 years in journalism before joining Roosevelt University in Chicago this fall as Presidential Writer in Residence. He has held every job from local reporting on small town papers to section editor and op-ed columnist at The Chicago Tribune and joined Northwestern specifically to help direct the News21 project.


The Latest

Students from Medill School at Northwestern University spent eight months examining the connection between belief and public life in the United States, a pursuit that carried them everywhere from tattoo parlors to much more traditional venues and yielded an abundance of revealing stories.