CTV creates new faith beat

VANCOUVER, BC–Now that ABC News has decided not to renew the contract of ground-breaking religion correspondent Peggy Wehmeyer, Canada can boast about having the continent's only full-time national television news religion reporter.

Earlier this summer CTV News appointed Mark Schneider, 53, to head up Horizons, a weekly segment about spirituality and ethics on the network's national evening newscast.

Schneider, who has been a journalist for 26 years–including a five-year stint as Ottawa bureau chief for Vancouver-based BCTV–was doing the technology beat when Kirk Lapointe, CTV senior vice-president for news, tapped him for the new job.

At first, Schneider says, he didn't want the job. "I was very angry when I learned I was being re-assigned," he says. "I liked the technology beat. I had strenuously campaigned to create it and had chosen it for myself. Plus, I felt I had no credentials for the spirituality and ethics beat."

But within a few weeks of starting the job, his attitude changed. "I began to feel that I was singularly qualified for the job within CTV News," he says. "Now I see it as an incredible challenge and I love it."

What changed his mind was the discovery that he could do journalism in a very different and uplifting way. "For first time in my life, I was able to make connections with people of deep religious belief in a way that let me be connected too," he says, adding that his own sense of spirituality (he's Jewish, with a deep interest in Buddhism) is enhanced by meeting people of faith.

At the same time, he says it's also giving him a chance to achieve healing as a journalist. "For years I practiced a very toxic, vandalistic form of TV journalism, full of anger, aggression and indifference to all consequences except to my own career," he says. Now he feels "great shame for my conduct during those years."

Today, he says, "part of my healing has been to see my role as a journalist quite differently–to bring to it my curiosity, instead of blind ambition; a sense of caring, instead of contempt. This is how I am trying to make amends and in terms of my healing as a human being, it is working well."

Of Horizons itself, Schneider says its purpose is to "chronicle the significant yearning of our country for a higher meaning in life, to portray this quest for moral moorings, for a balance in life and for refuge from the pressures of the day." Of his own role, he says he tries to imagine himself as "a medieval scribe, chronicling the adventures of the pilgrims on the dusty roads of life–with me being a pilgrim too."

For Lapointe, the new faith beat at CTV News is an answer "to a longstanding complaint of mine that, when it comes to religion, the media just doesn't get it. As a result, we're missing an important phenomenon in Canadian society."

Lapointe, who was a keynote speaker at the 1998 Faith and the Media Conference in Ottawa, says that being the only national TV news network in North America with a full-time faith beat reporter is a mixed blessing. He's happy CTV is championing the beat but finds it "more than a little bit disturbing to be alone in the field."

Horizons, which is based in Vancouver, appears Thursday evenings during the national news. Future items that Schneider hopes to cover include intercessory prayer, spirituality and healing, angels and Harry Potter.

Schneider's appointment brings to four the number of mainstream journalists working full-time on the faith beat in Canada. The others are Bob Harvey at the Ottawa Citizen, Doug Todd at the Vancouver Sun and Michael Valpy at the Globe and Mail.

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About the author

John Longhurst is faith page columnist for the Winnipeg Free Press. He blogs at On Faith Canada onfaithcanada.blogspot.ca and Making the News Canada makingthenewscanada.blogspot.ca