Certain things help. Pastors can try to establish relationships with religion writers at the local paper by asking to have lunch or inviting them to speak at the church in a non-worship setting. Let them know you are willing and able to help them, on the record or off, and not simply in order to raise your congregation’s profile— which may nonetheless be an incidental benefit.
Another enticement is being the author of a book (but not one that is self-published) with a title that instantly establishes your authority to speak on the topic at hand. These are sometimes called “credentializers.” Examples include Beyond Megachurch Myths: What We Can Learn from America’s Largest Churches by Scott Thumma and Dave Travis; Building a Healthy Multi-Ethnic Church by Mark DeYmaz; Global Pentecostalism by Donald Miller; and Christianity for the Rest of Us: How the Neighborhood Church Is Transforming the Faith by Diana Butler Bass. On the other hand, titles that are arcane, abstract or ethereal are useless as signifiers, although the title is usually the publisher’s call.
A book by a local pastor that gains some traction beyond a paper’s circulation area is usually an easy sell for a feature, one that puts the author at the center of the story, rather than simply being quoted. These feature stories, while at the bottom of the media food chain, can be picked up around the country, as well as by broadcast outlets. Any religion book that becomes a crossover best seller, like The Purpose-Driven Life, is also an easy sell for journalists.
Breaking onto today’s version of the Golden Rolodex is often an odd combination of serendipity, chemistry and personal relationships.
In August of 2003, for example, I had just returned from covering the triennial general convention of the Episcopal Church, USA, in Minneapolis. There, clergy and lay delegates had just ratified the decision of the Diocese of New Hampshire to name an openly gay man, the Rev. V. Gene Robinson, as their bishop. It was late in the afternoon and I was at my desk at the Orlando Sentinel, working on a wrap-up analysis. Just as I came to the place in my story where I needed one of those long-view quotes about what had happened, an e-mail popped onto my computer screen from the Divinity School offering just such an observation from David Steinmetz. I needed the perspective the quote offered and—I’m happy to call on Duke. So I did. The conversation went well, and I got my summary observation, which I used at the very bottom of the story, what we call the “kicker.”