Stiefel Freethought Foundation Awards Grant for Atheism Coverage in the Media August 25, 2011

Stiefel Freethought Foundation Awards Grant for Atheism Coverage in the Media

This could be controversial, but I think it’s a positive move.

The Stiefel Freethought Foundation has just given a $50,000 grant to Religion News LLC (which owns Religion News Service) in order to expand coverage of the “growing community of atheists, agnostics, humanists and freethinkers.”

Considering that RNS stories appear in a lot of popular online (and print) publications, like Huffington Post, USA Today, and the Washington Post, that’s a huge boost.

…The Stiefel Foundation grant allows RNS to expand its reporting staff to cover the movement, which tends to be portrayed selectively or sensationalized in other media accounts.

“Numerous studies have shown that non-believers are growing faster than many traditional religious groups,” said Kevin Eckstrom, editor-in-chief of Religion News Service. “If we want to better understand the values and beliefs of the American public we need to pay more attention to this group. We are grateful this grant allows us to do that.”

So what’s the controversy? It might look to a casual observer like someone is paying for favorable coverage of atheists. That’s not the case — it would certainly be unethical — but I wonder if that’s how this story will be spun.

Todd Stiefel wrote on SFF’s Facebook page: “Normally, we invest in getting the attention of the media. This is an investment in the media itself.”

Considering how many newspapers are laying off religion reporters and how few opportunities we have to get mainstream media coverage (outside of doing something controversial), this is one way to see more stories about positive atheism. There are so many individual atheists and groups doing wonderful things… but they tend to be ignored by the press. It’s easy to write about contentious billboards and public battles over religious displays, but very few people write about the Humanist actions of our community. Maybe we’ll see that change a bit now.

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  • Annie

    So, an atheist foundation has given a grant to get more coverage of atheism?  Am I getting that right?  I think it’s great to get more coverage, but I was a little more excited when I didn’t realize it was an atheist foundation picking up the bill.

  • Many religious groups also donate to RNS.  If there is criticism on our gift, it will be either from people who don’t know that fact or who choose to ignore it.   

    I am really excited about this for exactly the reasons Hemant points out.  Our coverage will now increase in terms of stories with a neutral view of atheism/humanism.  This should give us a huge boost because for every story on atheists vandalizing churches, there are a hundred stories that show our humanity and values.  This will also help bring to light our work opposing the liberty bashing of the religious right.  

    For good or ill, their reporting will help bring freethinkers out of the closet to America.  I am not afraid of what America will see.  In fact, I am proud of what our community will be able to show.

  • Annie

    It’s wonderful… and such a generous grant… but before I realized you were a freethinking foundation, I was floored by the idea that anyone would donate to cover atheism.  Anything that normalizes nontheists in the US is a good thing.

  • Heidi

    I think it’s a good idea. Thanks Todd and Anonymous.

  • In addition to telling the media of the humanistic activities that Atheists take part in, it would also help to spill some of that money over to some of the humanistic Atheist groups out there. They not only do good without gods, they need help. I’ll bet that RNS was doing pretty well before this. Just saying… 

  • Shawn Kameron

    Come on, no one else notices how “Stiefel Freethought Foundation” sounds just like “Stifle Freethought Foundation?”

  • Hi Shawn, it is pronounced “Stee-full” and rhymes with “gleeful”.  The “ie” is pronounced like an “e” like in chief, brief and relief.  It’s all good, though, my name gets mispronounced all the time.

  • Hi Joe, 

    You are right about the atheist groups needing help.  The gift to RNS is just a piece of my strategy for investing in our movement.  You can see more about other donations that have come from me or my foundation here, most of them have gone directly to freethought groups:


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