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Peggy Wehmeyer seeks to translate between news media & religious life

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (BP)–Many of the most important issues affecting people today are moral and religious issues, ABC News religion correspondent Peggy Wehmeyer told a Samford University audience May 11.

Despite the acknowledged importance of religion in American’s lives, however, Wehmeyer became the first correspondent to report for a network on religious and spiritual issues when she joined ABC News in 1994.

It is well founded, she said, that religion affects how people cope with major decisions and life circumstances. “Studies show that people with religious faith live longer,” she said.

“I felt that television was out of touch with the people they were covering,” she said. “My job has been to translate the culture of network media and the culture of American religious life.”

Wehmeyer spoke on the topic “Is there room for God in network news?” at the spring luncheon of the Samford Auxiliary. Based in the ABC News Dallas bureau, Wehmeyer reports for “World News Tonight With Peter Jennings” and “20/20.” ABC is still the only network in the country with a full-time religion beat.

“If we are to be creative journalists, we must find creative ways to tell the way religion plays a role in people’s lives,” said Wehmeyer, who said she seeks to do stories that lower the walls that divide people.

“What concerns me the most is the great divide between the religious and the non-religious,” she said. “We can attribute culture wars to the vast worldviews we see colliding.”

She believes that the influence of religious people isn’t so much a matter of their numbers as their being in places of influence.

“Churches should be paying attention to the balance of religion in places of influence,” she said.

Wehmeyer shared stories of combining career obligations with family and childrearing. She and her husband, a psychologist, have two daughters.

“The hardest thing is juggling to take care of children’s needs and those of a career,” she said. She told how she turned down an opportunity to cover a millennium story in Bethlehem when a daughter expressed concern for her safety after hearing reports of possible violence.

Wehmeyer, who also addressed Samford journalism students earlier in the day, praised the school’s administration for supporting its communications department. “I am thrilled that you are training students to go out and make a difference,” she said. “I speak at many liberal arts colleges similar to Samford that do not have journalism programs.”

Before joining ABC News, Wehmeyer spent 10 years covering religious and social issues for WFAA-TV, the ABC affiliate in Dallas. Previously, she had been director of public information at Dallas Theological Seminary, where she also studied. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Texas at Austin.

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  • Mary Wimberley