AAR Member Spotlight

Debra Mason

Debra L. Mason (she/her) is COO and co-founder of TaboomMedia, which does training and media monitoring around religion and LGBTQI+ issues in sub-Saharan Africa. She’s also director and professor emerita at the University of Missouri School of Journalism’s Center on Religion & the Professions. Her research and teaching centers on the religious literacy of professionals, especially journalists. During her two decades leading Religion News Association, she raised nearly $20 million for training and tools such as ReligionStylebook.com and ReligionLink.com. As publisher of Religion News Service, the world’s only non-sectarian wire service exclusively covering religion, she led a multi-million dollar expansion that converted RNS from a for-profit to non-profit company, quadrupled monthly online traffic, created five local religion sites and garnered unprecedented industry honors for its reporting. Mason also serves as a jury member for the AAR Journalism Awards.

Why did you get involved with AAR and how is your work aligned?

I attended my first AAR Annual Conference as a journalist, back in the late 1980s. At the time, I couldn’t understand why more journalists didn’t attend. I was astounded by the range of topics and the expo, where I wanted to take home every book I saw! I rejoined after earning my PhD and doing research on religion and news.

What is your area of expertise or field of study?

My specialization is religious literacy in the professions, specifically within journalism. As director of a Pew Center of Excellence at the University of Missouri, I helped create the nation’s first online course in religious literacy for the professions. As longtime director of the Religion News Association and publisher of Religion News Service, I've overseen the creation of resources to help journalists do a better job reporting and writing on faith and values. My recent work focuses on religious literacy for journalists and advocates of LGBTQI+ issues in sub-Saharan Africa.

How has AAR been beneficial to you and your career?

AAR leads you to the world, really. When I founded a religion story idea service called ReligionLink, AAR was vital for finding sources on every sub-specialization of religion. Once AAR founded ReligionSource, that process became a lot easier. Before social media and a robust internet, it was much harder to figure out who was a good interviewee for news. AAR’s awards, journalism contest and conference continue to highlight top scholars in religion.

What book is on your nightstand that you're reading or intend to read in the future?

The 1619 Project, created by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times Magazine. The book is an edited volume with tremendous contributors, including some chapters on faith and spirituality. The book evolved from a 2019 magazine project led by Hannah-Jones that reframes American history, placing slavery and it’s legacy at the center. I bought several copies of the book as Christmas gifts this year. 

What do you enjoy doing outside of work?

Vegetarian cooking, theater, most genres of live music, comedy shows, and my two six-pound dogs all bring me joy, but live performances have been the real rare treats during this pandemic. Earlier this year, we splurged and saw Hasan Manaj in Columbus, Ohio. He was hilarious, but if you can’t see him live, he’s taping a standup special for Netflix in a few months. Five stars!   

About Member Spotlight

This feature is devoted to profiling AAR members making waves in their departments, institutions, and communities—as well as AAR at large!

Read More Interviews