It may not be fair to call NewsNation an “upstart” cable news network anymore, given that it’s been on the air for three years and won acclaim for hosting the GOP presidential primary debate last December. But the network, owned by Nexstar Media Group, hasn’t fully gone head-to-head with Fox, MSNBC and CNN yet, since it’s not been a 24-hour, 7-day-a-week station like those legacy networks are.

That changes Saturday, when NewsNation goes from five days a week to 24/7 programming, promising “unbiased” coverage of the news in a contentious election year.

The network wants to attract Americans who are weary of news reporting that takes a side. And it’s also hoping to appeal to people of faith, with a series called “One Nation Under God” that examines how religious faith intersects with the biggest news headlines. Anchored by veteran broadcaster Adrienne Bankert, a recent episode of the show featured IndyCar driver Sting Ray Robb; other guests have included the founder of Pray.com, NFL quarterback Brock Purdy’s pastor, Great American Media CEO Bill Abbott, and Alejandro Monteverde and Cristiana Dell’Anna, the director and star of the film “Cabrini.”

Bankert is an alumna of ABC News, where she appeared on shows like “Good Morning America” and “Nightline.” She said she was initially surprised when NewsNation approached her about doing a news show with a focus on religion, but she’s now passionate about its importance and will continue with the weekly series even as she assumes anchoring duties between 2-5 Mountain Time on Saturdays and Sundays starting this weekend.

Bankert, the author of “Your Hidden Superpower: The Kindness That Makes You Unbeatable at Work and Connects You With Anyone,” recently spoke with Deseret News about “One Nation Under God,” how she became “fluent in faith,” and why she believes all journalists should know more about “The Chosen.”

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Deseret News: How does NewsNation differentiate itself from the other cable news networks?

Adrienne Bankert: NewsNation’s whole mission, the impetus for NewsNation, was to provide a way for people to receive information, stay informed, know what’s going on in the world around them in ways that perhaps weren’t being offered. I love that we do stories that you may not see on any other network, that we pay attention to voices that may not get the same amount of airtime.

I don’t think there’s some big conspiracy to leave people out — I hope not. But unless you’re intentional about giving people voice, then you kind of end up in a cycle of repeat. It’s in media. It’s in any industry. You get used to something and you go into rote. And you get away from your creativity, your curiosity for voices that are different from your own, for voices that are different from what you’re used to seeing. That’s the thing I’m proudest of. We’re willing to give voice to people who previously may not have gotten on the air for whatever reason. But I’m so glad they’re getting airtime now.

DN: Well, Tucker Carlson is doing that right now, too, but perhaps in a much different way from how NewsNation is doing it.

AB: Yes, and all respect to him, he has a unique lane — he’s always had a very unique voice. But, and I can only speak for myself, sometimes it’s counterintuitive to just bring things to the forefront without causing a stir of controversy — without saying, it’s this side and this side. I’m not saying Tucker only does that, but when I’m thinking of my reporting, this is what I do as a journalist: I’m looking for solutions. I think there are a lot of great journalists out there who point out what’s going on — they point out corruption, they point out a lack of accountability, they point out a problem. And they dig deep to find the roots of the problem.

We all know there are problems. We all know there are things that need to change in our world, that need to change in media. But how much are we contributing to answers? Because people need hope. And I like (my reporting) to always contain that facet of hope that I don’t necessarily see on a lot of news networks or digital platforms. ... I believe there’s going to be a whole new wave. There’s going to be demand for people who shine a light at the end of the tunnel for a whole nation that is crying out for someone to tell them that it’s going to be OK.

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DN: That’s an enormous job; how do you go about it?

AB: Well, that’s one reason I was so grateful that my boss came to me and said, “You know, Adrienne, I think this is your lane. I want you to do a faith series for the network.” And I had to think about it because I had never done faith-based journalism in my entire life. And we’re a news network; it’s not just doing stories about faith; it’s stories about faith that are tied to news.

I believe I’ve been given the lane to provide hope because so much of what we see reported in news has traditionally been investigations into the Catholic Church, for example, or people who are parts of religious cults. Then we see stories of people who are helped in tragedies. The Red Cross and a local church came out to feed people who were displaced by a storm. And then there are the political stories. The evangelicals — whatever that means. Most people don’t necessarily know the difference between an evangelical and people of different denominations.

For me, my job, my calling, my mission is to report on current, relevant stories, showing Americans pursuing the American Dream with the North Star of faith in God, and to allow people to see that that’s a lot of where their hope comes from. No matter who you are, even if you’re agnostic, you have a system of belief that guides you and leads you. The problem is that for a lot of people, unless they get relegated to one of those three categories, they aren’t shown in the news, and we expect them to keep their faith separate from their career, their faith separate from their politics.

At 22 years old, Sting Ray Robb was able to perfectly articulate that you don’t just take your faith to church, that who you are — mind, body, spirit — goes with you through your career, goes with you everywhere, and we shouldn’t separate that from the common discourse or the human experience. We can talk about mental health — that’s something invisible, that’s based on something we cannot see. To me, that gives us completely free access to talk about faith in the same way.

DN: Is there a set number of episodes that you are doing, or is this an ongoing series?

AB: It’s completely ongoing; we publish a new episode every week. Every Thursday at at 3 p.m. Eastern it goes live on YouTube. I’m committed to it. Again, I’ve never done anything like this in my career, but the conversations I’ve had, the response it has elicited from people — “thank you so much for doing this” — I feel like it’s been a segment of society that much of the media has ignored because of (their) comfort level.

It’s uncomfortable to talk about faith. It’s uncomfortable to think you might offend somebody or if someone has beliefs other than your own, then somehow you’re going to judge each other. Or, people have thought there’s a separation of church and state in media, and that’s just absolutely not true. Walter Cronkite considered becoming a man of the cloth. Some of the biggest names in journalism had their own faith journeys that informed how they told stories, but we haven’t made it commonplace today because somewhere in society we decided that part of our lives had to be separate.

There are so many stories that are all tied to faith — Israel and the Hamas conflict, for example — and we cannot any longer take that integral part of our humanity out of the conversation and accurately report news. It’s just not possible. I’m hoping this will stir other networks and other people to embrace the whole person as they’re telling stories.

A logo for NewsNation's series "One Nation Under God."
A logo for NewsNation's series "One Nation Under God," hosted by veteran broadcaster Adrienne Bankert. | NewsNation

DN: Can you talk a little bit more about how this “comfort level,” or lack of it, plays out in news coverage?

AB: I was contacted by the producer of the show “The Chosen” (for a special report that would be called “The Chosen Phenomenon”). I personally knew about the show, but I didn’t until Season 3, so I was late to the party. But nobody in my newsroom knew what “The Chosen” was, and it’s one of the top-rated, biggest crowd-funded projects. This is a case study in how important faith is and how it’s informing people. And they have had to fight to get media coverage because their main character is Jesus, and his disciples. The highest selling book in history is the Bible, and we’re still saying it’s taboo. But it’s not taboo for most of the country.

DN: In some interviews, you have pushed back at doomsday reporting about church attendance and the decline of religious faith.

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AB: I talked to one of the executives at Pray.com, and he told me, “Well, church attendance is down, but faith-based apps, online devotionals, online preaching, online Bible studies have all gone through the roof, with multiple million downloads.” So people are hungering in their faith; many came away from the COVID-19 pandemic used to not going to church. A lot of people consider that a tragedy, and a lot of churches are trying to get creative. But many of them used the pandemic to get more technologically advanced, expanding their online presence, because that’s the world we live in. People are wanting virtual services, virtual Bible study and prayer groups.

DN: Can you tell us a little bit about your own faith journey?

AB: I grew up in a nondenominational church, although I had family that was Catholic, family that was Baptist, family that was just spiritual, not churched. But I’ll just say, I never wanted to use my news career, or even this faith series, to preach at people. That’s not what it’s for. But I do know for sure that I am fluent in faith.

You know, there are journalists who are people of faith but they’re not necessarily used to being around people of faith. You have to have a high regard (for faith) — as soon as you judge someone, you lose the right to tell their story accurately. ... All journalists, not just me, should take the time to get to know the faith community in a different way. It’s possible it will inform what happens in the 2024 election. ... You don’t have to pick a side. But a lot of people live as though God matters. And that changes the dynamic of how they interact with other people.

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