The Associated Press is joining with the Religion News Service and nonprofit publisher The Conversation to form a global initiative to expand news reporting on religion.

The collaboration is being funded by an 18-month, $4.9 million grant from Lilly Endowment Inc. to the Religion News Service's parent organization, the nonprofit Religion News Foundation. The grant represents one of the biggest investments in religion news coverage in decades.

The initiative will create a joint news desk to produce multi-format coverage of major faiths, with a focus on illuminating the religious practices and principles that underlie current events and cultural movements.

The AP will hire eight religion journalists, and the Religion News Service will hire three. The Conversation will add two editors. The organizations will also hire additional business staff to administer the grant.

"This collaboration significantly expands AP's capacity to explore issues of faith, ethics and spirituality as a social and cultural force," said AP Vice President and Managing Editor Brian Carovillano.

Each of the organizations will retain editorial control of its content, which will be labeled and distributed by the AP.

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