We’re mad as hell and we’re not …

As anyone knows who has read GetReligion for more than a day or two, the purpose of this weblog is — through positive and negative criticism — to lobby for improved coverage of religion news in the mainstream press. We like to argue that many major stories are haunted by “religion ghosts” that professionals need to learn to recognize and to include in stories throughout the newspaper, not just on the religion beat or on the religion page.

So there is much more to the task of improving religion-news coverage than what happens on the so-called Godbeat.

However, that does not mean that it is not important for newsrooms to include one or two experienced professionals who truly “get religion” and know what they are talking about when it comes to faith issues. The presence of one excellent religion-beat reporter can have a major impact in a newsroom.

Thus, your GetReligionistas are getting very tired of having to write posts — check this recent Divine Ms. MZ missive — detailing the departures of excellent writers from this complex and nuanced beat.

Personally, I’m starting to have daydreams about the movie “Network.”

We are not the only people to notice what is going on.

Click here and head over to the Freakonomics weblog at the New York Times, where Stephen J. Dubner has posted a short item with the headline: “The ‘God Beat’ Takes a Beating.” Here’s the whole item, but you should read it there to get all of the URLs:

The economic downturn has obviously hurt newspapers a great deal, but it’s hard to say which areas of coverage have been depleted the most. I have talked to people in many realms — international reporting, business, sports, entertainment — who claim their domain has been particularly hard hit. (Here’s a map from Paper Cuts that shows 2009 newspaper layoffs.)

But Cathleen Falsani, the Chicago Sun-Times‘s recently departed religion writer, makes the point that she is just one of four prominent religion writers who have been moved off their beats in the past month. The others are Michael Paulson of the Boston Globe, Eric Gorski at the A.P., and Peter Steinfels at The Times. This hardly means that religion will no longer be covered at those institutions, but that’s an awful lot of high-end human capital to leave one beat in a short time. I wonder what kind of religion articles we won’t be reading in the future as a result.

Tell us about it.

All of these professionals will be missed, of course. But the more I think about it, the more I am stunned by Gorski’s departure — after such a short time on the beat. To help cope with my pain, let me make this appeal to our sharp readers, many of whom are young people on this beat, or veteran journalists who want to work on this beat.

So, anyone want to nominate a first-round draft pick for the Associated Press chair (unless we can find some way to knock a few decades off Richard Ostling), since that is such a crucial standard-setting position for the national press as a whole?

Be nice. Be constructive. Name some prospects.

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About tmatt

Terry Mattingly directs the Washington Journalism Center at the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. He writes a weekly column for the Universal Syndicate.

  • http://sherrymims.com/blog Sherry

    Michelle Bearden of The Tampa Tribune is a fantastic religion reporter. I started reading her work when I worked on my mass communications degree in Tampa.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    Hmmmm….

    Would AP consider basing the Godbeat point person in Pittsburgh?

  • http://biblebeltblogger Frank Lockwood

    Wouldn’t it be fun to have Ms. Mollie working at AP? If she’s not available, how about Mark O’Keefe? He did an extraordinary job as religion reporter at the Virginian-Pilot and the Oregonian. He is highly regarded and he comes across as a really nice guy. Plus, Pat Robertson doesn’t like him. What more could you ask for?

  • David Adrian

    Politics is the religion of the left and government is its church. Ergo, they’re the real “godbeat” of the AP and the newspapers cited in this post. “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” (Matthew 6:21, Luke 12:34)

  • MarkAA

    Unless something very significant changes in the business model of the fourth estate, there likely won’t be any MSM left within five years. What your post says about various departments being rocked by massive cutbacks is very serious, but it’s far from the whole picture. Huge staffing reductions have taken place at the major (national or regional) papers that are eliminating beats such as religion or lesser sports or niche topics. But the story on the ground in many places (midsize and smaller cities) is that the few reporters left are covering many disparate “beats” and are so pulled in different directions that they might as well be GA reporters. Sports reporters covering city hall, cops, a high school football game and writing about the major manufacturer that just left a city of 65,000? Or easily half the coverage in a community being done by free-lancers or unpaid bloggers? It is happening. Sorry to be so gloomy, but those are the real facts in much of America, and the disappearance of a few beats at national papers is a pittance of the coverage losses in most or at least many places. We are not far from an era of two or three “national” dailies (NYT, WSJ and USAToday [?]), a lot of run-on-a-shoestring weeklies, and 10,000 openly opinion-filled blogs as the revised fourth estate in America. I’ve been a daily journalist for 19 years, and most of my friends now are former journalists looking for work in related fields or retraining for new kinds of jobs. It’s a catastrophe for those in the industry and for the people of the U.S. who depend on a vigorous free press to stay informed. It’s a great time to be a corrupt public official or bureaucrat.


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