Changes in the Godbeat

The Godbeat (or religion beat) is in the middle of some major shifts again, ones that can leave glaring holes in several newspapers across the country.

For instance, we watch and read several religion blogs, including Reuters, RNS, CNN, among others. One we regularly read was USA Today‘s Faith & Reason, run by Cathy Lynn Grossman. Grossman, with some spiffy glasses, posted this update on the blog, though.

First, the important thing that’s not changing: I still cover religion — the best beat on the print/Web/smartphones/tablets-you know-what-I-mean. Many great stories lie ahead.
However, how and where you find my work — and top wire stories and the best of Gannett’s religion correspondents such as Bob Smietana at The Tennessean — will change.
Several digital subject-area pages, including the online religion page, will vanish as stories are mainstreamed into News. If you read on a smartphone or tablet, you won’t notice any change. But if you read religion coverage at USATODAY.com on your laptop, these stories will be running in News, Nation and Politics, just as they already do in print.
So this is not good-bye. It’s more of a change-of-address notice.
You can find my stories with a Google alert on my byline (don’t forget that pesky Lynn in the middle) or as my friend on Facebook. My new Twitter handle is @CLGrossman. You can also e-mail me at cgrossman@usatoday with your ideas and thoughts.
Don’t I sound chipper? Well, sure, I’m a little sad. This has been exhausting, glorious fun!

On one hand, it’s nice to see editors who want to incorporate religion into the national, politics and other section beats. On the other hand, its nice for religion to have its own outlet, its own silo if you will. It allows a reporter like Grossman to cover specific stories without having to make the case for national news. But if you’re a company like Gannett that owns USA Today, you’re thinking about whether that reporting time is making $$.

It’s certainly a tumultuous time for the religion beat as newspapers are desperately trying to make money. Sadly, while religion trends really well on the internet, it doesn’t make a lot of money in traditional newspaper sections, since religious organizations don’t advertise as heavily as those who want to place ads in a section like sports or business. It just isn’t an obvious money-making beat.

In recent months, we’ve noticed Tom Breen has left the Associated Press, Kate Shellnutt left the Houston Chronicle, Bruce Nolan left the Times-Picayune, Meredith Heagney left the Columbus Dispatch, Joshunda Sanders left the Austin American-Statesman, several reporters have left to run websites for RNA/RNS, and some reporters are still freelancing religion stories or are still in the religion writing world, but many aren’t doing it for a traditional mainstream outlet. Did I miss others who should be noted? This is just off the top of my head. Or, are there new people on the Godbeat we should be watching?

It’s hard not to feel a little depressed about the lack of reporters who are dedicated to following and covering religion. Yes, anyone can write a religion story. But not everyone can write one with the sensitivities a reporter needs to understand history and context. We would love to see the religion revive itself in some way. Are there ways of doing that? Do chime in, especially if you an offer a new business model.

Frustrated writer image via Shutterstock.

  • Bob Smietana

    I knew Kate had left Houston to work for the department of education here in Nashville but didn’ t know that Tom Breen had left the beat. Oh crud.
    Tom does have an interesting new blog – http://hot-dogma.com/

    • Sarah Pulliam Bailey

      It’s getting hard to keep track of everyone with how quickly things change, in or outside of each outlet.

  • Chris Bolinger

    “Sadly, while religion trends really well on the internet…”

    If the targets for advertisers are people who enjoy reading about religious subjects, then there are plenty of targets out there. That’s good.

    “…it doesn’t make a lot of money in traditional newspaper sections, since religious organizations don’t advertise as heavily as those who want to place ads in a section like sports or business. It just isn’t an obvious money-making beat.”

    This assumes that religious organizations are the only organizations that want to advertise to the targets. If that is the mindset of newspaper Marketing folks, then those folks need to be replaced.

    • Thomas A. Szyszkiewicz

      Indeed. It has always frustrated me that the assumption is religious people only want to buy religious goods. Or that religious people are poor. But why can’t car companies (for instance) figure out that, if a media outlet targets, say, faithful Catholics, it’s likely they’ll have larger families, and hey, they might need a larger car! Brilliant! Oh, and if they have that larger car, they’ll need insurance on that car! Brilliant! And if they have larger families, that means they need more clothes! And food! Double brilliant!

      It’s not that it hasn’t been tried. But getting a national advertiser like the Big 3 automakers to buy an ad run in a diocesan paper or even a national Catholic publication is nigh unto impossible.

  • Mike

    As the head of a church Council who oversees advertising budget, I can say we’ve almost eliminated the money we spent on advertising in the WaPo because it wasn’t cost effective (the Wash Times was much worse) We used to do ads at Christmas, Lent, and a few other times a year. Some ads we bought in conjunction with other local churches in our denomination. But informal polls found very few visitors came because of the ads. We got many more visitors because of Facebook, our website, listings in micro community newspapers, even listings in the gay newspaper.

    These ads in the WaPo church section are not extravagantly expensive, but also not chump change. So despite the fact that WaPo would seem like an ideal advertising space, it is a luxury when times are tough and you need to reshelve the food bank or add and additional staffer in your homeless shelter.

  • http://www.opendoorsnews.org Jeff Thomas

    “It allows a reporter like Grossman to cover specific stories without having to make the case for national news.”

    This would be a concern in the finite space of a printed paper. Online, where space is limitless, this is not a problem. There’s no need to ‘make the case’ that religion news belong in the national report at usatoday.com. The trouble won’t be making room for it; the trouble will be making sure it’s tagged correctly so it can be *found.*


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