Et tu, Tim? Townsend latest to leave the Godbeat (updated)

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Speaking of Ch-ch-ch-ch Changes

In the last few weeks, we’ve highlighted the departures of two respected journalists from the Godbeat.

First, Bob Smietana left The Tennessean.

Then Ann Rodgers announced plans to leave the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 

Now, a third religion-writing superstar — Tim Townsend of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch — has decided to leave the Godbeat.

Townsend revealed his plans on Twitter and even provided dramatic music to go along with the announcement:

Townsend’s tweet prompted this response from religion writer Laurie Goodstein  of The New York Times: 

Smietana. Rodgers. Townsend.

Tim Townsend

In journalism, we all know that three examples make a trend. (Or are we up to six now?)

There’s a legitimate news hook here, people. Who will be the enterprising Godbeat soul (if there’s anyone left) who will step up, interview these three and write a Pulitzer Prize-winning feature story on why no one wants to cover the religion beat anymore? (To anyone out there screaming that I’m overgeneralizing, shhhhhhh. We’ll add context to the piece later, but first we need to inspire someone to take the assignment. The more dramatic, the better.)

My nomination for this assignment: former GetReligionista Sarah Pulliam Bailey, now a rockin’ Godbeat pro herself (at least as of this moment) for Religion News Service.

What say ye, Sarah? You up for it?

In the meantime, kind GetReligion readers, please feel free to leave a comment. If you want, you can reflect on how much you’ll miss Townsend’s excellent journalism with the Post-Dispatch. Or if you prefer, you can speculate on who will be next to leave the Godbeat. No wagering, please.

Update: Sarah just sent the following tweet to RNS Editor in Chief Kevin Eckstrom, so it appears she’s considering the story idea!

 

 

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.

  • tmatt

    Well, is the issue whether people want to cover religion news or is it that they believe they can personally survive in the changing realities of smaller newsrooms?

    I agree. I nominate Sarah to write a definitive piece for Poynter.org

  • Elizabeth E.

    Tmatt, Bobby — I’m going to be reaching out to these folk for my small-market niche, because I agree, there’s a story perking here. But I think having Sarah write the “definitive” tale is a GREAT idea. (Sounds like a movement to me, Sarah!). — Signed, member of the GR alumni association.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Feel the pressure, Sarah! :-)

  • sharon autenrieth

    Tim has been “my” Godbeat editor while I’ve served as a religion blogger for the Post Dispatch over the last few years. I’m happy for Tim’s new opportunity, but this is a real loss for St. Louis. He worked tirelessly to expand the range of religious voices at the Post Dispatch and his own writing has always been top notch. I don’t want to think about the void he’ll be leaving behind.

  • Kevin Eckstrom

    Or, how about this? Rather than conclude (without any basis in reality) that “no one wants to cover religion anymore,” perhaps it’d be a good idea to ask why these folks are leaving the beat (it’s complicated) and whether these positions will be filled (most likely).

    But that’s not the way GR does things. Shoot first and never ask the appropriate questions later. C’mon, guys, you can do better than this. Or at least you should.

    • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

      Kevin,

      The statement that you cite came in this context:

      In journalism, we all know that three examples make a trend. (Or are we up to six now?)

      There’s a legitimate news hook here, people. Who will be the enterprising Godbeat soul (if there’s anyone left) who will step up, interview these three and write a Pulitzer Prize-winning feature story on why no one wants to cover the religion beat anymore? (To anyone out there screaming that I’m overgeneralizing, shhhhhhh. We’ll add context to the piece later, but first we need to inspire someone to take the assignment. The more dramatic, the better.)

      If you click the links included with the “three examples” statement, I was attempting to be sarcastic. On a number of occasions, GR has taken issue with that notion of trend reporting.

      The next paragraph about “why no one wants to cover the religion beat anymore” is also part of an exaggerated statement meant to generate conversation on a blog. No, I don’t seriously see any Pulitzer potential on this story, and I even suggest that “we’ll add context to the piece later” after we find a reporter to take the assignment.

      If the tenor I was trying to convey did not translate, my bad. I write about 130 posts a year for GR, most on deadline while juggling other responsibilities, so I don’t claim perfection.

      As for your broader criticism of GR, tmatt is probably the better person to respond, if he so chooses.

      • Kevin Eckstrom

        Fair enough. The problem, tho, is that when a serious question devolves into a matter of whether people “want” to cover the beat anymore, THAT’s what gets picked up by Poynter, and that’s the impression that people outside the beat take away from it.

        So for a bunch of folks who care about the religion beat, you’re not doing it any favors with careless irresponsible exaggerations like that.

        • http://getreligion.org/ Bobby Ross Jr.

          Fortunately, Kevin, Poynter seemed to be able to grasp nuance and subtlety and was able to respond to the post without your level of diatribe and animosity.

    • tmatt

      As I said earlier:

      “Well, is the issue whether people want to cover religion news or is it that they believe they can personally survive in the changing realities of smaller newsrooms?”

      ***

      It’s clear to me that Bobby is talking in the language of newsroom editors who tend to see valid stories in terms of, as a previous generation of the Godbeat used to say, “Three anecdotes, a poll and a quote from Martin Marty.”

      He’s simply saying that something is going on out there at the top of the major-market religion beat and that it’s time for an update on the realities that quality professionals — and there are quite a few pros still — face in their work.

      OBVIOUSLY, there are people who want to cover religion news. I meet young people interested in the beat all of the time. The issue is whether the new news normal offers them many chances to do so and to sustain a career doing this crucial work.


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