Saith EEE: The business of those religion-beat cuts

The other day I received an email from a former GetReligion colleague, the Rev. Elizabeth Eisenstadt-Evans, in which she posed an interesting question. She wanted an update on the status of my weekly “On Religion” column for the Scripps Howard News Service, including how many papers ran the column through Scripps or through the Newspaper Enterprise Association.

It was an absolutely crazy week in my day job and, well, I didn’t have a chance to promptly answer the email. That’s digital life, I am afraid. My bad.

There was, however, another journalistic reason for the delay. The simple fact is this: Since very few small- and medium-sized newspapers put wire-service products — like my column — on their websites, it’s hard to run an online search and answer that kind of question. I wish I knew the answer to that one, myself. I hear from people all the time responding to my columns, readers from places that I had no idea the column appeared.

Anyway, I really wish I had answered EEE’s email, since it is now clear what she was working on. She was working on a column for The Lancaster (Pa.) Journal about — you got it — the current state of the Godbeat in light of recent exits. Eisenstadt-Evans is a veteran reporter, freelancer and columnist, as well as an Episcopal priest.

So what we have here is yet another update, and a fine one at that, on the topic that our own Bobby Ross, Jr., and others have been covering over and over. Click here for a recent post that has links to commentary from, Bobby, Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher, myself and others.

Read it all, please. But here is a slice or two of what she had to say.

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Got news? Pope Francis speaks — this time the media blink

It’s safe to assume that, at this moment in time, Pope Francis is a rock star when it comes to his relationship with the mainstream news media. It would appear that whatever the man wants to say about a controversial issue is going to be reported and, miracle of miracles, perhaps even graced with an attention-grabbing headline.

Alas, it would wrong to assume this. It’s clear that the pope can speak on issues of global importance and receive very little mainstream coverage of all, if the issues are not related (in the minds of many journalists) to the Sexual Revolution.

Consider, for example, the following news report from the omnipresent and highly respected (by a wide array of Catholics) John L. Allen, Jr., of the liberal National Catholic Reporter:

Three days after an attack on an Anglican church in Peshawar, Pakistan, left at least 85 people dead, Pope Francis on Wednesday urged Christians to an examination of conscience about their response to such acts of anti-Christian persecution.

“So many Christians in the world are suffering,” the pope said during his general audience Wednesday morning in St. Peter’s Square. “Am I indifferent to that, or does it affect me like it’s a member of the family?”

“Does it touch my heart, or doesn’t it really affect me, [to know that] so many brothers and sisters in the family are giving their lives for Jesus Christ?”

OK, that’s interesting — but is there a larger story here? A subject worthy of mainstream news attention? Allen continues with a summary of some brutal facts:

The Sunday atrocity in Pakistan is the latest instance of a mounting wave of anti-Christian violence in different parts of the world. According to the International Society for Human Rights in Frankfurt, Germany, 80 percent of all acts of religious discrimination in the world today are directed against Christians.

The Center for the Study of Global Christianity in the United States estimates that in the last decade, an average of 100,000 Christians have died each year in what the center calls a “situation of witness,” meaning for motives related to their faith. Although some experts regard that estimate as inflated, it works out to an average of 11 Christians killed each hour throughout the past decade.

Parts of the Middle East, the Indian subcontinent and regions of sub-Saharan Africa tend to be the greatest danger zones, though there are recent examples of Christians experiencing violent persecution in many other parts of the world as well.

That German human rights report is not unique or unusual. More on that in a minute.

So surely the pope’s remarks — linked to bloody massacres that are still in the news — drew news coverage. Let’s run an online search for “Pope Francis,” “persecution” and “Christians.” Click here for the results. Spot any familiar patterns?

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More personnel changes on the Godbeat

Here at GetReligion, we don’t generally report the news. We critique media coverage of the news.

But when significant developments occur among Godbeat pros, we try to share that information with our faithful readers. That’s because we believe that it matters who’s covering the religion beat — and who isn’t.

Lately, we’ve had a number of these inside baseball developments to pass along, including the departures of three Godbeat stars: Bob Smietana from The Tennessean, Ann Rodgers from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Tim Townsend from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. 

Our posts prompted the Poynter Institute, the  journalism think tank, to report on the state of the Godbeat (including confirming that The Oregonian laid off its religion and ethics writer, Nancy Haught). Poynter’s story, in turn, inspired more reflection at GetReligion, which drew Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher into the discussion over at The American Conservative. And Dreher’s column, of course, gave us a reason to consider that age-old question, “Do religious leaders really want quality religion coverage?”

OK, is everybody caught up now? Because the roller-coaster ride continues.

In a few of the posts mentioned above, we noted that Cathy Lynn Grossman, longtime religion writer for USA Today, took a buyout earlier this year. If USA Today has hired someone to fill Grossman’s post, we don’t know about it. But we can tell you where Grossman landed.

Many thanks to RNS for letting us know personally about Grossman’s new gig:

Meanwhile, another religion writer at a major newspaper — Rose French of the Minneapolis Star-Tribune — is leaving the Godbeat.

Poynter reports:

Rose French and Brad Schrade, husband and wife, are leaving for jobs at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Schrade — along with Jeremy Olson and Glenn Howatt — won a 2013 Pulitzer for their series of reports on the increase in infant deaths at daycare homes in Minnesota.

French will join the Atlanta newspaper’s education team as an enterprise reporter. In a memo cited by Poynter, Star-Tribune managing editor Rene Sanchez said:

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Do religious readers really want quality religion coverage?

It has been awhile since our own Bobby Ross, Jr., quoted that laugh-to-keep-from-crying tweet by New York Times religion scribe Laurie Goodstein that said (all together now): “Will the last one on the religion beat please turn out the lights?”

Mocking the typical newsroom attitude that three anecdotes equals a valid news trend, Ross asked if it was time for someone to write a story about “why no one wants to cover the religion beat anymore?”

Discussion ensued, including this item at, and Bobby quickly wrote a follow-up post covering the conversation. In the midst of all that, I asked:

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?

To be more precise, what I meant to say is that — in light of the current advertising crisis in the news business — it is understandable that some professionals are questioning whether the religion beat, along with other complicated specialty beats, can thrive in an age of 24/7 journalism, with fewer journalists trying to produce more and more digital news products. There are, of course, many people (see art atop this post) who are convinced that the advertising crisis is going to kill American-model mainstream journalism, period.

On top of this new reality, there is the sad old fact that I stated in The Quill back in 1983:

The major reason few American newspapers and radio and television stations cover religion is simple. Few of the people who decide what news is care about religion.

You might even say that far too many newsroom managers simply do not get religion, or words to that effect.

As the discussion rolled on, Rod “friend of this blog” Dreher posted an item under this blunt headline: “Why Are Newspaper Religion Reporters Quitting?” You need to read all of it, but I would like to respond to a few statements in his post. So, let’s proceed:

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Advent of a GetReligion scribe: Mark Kellner climbs aboard

Greetings, I am Mark Kellner, and right now you can call me the “new kid” on the GetReligion block.

First things first: Alongside my faith, there’s something else in which I deeply believe: journalism. That may seem heretical — or even just dumb — but hear me out.

More on that in a minute. Here are the basic journalism facts about my work.

By day, I’m privileged to serve as news editor for two magazines: Adventist Review and Adventist World, general papers of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. By night, I write about several topics, mostly for The Washington Times, one of which is religion. I’ve had an interest in religion news for many years, having written on the subject for a bunch of publications including Christianity Today, Charisma and even (once upon a time, during the Reagan administration), Religion News Service. Long ago (in 1996, to be precise), my book, “ “God on the Internet” was published, and the wonderful and learned Phyllis Tickle called it a sine qua non in her book, “God-Talk in America.”

My other longtime journalistic interest, albeit on hiatus now, is in personal computing technology. For nearly 22 years, I wrote a weekly column, “On Computers,” for The Washington Times as well as working for (and, in one case, editing) computer magazines for business and personal users. I’m a confirmed Apple “fanboy,” but with a non-religious reason: the stuff works better than most other alternatives out there. (Discuss amongst yourselves, please, and of course, your mileage may vary.)

One of my favorite t-shirts, from the Religion Newswriters Association, says, “Religion Writers Are Sects Experts,” and given my interest in American-born religions (among other topics), I certainly agree with that statement. There are few areas in journalism as interesting or constantly changing as the religion news scene, so following developments there is of great interest. Watching how other people write about religion news is equally interesting.

Which leads me to my interest in serving the GetReligion community: having had exposure to a wide range of religion news topics, while on both sides of the notebook, I hope to bring some of that knowledge to bear in looking at how this news is being covered.

Like others here, I believe religion news is best covered by professionals who know a thing or two about the subject. Just as a police beat reporter could, conceivably, write a serviceable account of the U.S. Open tennis championship, you’re more likely to get a better report from someone who knows more about the game and the players. In religion, those who understand some of the basics and even some of the background/subtext behind a story are more likely to convey things clearly and, one hopes, fairly. It’s journalism, in other words.

That’s what I mean when I say that one of the things in which I “truly believe” is journalism. It is through journalism — content that is professionally created and, to use an au courant word, “curated” by an editor (or via several editors) before appearing online or in print — that we can learn reliable information about what’s going on in the world, and that includes the world of faith. From that basis, we can then make informed decisions about various issues of the day. Thus, I believe good journalism can improve a society, and perhaps even change lives. When journalism is poorly done, covering religion or anything else, no one is well served.

The other thing in which I truly believe is God, whom I’ve found as a believer; that includes what might be deemed a traditional view of Christian faith. That won’t keep me from writing, and I hope fairly, about other faiths, but as the prophet Isaiah wrote, “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (Isa. 40:8) I respect other points of view, of course, and hope you’ll respect mine.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me, and I hope you’ll find my contributions useful.

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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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Ch-ch-ch-ch Changes again, here in GetReligion land

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All together now, GetReligion readers.

Strange fascination, fascinating me
Changes are taking the pace
I’m going through …

(Turn and face the stranger)
Pretty soon you’re gonna get
a little older
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time
I said that time may change me
But I can’t trace time

GetReligion has faced some major changes in its nearly 10 years of cyber-life, but nothing like what we’ll be going through this month.

Alas, I am not talking about changes in technology or format. I’m talking about changes on our masthead, in terms of the writers whose work you follow here day after day.

For starters, Joe Carter is already out the door — after taking a social-media job with the Washington, D.C., office of, well, a really ginormous faith-based flock. He cannot discuss the details for another week or two, when the new post will formally be announced. His work with us ended Sept. 1. He has been a crucial player for us on a wide variety of issues, including social media.

But the big news is that the Divine Mrs. M.Z. Hemingway — she of the 2,016, and counting, GetReligion posts over the past eight years — has accepted a full-time reporting, editing and commentary position with a major online news website that literally has yet to be announced. Thus, she cannot share all of the details of her new gig with us until the launch in a week or so.

I don’t quite know how to describe the force-of-nature role that MZ has created for herself here at GetReligion and in social media — so I won’t even try. The word “omnipresent” leaps to mind (especially on Twitter).

Mollie will write her own farewell post at the end of the month (she’s writing in a limited role all of September). At this point, I will simply stress that her name will remain on our masthead for a simple reason: How can you read all of the interlocked posts she has produced here through the years (posts to which I am sure people will continue to link) without people being able to find an online reference on this site that says who she is?

Plus, we hope that her new employer will — once the site is up and rolling — allow her to come back to GetReligion in a much smaller role than her current daily posting role. I am saying that she is on extended leave.

So how in the world do you replace people like MZ and Joe?

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Imagine Pope Francis; help artists win prizes

So, unless you have spent quite a bit of time on another planet in recent months, you probably know that Pope Francis is a rock star in global mass media and that condition will probably continue until he stands up in some crucial public-square location — Comedy Central perhaps — and makes a bunch of statements defending Catholic moral teachings.

THe bubbly Jesuit from Latin America is everywhere right now.

With that in mind, the pros over at Religion News Service decided to celebrate wonder that is Pope Francis in a rather unique way, with a rather fun multi-media project. The online announcement for this operation saith:

Religion News Service readers will vote for the best artistic rendering of Pope Francis as part of the nonprofit news site’s first ever art contest.

Public voting online begins Tuesday, Sept 3, at:

Two-dozen artists from the U.S. as well as Canada, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia have submitted their artistic renderings. Submissions will be accepted until midnight on Monday, Sept.2. Winners will be announced on Sept. 9. First, second and third place winners will have their art published on In addition:

* 1st Place will receive a $100 Visa Card.

* 2nd Place will receive a $25 Visa Card and an RNS gift package that includes an RNS zippered drawstring bag, golf towel and solar power pack.

* 3rd Place will receive an RNS gift package that includes an RNS zippered drawstring bag, golf towel and solar power pack.

Do the math. That means you have over the weekend to hit the RNS website and cast your votes. Trust me, there are images there that are both fun and graceful, as well as traditional and rather inspiring.

The direct link to the contest ballot is found RIGHT HERE. Just do it folks.

I put one of my favorite images at the top of this post (although I could have chosen one of several others that I liked a lot).

The caption for this particular entry says:

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