Insult + injury? It could look that way, but it was probably just a blunder by the Tampa Tribune. The newspaper set out a tradeshow table at a community event May 15, prominently showing a poster of Faith and Values writer Michelle Bearden — six days after she was laid off.
“Perhaps this means I got my job back and no one told me,” Michelle commented dryly on her Facebook page.
Her layoff, one of six from the newsroom that week, ends a much-honored specialty career of 20 years just in Tampa. By my estimate, Michelle was also the last fulltime veteran newspaper religion reporter in Florida.
Michelle will be hard to replace with her several hats. Besides the print edition, she did a weekly segment, Keeping the Faith, for WFLA-TV. She also did video presentations and interactive items for TBO.com, the newspaper’s online version.
Even before the Tribune, she wrote about religion across Tampa Bay for the St. Petersburg Times, as well as The Florida Catholic and the National Catholic Register. During the 1980s, she also covered religion and general assignment stories for the Phoenix Gazette in Arizona.
The trend of laying off religion writers reaches across the nation, as Julia Duin showed in a guest column on Feb. 18. Last September, GR’s Bobby Ross reported the layoff of Nancy Haught from the Oregonian and the exit of Cathy Lynn Grossman from USA Today via buyout.
And the beat goes on: In January, longtime Godbeat writer Cathleen Falsani was laid off from the Orange County Register. And even across the Atlantic, The Times in London has laid off Ruthie Gledhill after 27 years as its religious affairs correspondent.
Gledhill’s departure got an acid reaction by Clifford Longley, her predecessor at The Times. He accused the press of being prepared to risk “making a mess of the coverage of religion … In a subject of considerable misunderstanding, expertise is no longer, by and large, thought necessary.”
Here’s what Michelle told us about her experiences, and her career.