Assessing the state of the Godbeat

I posted earlier this week on three veteran superstars of the Godbeat — Ann Rodgers, Bob Smietana and Tim Townsend — deciding to leave major daily newspapers.

I noted a tweet in which The New York Times’ religion writer Laurie Goodstein joked, “Will the last one on the religion beat please turn out the lights?”

Playing off Goodstein’s quip, I suggested that someone — I nominated former GetReligionista and current Religion News Service national correspondent Sarah Pulliam Bailey — should “step up, interview these three and write a Pulitzer Prize-winning feature story on why no one wants to cover the religion beat anymore.”

My choice of terminology, even while typing with my tongue firmly in cheek, was not the best.

My phrasing prompted a gentle pushback from tmatt in the comments section:

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

RNS Editor in Chief Kevin Eckstrom, meanwhile, strapped on a rhetorical holster and came out firing (take cover, fellow GetReligion contributors!):

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.

You can read my response to Eckstrom (and his response to my response) in the comments section of that original post.

Eckstrom complained that Poynter.org picked up on my question and that I didn’t do the religion beat “any favors with careless irresponsible exaggerations.” 

In fact, this was the headline on Poynter’s follow-up on my post:

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Who knew Piers Morgan could be thought-provoking?

The Huffington Post’s Jon Ward is a thoughtful reporter and one who uncovers ghosts on his political beat with regularity. Earlier this week he wrote about the tension between evangelical morality and politics as it relates to changing marriage law to include same-sex couples.

Yesterday he wrote about something particularly fascinating. In the video above we see Piers Morgan and Suze Orman and Ryan Anderson. They’re debating the topic of marriage with Ryan T. Anderson. Their behavior is somewhat appalling but typical and represents a tension for those who do seek to define marriage in such a way as to include same-sex couples:

Piers Morgan’s CNN segment on Tuesday night was a vivid illustration of this tension. Morgan invited Ryan T. Anderson, a 31-year-old fellow from The Heritage Foundation, on his program to debate the issue. But Morgan did not have Anderson to sit at a table with him and Suze Orman, the 61-year-old financial guru, who is gay. Instead, Anderson was placed about 15 feet away from Morgan and Orman, among the audience, and had to debate from a distance.

The message, in both the language used by Morgan and Orman, and the physical placement of Anderson on the set, was clear: they thought him morally inferior. Evangelical leader Tim Keller talks about this dynamic — opponents of gay marriage being treated akin to bigoted groups such as white supremacists — in yesterday’s piece.

What I liked about Piers Morgan’s approach here is that it was just a very transparent and honest approach to that taken by many media figures. As the Washington Post scandal showed, through ignorance or inability to understand the arguments made by marriage traditionalists or some other problem, many in the media are convinced that they’re fighting the equivalent of racists and that, as such, horrific treatment of the people and their arguments is justified.

Here’s another example of that. Poynter discusses how some media figures took part in that most brave and meaningful public sacrament: changing one’s Facebook avatar to support changing marriage laws to include same-sex couples. You can read about it at “Journalists share arguments for, against using same-sex marriage symbols on social media profiles.”

My favorite part:

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