Godbeat losing one of its best and brightest

Godbeat losing one of its best and brightest August 19, 2013

Usually, we critique religion news here at GetReligion.

Occasionally, we report on significant developments on the Godbeat.

This is one of those times, although — as lightning fast as news travels in the social media age — many of you probably already heard this.

Bob Smietana, a regular GetReligion reader and commenter and the award-winning religion writer at The Tennessean, is leaving the secular news business.

Here’s the note that Lisa Green, Bob’s editor, sent to the staff:

He’s covered snake-handling preachers and mosque arson, lawbreaking charities and babies named Messiah. He’s introduced us to the guy who quit his job over 666 and the clergyman who says God doesn’t care if you smoke weed. And now I’m sad to announce that Bob Smietana will be leaving The Tennessean and taking his talents elsewhere. Bob has been our religion writer since 2007 and has been racking up awards all the way through – claiming first place just last month in the Tennessee Press Association contest for both feature writing (the snake handlers story) and best personal column, for his first-person account of his battle with diabetes. He has broken news both locally and nationally with his key connections on a passion-topic beat. He’ll be going across the railroad tracks to LifeWay, where he will be writing about research on church and cultural trends for Facts and Trends magazine. His last day with us will be Aug. 30. Please join me in wishing Bob well. We will miss him greatly. – Lisa Green

The snake-handling story drew praise from GetReligion, as did the diabetes column and a host of other Smietana bylines.

Bob’s impact on religion news has extended far beyond Nashville, as many of his stories have found a way to USA Today — also owned by Gannett — and Religion News Service, giving his work a strong national presence.

Bob shared his thinking with me:

It’s a big move. The reasons are mostly personal. Journalism is 24/7 right now and I can’t give it all my attention.

Being a husband and dad is my first priority. Am (I am) also excited about writing about religion research — am intrigued by sociology of religion.

Plus, (Ed) Stetzer and LifeWay Research do good work — respected by secular news pubs.

I personally consider Bob a friend, although he and I have sparred occasionally on this website. A time or two, we even have found it necessary to apologize to each other “off camera.” I attribute our few disagreements to the passion that we share for quality journalism and religion news.

Bob’s departure comes on the heels of USA Today religion writer Cathy Lynn Grossman taking a buyout earlier this year. If USA Today has hired a new religion writer, I have not heard about it.

And now Smietana’s impending departure leaves a big hole at The Tennessean — a newspaper that serves a city some refer to as the “buckle of the Bible Belt.”

Stay tuned.

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