If you have been looking for the religion section of The Dallas Morning News under the Features tab on the newspaper's website, it isn't there anymore. And if you live in Texas and you've been looking for the religion section in the dead-tree-pulp edition of the Saturday newspaper, you won't find it anymore -- at least not in its old section-front format. As several people have noted in our comments boxes, one of the nation's best known religion-news sections is gone, or almost.
Why did this happen? Well, here is what Dallas editor Bob Mong wrote to unhappy reader the other day. I do not think her name is actually "Ms. XXX," but, hey, we are talking about Texas.
Dear Ms. XXX,
Thank you for writing about the format change in our Religion coverage. I can assure you the subject is not going to be an afterthought. As the person responsible for creating the section in 1994, I am quite proud of its many accomplishments. We will continue to take it seriously, as well we should. With writers such as Jeff Weiss and Sam Hodges, we will continue to take on interesting, complex and important stories as we have the last 12-plus years. Those stories ... may appear on Page One and other section fronts. For reasons I don't entirely understand, we could never build even a modest advertising base for the stand-alone section. I can assure you, no paper in the country tried harder than we did to garner such support. I would encourage you to also look at our online Religion blog and newsletter; they are both quite good and growing in popularity.
I do understand your concern, and I hope you will come to see our coverage of the subject will continue to be significant.
With regards, Bob Mong, editor
The key, for me, is that the newspaper (a) appears to know that religion is rather important in Dallas and (b) knows that this is not a one-person beat that can be put into one small niche. Here at GetReligion, we have had some good things and some bad things to say about religion coverage in the News. After all, I am a prodigal Texan. But, let's face it -- it's a good thing that the newspaper prints so much religion news that this site has to watch it all the time just to see what it is doing.
And what about the digital future? The other day, Weiss dropped me a note asking if I had noted some of his recent coverage of an interesting story developing right now on the left side of the Baptist spectrum in North America. The key is that Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter -- two old-fashioned "moderate" Baptists -- are trying to rally a mess of Baptists around a covenant that clearly is meant to yank the word "Baptist" out of the exclusive territory of the religious right. Yes, this is yet another headline in the rapidly developing story of the emerging evangelical left. At least, that is one spin on what is happening.
But the content of the story itself is almost beside the point. What Weiss wanted to discuss was the way the story is actually being written and handled by the News -- or not handled, as the case may be, if you only care about dead trees. Here is part of his email:
... If you check out the mainpage of the blog you'll see we're posting pretty regularly on the topic. All without generating any stories for the Newspaper.
Which leads to the question: What with the death of the Religion section and the birth of the blog, more and more of my content is going online only. I suspect that is or will be true for some of the other religion reporters out there. It's hard enough to keep track of the good and interesting stuff when it's got a dead-tree hook. Add the blogs ... And how does anyone -- how does your blog or me -- keep track of what is interesting and or significant?
For starters, Weiss & Co. have created a Listserv (within the News category) for the truly dedicated Dallas religion-news readers. It currently has 4,300-plus subscribers. Weiss also will use his blog to point toward major religion stories in the News that appeared in other sections -- sports, entertainment, etc. -- that readers may have missed. I suggest that he create a kind of rolling index on a sidebar of his blog to allow people to visit every week or so and catch up, chasing the religion ghosts through all the sections of the newspaper.
But what do you think of this new phase in the Dallas story? Weiss will be reading this post and commenting, and I hope to have a follow-up post or two.