RNS hanging in there

religionsAttention all journalists who care about religion news coverage in the mainstream press. I have some bad news and some good news. Perhaps you saw the following story on the wires -- sadly, this kind of downsizing report is all too familiar -- and started worrying:

Newhouse News Service, which has provided Washington and national news to newspapers for nearly half a century, will close on Nov. 7, after the election.

The news service, founded in 1961, is also the Washington bureau of Advance Publications Inc. of New York, which owns 26 daily newspapers, including The Star-Ledger in Newark, N.J; The Oregonian in Portland, Ore.; The Plain Dealer in Cleveland and The Times-Picayune in New Orleans.

The key lines in the report, for the purpose of this weblog, are these:

The news service is also the parent company of Religion News Service, which will continue as an independent company, she said.

Now if you know anything about the history of religion news in the American Press, and the history of Religion News Service, you know that taking a mainstream, unbiased, interfaith, ecumenical, nondenominational approach to covering national and international religion news has never been an easy task. May have heard, but lots of news executives of all stripes just don't get religion and, thus, they have trouble getting out their checkbooks and paying for quality coverage on the beat.

Over at the Religion News Service site, you can see some of the challenges written between the lines of the wire service's history:

Louis Minsky founded RNS in 1934 under the auspices of the National Conference of Christians and Jews. ... In 1983, RNS was acquired by the Dallas-based United Methodist Reporter and continued to operate as an independent news agency. In 1991, RNS editorial was distributed to the secular press by New York Times Syndicated Features, Inc. In 1994, RNS was purchased by Newhouse News Service (NNS), and its name was changed to Religion News Service. NNS is a company of Advance Publications, a major publisher of daily newspapers, as well the Conde Nast family of magazines, and Parade. Universal Press Syndicate now distributes the service to daily and weekly newspapers in the US.

And now there will be another chapter. After the Newhouse story broke, our friends at Poynter.org quickly put up this note for concerned religion-news readers:

"We're still alive," says Kevin Eckstrom, editor of the Newhouse-owned Religion News Service. "I just wanted to make sure you're aware that we're not going anywhere. Next year marks our 75th anniversary, and we're just getting started.

So, hopefully, it is time for another chapter to open. Here's hoping that RNS finds another partner or two that are committed to a mainstream approach.

At the same time, I also -- hint, hint -- hope that there are some major religion content sites out there what can open up some pages for hard-news content (think RNS reports) as well as for feelings-based faith opinion. Facts and events matter.

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