Goodbye to the religion section

getreligion1 01I was going to ask young master Daniel Pulliam to write about this very GetReligion-oriented article over at the evangelical flagship Christianity Today, but then had second thoughts. I mean, look at the byline.

At the same time, this story does bring back the echoes of the cross-pollination posts between this blog and the new religion-news blog at The Dallas Morning News.

So here is the sobering opening of the CT story by one Sarah Pulliam:

In the past year, financial challenges have prompted cutbacks in religion coverage in newspapers.

The Dallas Morning News eliminated its religion section in early January. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution folded its Faith and Values section into the Living pages. The Wichita Eagle plans to cut its religion editor position, and other newspapers are removing their religion beats.

"In a time of flat revenues, we simply could not generate the advertising to break even on the section," said Bob Mong, editor of The Dallas Morning News. "I don't think any paper in the country tried harder than we did over the years."

Pulliam goes out of her way to place this trend in the context of the gloomy economic times in mainstream newsrooms -- especially the big-city, big-circulation newspapers that have a history of attempting serious coverage of complex, risky beats like religion (and science, and legal affairs, and fine arts, etc.).

The big question, of course, is: What happens now? Most journalists would agree, as the omnipresent Dr. Martin Marty once said, that we live in an age where it is impossible to deny that religion makes news -- big news. The question, these days, is what news isn't, in some way, "religion news." Or, as one of the big names in journalism education puts it:

"Unfortunately, with a lot of the cutbacks in newspapers right now, the religion beat is seen as expendable," said Charles Overby, who heads the Freedom Forum. "Eliminating religion reporters is, at best, an economic advantage that could cause longer term problems."

And all the people said, "Amen."

There is also the possibility -- and this is a very hot, emotional topic -- that even more news executives will decide they can get by with temporary solutions on this complicated beat. Others will assume that there is no need to seek trained, experienced reporters who are committed to covering this topic. The red ink could drown professional coverage on a beat that many editors are not that comfortable with in the first place.

I do have this complaint about the Pulliam piece: I wish they had let her write a longer feature. The topic is worthy of that much ink.

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