This is one case in which I am tempted to simply haul off and print an entire online commentary by a famous writer, claiming that it is a guest column for GetReligion. The writer, of course, is the high priest, omnipresent writer and witty quote-master of the American religion beat for the past 40 years or so -- church historian Martin E. Marty of the University of Chicago. As the old saying goes, this is a man who rarely has an unpublished thought and, in his case, that is not a putdown. When does this man sleep?
Anyway, among his many other duties in retirement (what a joke), he contributes commentaries now and then at the "Sightings" site produced by the Marty Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School. This essay, called "The Decline of Print News," jumped out at me because it is based on a recent Christianity Today piece by Sarah Pulliam, mourning the death of religion-news sections at several major newspapers. Click here to see a GetReligion post linked to that.
You need to read the whole Marty piece (it isn't long at all), but here is a key section at the end:
... (Editors) are correct in saying that, even without segregated sections in the papers there is a great deal of religion coverage because there is so much religion news. It's simply too often newsworthy for reasons churches would just as soon not advertise. And religion stories are mingled with other news on the pages of many newspapers.
Still, we have reason to shed a tear, since so much news on the web features only major or outrageous or attention-grabbing coverage, while religion in the quieter separate sections could be served up as "features," and not only "news." This meant that, while the stories were not public relations expressions for organizations, their writers could discover a good mix of themes for coverage, including positive but less flashy material than that which comes with conflict, clerical abuse, or televangelist scandals.
Amen. Let me add to that one Marty quote from an event a few years ago at the University of Nebraska's journalism school during a day in which Marty and I were both asked to address the topic "Is There Any Non-Religious News After 9/11?" In a Scripps Howard News Service column afterward, I ended with this Marty quote:
It would help, said Marty, if (editors) hired more journalists who are trained to cover the complex and emotional world of religion. But that response is no longer adequate, after Sept. 11.
"What I am talking about today is not a call for a huge flood of religion reporters. We need some. We need more," he said. "We need space in which they can write. ... But we are past that, right now. We are now dealing with issues that all journalists are going to have to try to understand. ... The horizons of religion and the news have touched and we all have to realize that, now."
So we need religion-news sections and we need religion news in all of the other sections, too. Thus saith Martin E. Marty.
PERSONAL NOTE: I am headed West for a week to speak at Westmont College and Northwest Nazarene University. I will try to get online as much as possible, but please understand if I am not as quick as usual to respond to email and tips about news.