I'm sorry to report that the New York Times' Neela Banerjee has left the paper. All national reporters who cover thematic beats were asked to return to New York by September 1. Such an arrangement was problematic for Banerjee, who lives in DC with her family. At the same time, the paper was asking employees to consider taking a buyout. Famed Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse took one. So did Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist David Cay Johnston.
And, sadly, Banerjee took one as well.
We've covered dozens and dozens of her stories. I remember, in particular, her 2006 piece on the trend toward online confession in Evangelical churches. Quite a few reporters followed that story over the next year but I think she was the one to break it. Her original piece also inspired me to write an analysis of the phenomenon. I also loved her story on custody battles involving religion. You could tell how hard she worked to be fair to the various parties.
Tim Townsend, religion reporter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, interviewed Banerjee for his story in the Columbia Journalism Review on the travails of the religion beat. I loved her quote:
Reporters who cover the fractured, volatile, weighty world of religion have a responsibility to be equally respectful of all beliefs. Whether someone is a Roman Catholic, a Jew, or a Raelian, we are privileged to ask such people personal questions about their most profound thoughts and hopes. "As corny as this sounds," says the Times's Neela Banerjee, "I think I grow by talking to folks whose worldviews are deeply different from mine. My job is not to grab the quote that makes them sound silly, but the one that sheds light, perhaps new light, on what they believe."
If only more reporters felt the same way. Hopefully Banerjee will continue to write about religion in other venues. Another GetReligion frequent flyer -- Laurie Goodstein -- remains on the religion beat at the Times.