Let me say, as a follow-up on the Divine Ms. MZ's post about Neela Banerjee of the New York Times getting caught in the newsroom downsizing wave (click here), that your GetReligionistas have also heard the news out of Orlando. For years now, we've been moaning that it is hard -- in the online editions of some well-known newspapers -- to navigate their websites and find the work of the religion-beat specialists. The Orlando Sentinel was a perfect example, especially since the newspaper staff included one of the best veterans out there -- Mark I. Pinsky of "The Gospel According to the Simpsons" fame.
Now, it's going to be even harder to find Pinsky on the Sentinel site, since he will not be there. A friend of this weblog passed along the news -- care of "amazingshrinkingsentinel" -- that Pinsky was caught in the latest round of cuts in O town.
Now that news has been confirmed by the online team at Christianity Today, along with another depressing development. Here's the basics on Pinsky:
... (As) of August 1, his byline will be missed by religion reporters around the world. Over his 13 years on the religion beat, first at the Los Angeles Times then at the Sentinel, Pinsky established a reputation for being one of the best reporters on the beat. His beat was broad, but in the hometown of Campus Crusade for Christ, Wycliffe Bible Translators, and Strang Communications, Pinsky developed a particular expertise in evangelical Christianity. He recounted his experience and reporting in a book, A Jew Among Evangelicals. ...
Pinsky also established himself as must-read reporter on the nexus of faith and entertainment culture. Westminster John Knox recently published an expanded version of his 2001 The Gospel According to The Simpsons, and in 2004 published his similar book, The Gospel According to Disney.
And that other bad news:
Last month, Reed Business Information announced that it was laying off another great religion journalist, Publishers Weekly senior religion editor Lynn Garrett, whose coverage of religion publishing was second to none. Regardless of whether we're starting to see a trend of cuts in religion journalism, it's sad to see that two indispensable bylines on religion and culture have been dispensed with.
I think several things are happening at once, during this downsizing era (while the entire world of journalism awaits the creation of an advertising form more compelling than a pop-up ad).
I remain convinced that religion is a topic that makes the palms of many editors sweat in an unnatural way. They just don't get it. They don't get why religion is so important to so many people. Thus, it is hard to value the work of professionals who are driven -- for a variety of reasons -- to focus on this topic in mainstream journalism. The religion beat remains, in way to many newsrooms, a marginal affair.
At the same time, editors are trying to make their staffs smaller and younger. This tends to hit veteran reporters, often the kinds of reporters who -- through years of experience and often graduate school -- have climbed into jobs as specialty reporters. That's the harsh reality of economics, right now.
When I first heard the rumor, I sent Mark a note. With his permission, I offer GetReligion readers a chunk of that:
I've been a religion writer long enough to accept that there is a greater plan at work here (apologies to atheist friends). ... So, beginning Aug. 1, I'll be a full-time author. The severance package (which includes my L.A. Times service) will carry us for about a year. (thanks, local friends but no casseroles necessary) During that time I hope to complete my non-fiction North Carolina book, "Unfinished Business: A Murder in the Mountains" (working title) and to begin the Rwanda book, "Walking Across Africa: A Story of Faith, Love, and Devotion."
During this time I'll also be trying to secure a university post (including visiting professorships), or senior fellowships, beginning Sept. '09. ... As for the religion beat, I've said for a long time, despite some of your generous compliments, that no one is indispensable. It's been a very gratifying 13 years. I've learned an incredible amount from some wonderful people (as well as a few scoundrels; I assume the folks at Trinity Broadcasting Network are rejoicing at their answered prayers). Please make my Sentinel successor welcome.
And there is the issue. Will editors even attempt to replace veteran religion reporters?
Alas, we must all watch and wait. The whole industry is being reshaped and cut into new forms. There is no painless way to cut a shrinking pie, of course, but it's hard to look at the world around us today and not see the need for trained, experienced, talented religion-beat reporters.