RIP: The religion beat (part II)

17309 01What a week. In addition to all that is going on in religion, politics and the politics of religion, I am ultra-busy due to the arrival of this fall's students for work at the Washington Journalism Center (my day job, in other words). However, in the midst of all of that I wanted to share a follow-up comment linked to our discussions of that recent post entitled "RIP: The religion beat." That post pivoted on a recent sad column by religion writer Cary McMullen of The Ledger in Lakeland, Fla.

That post went up at the official water cooler of American journalism, the Jim Romenesko weblog at Click here to see that item. When your views get posted at Romenesko, people tend to start talking. Anyway, Cary dropped me a note expressing some follow-up thoughts and, as longtime GetReligion readers know, we go out of our way to further dialogues with religion-beat professionals about their work on this beat. And, in this case, their views about the future of that work.

I asked Cary to add a bit to his private note to me and I post that here, with his permission:

A column I wrote recently about the current state of religion journalism has attracted a certain amount of attention, including a post by tmatt on this blog (which in turn was cited on Poynter's Romenesko). Two days before that column appeared in my newspaper, Ledger employees assembled to hear our publisher announce further cuts. Thirty-six total, 11 in the newsroom. Most of those were copy editors, page designers and other support personnel, but there were already a lot of open reporters' positions. We had been understaffed for years.

Within a couple of weeks, we were informed of a reorganization in the newsroom. Essentially, we would all be local news reporters. We would keep our beats, but new ones would be added. I was given a few local private colleges to cover. And, we were told, we had to be prepared to cover any story at any time.

The features section for which I wrote most of the time was already scheduled to be reduced and folded into the back of the Local section. So, I was moved out of features and now report to an editor on the Local side. It makes little practical difference. Frankly, I don't really care where my stories appear.

I read on Poynter just this morning that the paper in Portland, Maine, may be in danger of folding. Our publisher did hint darkly in his talk to us that our survival could be at stake.

We religion reporters have no ark to save us from the flood of red ink that threatens to drown the known newspaper world. The industry’s sins have condemned us, too. So, now it really is a matter of swimming around, trying to just have a newspaper to write for. The Ledger has been good to me. The way I see it, I'm now trying to do my bit to keep us afloat. That includes praying.

shark2Sobering to say the least.

I stand by the views (thus, that snarky, sharky second piece of art) that I aired in my earlier post.

A whole industry (and American public discourse) is waiting for a form of digital advertising more attractive (and less infuriating) than a pop-up ad. As a result of this economic earthquake, we are having trouble hanging on to the religion-beat professionals that we have, right as global news trends serve up more and more and more major news stories that are haunted by the facts, themes and symbols of religion.

Sobering to say the least. Again.

So I will ask again. Someone has to pay to hire professionals to report new information about news events and trends in the real world (as opposed to blogging about what the real reporters write). We need more quality religion coverage, not less. Where might we find it? Remember! Not commentary. Real reporting.

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