This is certainly a day of mourning for journalists who know anything about the history of religion-news coverage in the mainstream press. While we await further specifics, here is the short report from Dallas that has just been posted online by Rod "Crunchy Cons" Dreher:
Religion in the media
Depressing very local news: there is no longer a religion beat at the Dallas Morning News. Our last two religion reporters have been reassigned to covering suburban schools. I have no idea why this decision was made, and I am in no position to question it, certainly.
All newspapers, and certainly my own, are in serious trouble during this economic crisis, and we can't cover everything. But it is a shame, and indeed more than a shame, to think that the DMN's Religion section used to be routinely acclaimed within the profession as the best religion section in the country. And given how passionately religious Dallas and its environs are, this is to be expected, and welcomed.
And now, we not only have no religion section, we have no religion beat reporters.
But religion has not ceased to be critically important to the lives of people today. I'd like to know from my readers what you think of the quality of religion coverage from your local media, and where you get your religion news. If your local paper was considering eliminating religion beat coverage, what case would you make to them to keep it?
By all means, please add your own commentaries in response to that question here and over at Dreher's own weblog.
The late, many said great News religion section was highly symbolic for Godbeat professionals because it was launched during an era in the mid-1990s when several nationally known newsrooms -- think NPR and ABC World News Tonight -- were launching serious efforts to improve their religion coverage. Click here for a glimpse of that (especially if you are willing to pay to see the full article).
Here at GetReligion, we have chronicled the section's decline into a web-based niche with a lively weblog -- all fueled by solid professionals who were still working the beat, even though their analog home base was gone. While I, personally, have often been critical of some News coverage (the old section was kind of a National of Council of Churches publication trying to cover life in a National Association of Evangelicals town), I would be the first to note that this was serious religion coverage by talented professionals. The whole Dallas experiment offered hope to many mainstream journalists.
When the section was shut down, News editor Bob Mong sent this form letter to a concerned reader. I think it would be appropriate to cyber-clip this and send it back to the management team at the once mighty daily newspaper in one of America's most important and symbolic cities (by all means, click here), when it comes to religion news.
Dear Ms. XXX,
Thank you for writing about the format change in our Religion coverage. I can assure you the subject is not going to be an afterthought. As the person responsible for creating the section in 1994, I am quite proud of its many accomplishments. We will continue to take it seriously, as well we should. With writers such as Jeff Weiss and Sam Hodges, we will continue to take on interesting, complex and important stories as we have the last 12-plus years. Those stories ... may appear on Page One and other section fronts. For reasons I don't entirely understand, we could never build even a modest advertising base for the stand-alone section. I can assure you, no paper in the country tried harder than we did to garner such support. I would encourage you to also look at our online Religion blog and newsletter; they are both quite good and growing in popularity.
I do understand your concern, and I hope you will come to see our coverage of the subject will continue to be significant.
With regards, Bob Mong, editor
Now the religion beat itself, the source of any dedicated religion coverage by full-time professionals, is gone. No religion reporter IN DALLAS?
Your GetReligionistas will pass along more information as it becomes available. I am sure that memorial service details will be announced soon.
UPDATE: I just heard some more details from Jeffrey Weiss in Dallas and they are not good. The religion-beat pros have been assigned out to suburban beats. The assumption is that if some story linked to religion came along -- we are talking about Dallas, as in TEXAS -- then they could still be assigned to it, if they have time.
Still waiting to hear about the status of the religion weblog.