Steven Waldman, the founding editor of Beliefnet, resigned yesterday to join the Federal Communications Commission as the Chairman Julius Genachowski's special adviser and head a commission on the state of the media in challenging economic times. Writing on his Beliefnet blog:
This is the most difficult (and surreal) post I've had to write. I'm leaving Beliefnet, the company I co-founded in 1999.
In mid November, I'll be stepping down as President and Editor in Chief to lead a project on the future of the media for the Federal Communications Commission, the government agency that sets rules for the communications industry.
I can't quite think of a suitable analogy. Perhaps it's something like saying goodbye to your child as he goes off to college? (Except I'm the one leaving). I feel an intense mix of sadness, excitement and pride.
Typically, it's only big news when people resign from politics. But Waldman's transition is significant for two primary reasons:
It puts atop the FCC's hierarchy an expert on religion and media and the intersection of the two and it creates a massive void for Beliefnet that will have to be filled by Waldman's replacement.
So what has the general response been to Waldman's move? Tough to say. I've seen scant attention paid.
The commission will be asked to make recommendations to ensure that the public's news and information needs are being met and to "ensure a vibrant media landscape," the FCC said in announcing Waldman's appointment.
The process is sure to raise some eyebrows about a government agency making recommendations on the practices of private businesses. Genachowski cited the extraordinary circumstances at a time when the growth of digital media is threatening the financial underpinnings of traditional newsgathering orgs.
"A strong consensus has developed that we're at a pivotal moment in the history of the media and communications, because of game-changing new technologies as well as the economic downturn," Genachowski said. "It is important to ensure that our polities promote a vibrant media landscape that furthers long-standing goals of serving the information needs of communities."
Julia Duin of the Washington Times, Sam Hodges of the Dallas Morning News and Cathy Lynn Grossman of USA Today each mentioned the news on their religion blogs. (Grossman's, the most detailed, offers a little history of Waldman saving Beliefnet from Chapter 11 and of some of his big moments at the Internet venture that has become a staple of religion news.)
Maybe the big papers will catch up over the weekend. I sure hope so. So far the limited coverage has only focused on what Waldman will do at the FCC, but I'm more concerned about his replacement at Beliefnet, which, according to a press release I got announcing the transition, will be Beth Ann Eason, the current chief operating officer and general manager, on the business side and Ju-Don Marshall Roberts, the senior vice president and executive editor who recently came to Beliefnet after serving as managing editor of washingtonpost.com, on the editorial side:
Roberts, a respected leader among online editors nationally, led the Post digital efforts that helped win a Pulitzer Prize, and Peabody and Online Journalism awards.
Those are pretty solid Internet creds. But as anyone who reads GetReligion knows, there is a big difference between getting journalism and getting religion. Here's optimistically hoping Roberts gets both.