Close to home: Those Godbeat changes hit tmatt

What he said:

"I'm glad to hear that Scripps Howard still as a religion writer on its staff. Seriously, I mean it's a nice thing that, you know, that still exists in the media."

-- Tom Hanks, at a press conference in 2009

For those who have not heard the news elsewhere, out in the Twitter-verse for example, there was a rather stunning announcement made yesterday that the Scripps Howard News Service is shutting down.

That was the first domino.

In my case, the second domino to fall was that the editors at the McClatchy-Tribune wire, which inherited the Scripps costumer list, did not pick up my "On Religion" column for syndication. This should lead to a third domino. If the weekly "On Religion" no longer exists, then it cannot be picked up by the 600 or so small- and medium-sized newspapers in the Newspaper Enterprise Association.

Here's a clip from the all-to-familiar news obit, care of Bloomberg:

Scripps Howard News Service, which fed syndicated stories to papers across the U.S. since World War I, plans to shut down, becoming the latest symbol of readers’ shift away from print media. ...

The Scripps Howard News Service, founded in 1917, supplied newspaper clients with Washington coverage and news from around the world, as well as photos, commentary and editorial cartoons. The operation was a remnant of a once-thriving era of wire services and news agencies, when an insatiable newspaper industry had numerous publications in every city and multiple editions per day. In an age when Internet news is typically free, newspaper consolidation, declining advertising sales and shrinking circulation have crimped demand for wire copy.

Internet news is free, sort of. However, it still costs money to produce real, live news and information.

If you follow the advertising crisis and its side effects, you know that there is great irony in all of this.

First of all, as newspaper staffs have gotten smaller, editors have often depended on wire-service copy to fill pages. Also, the declining number of reporters (and thus beats) in newsrooms has often resulted in wire features being used on topics (think entertainment, books, national sports) that interest many at-risk subscribers more than pages of horse-race politics. In recent years, I've been getting mail from readers in totally new towns and cities, where copy-desk pros discovered that it didn't hurt to run a wire feature about religion.

But eventually, declining advertising revenues are going to affect the entire news and information marketplace, including wire services.

The bottom line: I am not surprised by this news, but it's still rather stunning at the personal level.

In recent years I've been telling friends that I hoped to make it to the 25th anniversary of the column last spring.

Well, that came to pass. No doubt about it, a quarter of a century is a long time and writing the Scripps Howard column has been one of the defining acts of my life and career. It appears that the final column will ship on Dec. 11.

Meanwhile, here's the top of that 25th anniversary column, in all of its ironic glory.

Every year or so, editors are asked to sit patiently while market researchers dissect thick reports about what consumers say they want to see in their newspapers.

That was already true back when Harry Moskos was editor of The Knoxville News Sentinel. But he immediately noticed something strange, when handed the executive summary of one late-1980s survey.

Two words near the top of the subjects valued by readers caught his attention -- “religion” and “family.” Yet the professionals interpreting the data offered zero suggestions for improving coverage of those subjects.

“I remember saying, ‘Look at that.’ ... Those words just jumped out at me, primarily because I knew people in Knoxville tend to see those subjects as connected,” said Moskos, 76, in a telephone interview. He recently ended his 60-year journalism career, with most of that work in Albuquerque, N.M., and Knoxville, Tenn.

Of course, he admitted, the fact he noticed the words “religion” and “family” also “says something about the life I’ve lived and how I was raised” in a devout Greek Orthodox family. “I just knew we had to do something ... to respond to that interest among our readers,” he said.

Thus, Moskos asked his team to create a section on faith and family life. As part of that effort, he asked -- at a meeting of Scripps Howard editors -- if the newspaper chain could start a national religion-news column.

Click here to read it all.

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