It's been a great 33 months: My swan song on GetReligion

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For more than two and a half years, I've been honored in more than one way to write for GetReligion, a feisty but literate blog on matters of faith in mainstream media. I thank tmatt for the opportunity and for his seasoned guidance. Now I'm taking leave to go local, eliminate a few deadlines and maybe smell a few flowers.

During my time with GetReligion I've learned a lot about media critiquing. I think I've always been good at critical thinking, but tmatt has distilled the tools via a few catchwords: Kellerisms, religious "ghosts," the Frame Game, Scare Quotes, Sources Say, the Two Armies approach. And, of course, his version of the Golden Rule: "Report unto others as you would want them to report unto you." I've learned much as well from the wise, incisive coverage of my fellow GetReligionistas.

Looking back, I think I've been drawn especially to some themes.

One has been persecution of Christians, especially in Kenya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Iraq and Syria. I used to call it one of the most under-reported topics in journalism. But major media, from Reuters to the New York Times to the Los Angeles Times to Agence France-Presse, have finally put the matter on their radar -- though much is left undone.

Another big focus of mine has been religious liberty, in all its forms. That's consistent with the editorial slant at this blog, which is radically pro-First Amendment (both halves of it). When legislators from Mississippi to Indiana to North Carolina have tried to pass religious exemption laws, they’ve drawn fierce opposition from the expected libertarian and gay rights groups -- but often from secular media, where journalists have often taken sides under a thin veil of reporting.

Clashes between Christians and atheists, whether the secular type or under the brand of Satanism, have also been interesting. Two Christmases ago, for instance, the London-based Telegraph pretty much copied and pasted American Atheist propaganda against that holiday. And this summer, the Washington Post simply donated space to a writer who praised the embryonic "After School Satan" clubs while criticizing the existing Good News clubs

The southeastern United States, the region Terry assigned me, seemed to produce an outsize number of stories with national implications. Those have included:

* Media fallout from the mass shooting by a lone-wolf jihadist at a nightclub for gays in Orlando -- fallout that was somehow pro-gay and pro-Muslim without resolving that paradox.

* A legal battle between an athletic association and a Christian school in Tampa over whether it's OK to pray over stadium speakers -- a small-scale skirmish that may yet flame into a constitutional issue of free speech versus establishing religion.

* A react piece by the Associated Press on the death of Fidel Castro -- a piece that managed to avoid religious angles, probably because AP didn’t talk to religious leaders or visit the main worship centers of Cuban exiles.

Those and other media missteps are far from over. Newspapers are still shrinking via layoffs, and religious coverage is shrinking as well. What does get attention is often pitted with factual errors -- and worse, editorial slant, painting religion at best as a relic of culture, at worst as an enemy of "progress."

Fortunately, GetReligion has a deep bench, as they say in football: Julia, Bobby, Dick, Ira and of course Terry. Together, they represent long and varied experience in newspapers, newsmagazines, wire services, syndicated columns and higher education.  GR veterans have been likewise distinguished, including M.Z. Hemingway, Douglas LeBlanc and Sarah Pulliam Bailey. 

In fact, one of those veterans is my replacement: Mark Kellner, former religion writer with the Deseret News in Salt Lake City. He's returning after a stint with GetReligion in 2013-2014. I've come to admire Mark for his quick wit, keen mind and scalpel-like precision at dissecting journalistic flaws. Don’t miss his posts.

For myself, I have a few directions for the next few years. I'll continue as a freelance writer and photographer with the Florida Catholic, for Southeast Florida and occasionally for the state edition.

I plan some pro bono work: helping spur interfaith initiatives, serving as photographer for a Christmas festival, scanning religious documents at a historical society. But I want to do fun stuff, too, like outdoor jazz concerts and leisurely coffee with friends.

Before leaving, though, I want to thank you, the readers: for your support, your insights, even your arguments. As the biblical proverb says, "Iron sharpens iron." Thanks for your time over these 33 months.

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