After 'Spotlight' Oscar euphoria, the hangover: Worry about the future of religion journalism

If Bob Smietana is worried about the future of religion journalism in America, then we all should be.

Just the other night, Smietana — immediate past president of the Religion Newswriters Association — joined his Godbeat colleagues in celebrating the best picture Oscar for "Spotlight":

"Spotlight" is, of course, a "based on a true story" movie about Boston Globe journalists who won a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for their investigation into the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal:

But after celebrating Sunday night, Smietana has a must-read piece today on the Washington Post's Acts of Faith blog that asks this timely and important question:

‘Spotlight’ just won an Oscar. So why am I so worried about the future of religion journalism?

Why indeed?

Even before reading Smietana's op-ed, regular GetReligion readers probably have some inkling of his concerns:

Smietana points out the key role that a religion writer — Michael Paulson — played on the Globe's Spotlight investigative team, even if Paulson wasn't depicted on the big screen. And Smietana laments that many news organizations have eliminated such specialists:

Providing context is exactly what religion writers do. We know that both the “religion” part and the “news” part of religion news matter.
Covering religion isn’t primarily writing feel good-features about the holidays for what used to be called the “church page,” or covering theological disputes like whether heaven or hell exists, or even writing about what pastor endorses which candidate.
It’s bigger than that. Religion news is real news about people’s families, their souls, and the power of their faith — a power institutions can harness for good or ill. It’s the kind of news that needs both the power of investigative reporters and the knowledge of God-beat pros.
But life on the religion beat is uncertain these days.
While there are more people writing about religion, and enormous interest in the topic, there are fewer full-time pros on the beat, especially at newspapers. Many of those newspapers have dropped the religion beat or farmed it out to freelancers. Many religion writers cover a second beat at the same time.
Meanwhile, the job of covering the God beat has become more difficult.

Amen. Amen. Amen. (And I probably left out an appropriate "Amen" or two.)

I'll resist the urge to copy and paste Smietana's entire piece. But trust me when I say: You really need to read it all.

If Bob Smietana is worried about the future of religion journalism in America, then we all should be.

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