#RNA2017: Five takeaways from the 68th annual conference of the Religion News Association

In advance of last week's 68th annual conference of the Religion News Association, the Rev. Thomas J. Reese wrote an interesting column on the state of the Godbeat.

In case you hadn't heard, this oft-quoted priest joined Religion News Service last month as a senior analyst and columnist focused on Catholicism, the Vatican and Pope Francis. His recent column featured a clever headline about "religion journalists singing country & blues in Nashville."

Music City was, of course, the site of this year's RNA conference. Reese wrote:

(RNS) — This week I am looking forward to the annual meeting of the Religion News Association (Sept. 7-9) in Nashville, where I hope to see old friends and make new ones. I enjoy the company of journalists, who are almost always bright, articulate and funny. Religion reporters are a special breed because of their interest in values, religion and the transcendent.
There is also some sadness as I get ready to travel because I know many old friends will not be there. It is not that they have died, although some have. Rather, there are simply fewer religion writers today. They have either been laid off or jumped ship before they got pushed out.
So, when we get to Nashville, I am not sure whether we will be singing country or the blues.

Actually, Godbeat pros sang a few church hymns, as part of a session on congregational singing (and beer):

But I digress.

Back to Reese's real point:

Professional journalism is in trouble because almost no one has figured out how to make money in the news business.

Keep scrolling down, and Reese offers a few more insights. It's worthwhile — if not wholly inspiring — reading.

On the positive side, 250 or so religion news professionals — including journalists for secular and faith-based publications and public relations types — showed up for the RNA conference. (If you missed it, be sure to check out our Q&A with attendee Paul Singer of USA Today.)

Five quick takeaways (of varying levels of seriousness) from the conference:

1. The highlight — with no doubt at all — was the awarding of the William A. Reed Lifetime Achievement Award to Jeffrey Weiss.

Weiss, who has brain cancer, is best known for his years as an award-winning religion writer for the Dallas Morning News. Since his diagnosis, Weiss has written the RNS column "My Way to the Egress," about his journey, his beliefs and his effort to come to terms with dying.

2. The best, most newsworthy session of the conference was moderated by Julia Duin, my fellow GetReligionista.

3. There was a lot of talk about, um, snakes in the second-best session.

4. Despite the challenges, Godbeat pros are producing incredible journalism — and some of them work at places you might not expect.

5. I met Pat Boone! (Yes, he's still alive.)

Until next year ...

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