If you care about religion news in America and around the world, then your business-day dose of email probably includes a copy of The Slingshot, the digital newsletter produced by the Religion News Service that summarizes the newsroom's latest offerings.
The typical edition includes a few hard-news pieces by the wire service's small, but in most cases highly experienced staff, as well as lots of links to RNS opinion columns and blog posts. The Slingshot also includes short, helpful notes pointing readers to religion features produced elsewhere.
In many ways, The Slingshot shows where American journalism is at the moment -- since opinion is cheap and hard-news information is expensive. The professionals at RNS are not alone in wrestling with that brutal equation.
Today's edition of The Slingshot leads with aggregation blurbs pointing to articles at The Orange Country Register, Religion Dispatches, NBC News and an RNS news piece from yesterday.
What the newsletter does not include is any information about the primary question that is currently being asked on Twitter. That would be: What is going on at Religion News Service?
At this point, it's best to back up and follow the shards of information that have been put on the record in social media.
Let's start with this announcement from the wire service's now-former editor, Jerome Socolovsky. Concerned readers will want to read the whole thread and keep checking back for updates.
However, journalists will certainly note this phrase -- "and that's about all I can say."
Now, if you have been around journalism for a decade or two -- the members of the current GetReligion.org team have about 170 years of experience, all together -- you would have to say that this looks like a collision between a publisher and an editor. #DUH
Now, editors and publishers can clash over all kinds of things, from personality issues to editorial decisions to budgets. In this world of ultra-tight finances, especially at nonprofit newsrooms covering a subject (religion) that many news executives just don't "get," it would be easy to assume that RNS (as has been the case for many years) faces financial challenges. That's another #DUH thing. When in doubt, journalists try to follow the money.
But then there is this, from a key RNS pro:
Obviously, that's another thread worth following.
I would also keep an eye on this RNS staff page, to look for further changes in the staff lineup. You might want to check back every few hours.
Then there is the Twitter feed of RNS publisher Tom Gallagher -- which offers no information or insights at this moment about the current staff crisis (if that is the right word).
A personal observation: It is also interesting to note that the Gallagher feed -- digging back for the past week or so -- includes lots of retweets promoting the work of news organizations that cover religion. However, in that time frame, it includes few retweets promoting the work of @RNS news reporters. #STRANGE
Meanwhile, it would be easy to post a wave of social-media comments about this situation from concerned professionals. For example:
I would also watch the official Twitter feed of the Religion News Association for reactions. All is silent at this point.
One final comment, speaking only for myself. In recent years, GetReligion has featured fewer and fewer posts -- positive or negative -- about RNS work. Why is that?
Well, the main reason is that we don't critique opinion pieces and many of the most important RNS pieces, in recent years, have been columns or works that were clearly "analysis" essays, as opposed to hard news.
This raises an interesting question: How do the leaders of a wire service make judgments about which opinions to publish and promote? What would constitute an "opinion" piece that goes "too far"? Does RNS owe its readers a balance of opinions from the religious left and right, of various traditions and denominations?
In recent years, one of the most important things that has happened at RNS is its growing stream of opinion and analysis from the left side of evangelicalism. In the age of Donald Trump, it is crucial to understand -- a theme often voiced here at GetReligion -- that evangelical Protestantism is not a monolith.
Thus, I read with interest an RNS piece last summer by Richard Mouw -- president emeritus at Fuller Theological Seminary -- that ran with this headline: "A letter to Jerry Falwell, Jr." This piece addressed a number of issues debated by evangelicals, before Trump and now in the Trump here. Here is a crucial passage:
You and I are committed to evangelical higher education. It is not enough for us simply to take bold stands on the issues of public life. We must also engage in teaching. And you have an influential teaching role. Often the best way to teach is to explain to our fellow Christians why we have to come to see that we have made some serious mistakes.
I don’t expect you to reverse your positions on important matters of public life. I disagree with many -- but not all -- of those positions. Like most evangelicals, I oppose abortion-on-demand, and I worry much about the ways that traditional Christian beliefs and values are increasingly ridiculed in the larger culture. And I care deeply about threats to religious freedom and home and abroad.
Surely on the question of Donald Trump’s fitness to serve as our president -- surely on this subject we can agree that he falls far short of the minimal standards for appropriate leadership. And as someone who gave him a rather unqualified blessing, this is an important time for you to inform him -- and those who followed your counsel in supporting him -- that he is not the kind of leader that you thought he would be.
I read this piece when it came out -- via a link at The Slingshot. This Mouw piece can still be found online, because it was published at several publications.
However, it's interesting to note that this highly personal essay can no longer be found on the RNS website, at least not by looking through the Mouw archives. I checked this out after hearing comments that it had gone missing.
That is interesting. I'm no expert on opinion columns (although I have written news analysis for 30 years now). I can certainly understand if RNS leaders had elected to run some kind of response piece to this blast from Mouw (whose credentials in the evangelical world speak for themselves, as do those of Falwell).
However, I am having trouble imagining why this piece would be pulled from the RNS site.
Strange times. Stay tuned and let us know if you see additional information published in an open social-media forum.