An award-winning Godbeat pro retires, raising a question about religion coverage at regional papers

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If I understand correctly, today is Tim Funk’s last day of work at the Charlotte Observer.

Funk, an award-winning religion reporter, posted on Facebook that he is retiring after 34 years at the Observer and 40 years overall of full-time news writing. (Click here, here and here for just a few of the Funk stories I’ve praised over the years.)

“As I take my (totally voluntary) leave, I’ll be rooting for those remaining on the job at the Observer,”  Funk said. “Times are tough for the news biz, but these journalists work hard and smart every day to hold the powerful accountable and tell us what’s happening and what it means.

“And, of course, I’ve been especially blessed to get to meet and write about some of the most interesting people in Charlotte.”

Among his favorite memories, Funk recalls “reporting on Billy Graham, sharing a lunch with him and wife Ruth (and my Observer colleague Ken Garfield) in their mountain-top Montreat home, and writing a 250-inch obituary of the evangelist for his hometown newspaper.”

Here’s wishing Funk all the best in his next adventure!

Meanwhile, I’m curious if the Observer — long ago the home of a religion-beat reporter named Terry Mattingly — will assign someone else to the beat. I sure hope so.

But sadly, we’ve seen repeated instances in recent years where Godbeat pros weren’t replaced. I think of papers such as the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that — as I mentioned just the other day — used to have outstanding religion writers. And now, as far as I know, those major regional papers don’t have anyone on the religion beat.

The best example is, of course, the Dallas Morning News, which (and yes, this will sound like a broken record to a lot of you) at one time employed a handful of full-time religion writers and editors and no longer has a Godbeat pro. Even the Houston Chronicle, which did that recent incredible investigative series on sex abuse in the Southern Baptist Convention, has no religion writer per se. I’d even argue that the Chronicle’s lack of a full-time Godbeat pro showed up in a few subtle ways in that otherwise phenomenal investigative project.

What regional papers are still rocking the religion beat? The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Peter Smith), The Tennessean (Holly Meyer) and The Oklahoman (Carla Hinton) are a few that come immediately to mind.

Which papers am I missing? Seriously, I’d love to start a list, but I need your help. Comment below or tweet us at @GetReligion.

Photo by Jeff Siner

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