Bob Abernethy

Religion & Ethics Newsweekly: Sharing a few big ideas in a long goodbye

Religion & Ethics Newsweekly: Sharing a few big ideas in a long goodbye

How do you telescope nearly 20 years of a show about religion into an hour or two?

Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, the PBS news magazine that made television religion-coverage history, announced late last year that it was ending its long run in mid-February of this year. It used its last two episodes to sum up the changes and trends the show has covered since its debut in September 1997.

Meanwhile, erstwhile funder, the Lilly Endowment, is sinking its money into another venture involving religion and ethics. More on that in a moment.

R&EN took awhile to wrap up what’s been an impressive haul of stories. Here’s a show that sent correspondents to cover the faith community’s help in cleaning up after Hurricane Katrina; the work of Catholic Relief Services after the 2004 tsunami that devastated parts of southeast Asia and the deaths and elections of Pope John Paul II, Benedict XVI and the current Pope Francis.

Their Rome coverage alone was amazing considering they had not nearly the budget nor personnel as did the larger TV networks.

This month, the show’s correspondents each focused on a different aspect of the show’s coverage as well as which of the many things they covered still stands out. Judy Valente chose programs on America’s poor

JUDY VALENTE, correspondent: In my years reporting for Religion & Ethics, I interviewed many people who not only had compelling stories to tell, but ended up deeply touching my own life. One of those unforgettable people lived in tiny Pine Apple, Alabama, a place so poor many residents still get their water from outdoor spigots. Dr. Roseanne Cook cared for the poorest of Pine Apple’s poor. Not known to most of her patients, she also happens to be a Sister of St. Joseph, a Catholic nun. She told one story I will never forget, about being robbed on a secluded road.

Kim Lawton focused on the show’s interfaith coverage and the growth of the “nones.”

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Religion news on TV: A not-quite post mortem on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

Religion news on TV: A not-quite post mortem on Religion & Ethics Newsweekly

Late last year, a story broke about the impending demise of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, the almost 20-year-old PBS show that is unique in American journalism. No other network has mounted such an ambitious effort to cover faith and ethics with Washington-based talent and staff.

Those of us on the religion beat were amazed when the show began in September 1997. Imagine, a TV news magazine about ethics (unheard of) and religion (nearly unheard of). Instead of the obnoxious religious TV that constantly hit you up for contributions, R&E had enough funding from the Lilly Endowment to keep those telephones quiet. WNET, whose head office is in New York, produced the show and PBS distributed it.

It also had star power behind it in the person of Bob Abernethy, a widely traveled NBC news correspondent who in his retirement years (age 69) started the show. The show set up shop in offices on H Street, borrowed studio space from Reuters and took off.

Religion News Service told us how it’s all ending two decades later:

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