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.”