In his Sightings column, Martin E. Marty recently addressed the fact that newspapers — faced with declining readership and thus declining advertising revenue from their printed versions, are laying off reporters:
The thinning scythe cuts through all news departments, and much more. But this is occurring ironically in religion departments, we at Sightings say, during the decade(s) in which secular news organizations are at last recognizing the role and power of religion.
True, there are some wonderful examples of religious comment on TV and radio (see note at the end). But most religious news in such media has to be sensational, sound-bite length, accessed by those who are lured by grabbing headlines, and less frequently attracting attention by those who now learn much about religion in news because it leaps out from or sneaks into pages in which other items, mainly non-religious, are also being treated.
The scythe has cut at the very top. Sadly, Lynn Garrett, who covered religion books so well for Publishers Weekly, and Mark Pinsky, who set the pace for so many while at the Orlando Sentinel, were moved on and out, perhaps as unceremoniously as less well known figures who were told to pack up their belongings and head for the door.
Manya Brachear at the Chicago Tribune commented that a kind of secular Tisha B’av, the day of fasting which mourns the destruction of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, was being observed at her paper and elsewhere. We mourn, and will join Garrett, Pinsky, and others as they pick up the pieces and find ways to fulfill their vocations, helping keep the publics informed about things of the spirit.
As we mentioned in yesterday’s RNB Quicklinks, the Religion Newswriters Association’s annual conference is taking place in Washington, D.C. The conference started yesterday, and runs through today. You’ll find lots of interesting stuff on and via RNA’s blog and Twitter account:
Geoff Brooke is blogging the 59th annual Religion Newswriters Association (RNA) conference this week from the Hamilton Crowne Plaza Hotel in Washington, D.C.
He will also be twittering.
One item linked to is by Michael Paulson, who covers religion for The Boston Globe:
A rocky period for religion writers
This is a tough time for the news business generally — we have more readers than ever, thanks to the Internet, but fewer and fewer of them pay anything to read us, also thanks to the Internet — and the religion beat is suffering collateral damage. I’ve been on the beat for eight years now. When I started, the beat was thought to be on an upswing, as a lot of major newspapers had been investing more talent and resources in coverage of religion, and playing the stories more prominently. But the economic woes of the industry, combined with the unexpectedly rapid shift of readers to the web, have not been kind the beat. The Dallas Morning News, which year after year was recognized for having the best religion section in the nation, eliminated its standalone section. At the nation’s biggest newspapers, the number of people assigned to religion appears to have dropped as beat reporters have left and not been replaced. Bill Lobdell, a former religion writer at the LA Times, recently wrote (in a blog item headlined, “The death of the religion beat”), “When I first was put on the religion beat for the Los Angeles Times, I was the fourth full-time reporter covering faith for the newspaper. Today, there is one reporter — who…has often been pulled to cover other types of stories.” At smaller newspapers, the beat has been eliminated, or beat reporters have been asked to juggle multiple subjects.
The impact on the beat of the audience migration to the Internet has been harder to measure, but my own sense is that the hunger for sizzle and flash on the web (driven by the focus on traffic and clicks), has, at least temporarily, reduced the visibility of the religion beat at many publications. One of the subjects the 120 religion reporters who are gathering here this week will be discussing is how best to represent religion journalism on the Web.
That, by the way, is an entry on The Boston Globe’s Articles of Faith blog. The blog is a good example of how religion reporting can actually benefit by moving from print to pixels.
Religion News Blog
If you are a long-time reader of Religion News Blog (RNB) you may have noticed some changes around here as well.
For one thing, while we used to quote and post stories in their entirety, we no longer do so (with relatively rare exceptions).
There are a number of reasons for this. For instance, more and more news stories of the type we cover are — and remain — available online, usually on the websites of the newsoutlets that first published them.
Too, over the years our audience has become more web-savvy. We notice this, for instance, by the sharp increase in the number of people who send us links to stories they think would fit Religion News Blog’s brief.
Many researchers now stay on top of the news by subscribing to the RSS feeds of services such as Religion News Blog and other religion news providers.
Also, many news articles on certain topics are very repetitive, often adding nothing but one or two lines of news to a story that already has been over-reported. Mindful of the fact that people tend to have less time to read more information, we try and hightlight the essential information — a process we are still fine-tuning.
There’s the issue of copyright as well. Re-posting of news items remains a grey area in copyright law. We are pleased to note that in all the years we have been online Religion News Blog has only had to take down six articles, one of which was re-instated when the author later gave permission to post it again — albeit with a link to his website.
We have heard from many more authors, reporters and publishers that they appreciate our service — and in particular that by providing links back to the sources of our stories, we do our bit in promoting those websites as well.
International Cultic Studies Association
Religion News Blog covers news items about religious cults, sects, world religions and related issues — with a primary focus on cults and sects. Most people who, for one reason or another, study cults and sects will be familiar with the International Cultic Studies Association (ICSA).
The International Cultic Studies Association is the primary network of lay and professional cult experts. The world’s largest secular cult-information organization, it is one of the professional organizations recommended by the publishers of Apologetics Index — of which Religion News Blog is a part. (Note that Apologetics Index provides a set of Guidelines for selecting a counselor/cult expert to help you separate the professionals from the quacks, cowboys, and unbalanced loners this field tends to attract).
Among its services, ICSA provides an ‘electronic library’ to wich ICSA members have access. If you need full-text articles on cults that you can not find elswhere, we recommend using the ICSA’s e-library, which also includes also cult-related research resources.
Meanwhile we have received many positive comments on Religion News Blog’s new approach. The RNB Quicklinks feature, which often includes a touch of humor, has also been very well received.
Religion News Report
We are also in the process of developing a religion news portal of sorts. You can view an early attempt at Religion News Report. At some point we may integrate portions of what we ar learning in building with Religion News Blog. For now, feel free to bookmark and use it (even though at times portions of it may not yet work as they are meant to).
Thanks for reading Religion News Blog. Suggestions, kudos, constructive comments and orginal Mexican salsa recipes are always welcome.
Sep. 19, 2008