The "God Beat" Takes a Beating

The economic downturn has obviously hurt newspapers a great deal, but it’s hard to say which areas of coverage have been depleted the most. I have talked to people in many realms — international reporting, business, sports, entertainment — who claim their domain has been particularly hard hit. (Here’s a map from Paper Cuts that shows 2009 newspaper layoffs.)

But Cathleen Falsani, the Chicago Sun-Times‘s recently departed religion writer, makes the point that she is just one of four prominent religion writers who have been moved off their beats in the past month. The others are Michael Paulson of the Boston Globe, Eric Gorski at the A.P., and Peter Steinfels at The Times. This hardly means that religion will no longer be covered at those institutions, but that’s an awful lot of high-end human capital to leave one beat in a short time. I wonder what kind of religion articles we won’t be reading in the future as a result.


Kim Serkes

It's tempting to say "so what?" I don't miss coverage of the tooth fairy or Santa Claus. But the latter figure does have a real-world effect on commerce, and sadly, religion does have a real-world influence on politics. But that's the only aspect of superstition and myth that really matters, and I think that covering it from the perspective of politics and security is more important than looking at issues of faith.

Richard

The religious get their news off the internet now?

All kidding aside, religious news makes the front page ABOVE the fold all too often as it is and it is something the religious can crow about, sneer at, or feet ashamed for.... sometimes in the same article.

Miguel

Who cares about religion articles anyway?

A bunch of clueless men/women making stuff up about a supposedly omnipotent being and assuming that they have direct access to infallible moral advice.

Good riddance to them, I say.

Adam

If Jesus comes back and no one is there to cover it, will it still count?

Dan Stewart

But do these newspapers still offer horoscopes? If so, then all's not lost.

Avi

Religion is vital to millions of people in the world, therefore it is vitally important for everyone to see what's happening. When the Pope changes the rules for seminaries, or fundamentalists urge the death penalty for gays in Uganda or possible undoing of the government in Northern Ireland.

Religion reporters are the ones who provide context and background for understanding these issues. They analyze rather than just repeating press releases. We need more of these this, rather than less.

DrS

In America, Religion has been covered in the politics section entirely for at least the past 10 years.

Casey

Even a discussion regarding the reporting of religion brings out polarized responses. Yikes! Where did the thoughtful Freakonomics commenters go?

I don't understand the commenters that say "so what", and then commence with the anecdotal verbal attacks. They obviously do not think much of religion, but it's this kind of attitude that gives fuel to the religious extremists. By dismissing these experiences with a wave of a hand and a snide comment, it only creates a deeper divide.

Regardless of your feelings regarding religion, you should be concerned that the voices of the moderates are disappearing (which is what I would consider these writers to be, given their affiliation with newspapers named) - without them, all we have are the voices from either extreme, which have no desire to actually talk or listen to each other.

Craig

In America, Religion has been trying to monopolize the politics section for considerably longer than 10 years -- 30 years if you start with Jerry Falwell and the so-called Moral Majority.

Paul

Might as well pile on to this one.

Religion is silly.

Anonymous

Those writers never explored the biggest issue about religion: the suicide bombers. The fact is that religion needs to be phased out as it's outdated. With one particular religion, you have fundamentalists, radicals, and those foaming at the mouth with a death grip on the hijacked plane's flight yoke.

Coyltonian

They were probably all let go because they weren't bringing in enough prophets...

BSK

Some newspapers have cut whole departments, including a major Washington-area paper getting rid of it's sports section. And we're supposed to care about 4 religion writers cut?

hal

How refreshing to see comments that users do not regard religious writing as "intellectual capital". There is hope.

Maybe the writers of CSI "yourcity" will replace them with the science of why things really happen.

Mike

Wow - quite a number of hostile comments.

I neither follow nor like the National Basketball Association, but understand why a sports page would have NBA coverage. There are many compelling issues to explore in matters of religion - and the coverage I'm referring to is not about proselytizing a particular tenet of a faith tradition, but how those traditions evolve and interact with their creeds, changing social norms, and each other.

I'm not sure the "religion journalism" has been particularly good over the years, so part of me won't miss the routine storylines which are inserted into familiar formulas. That said, there should be room for smart writing about issues which are deeply important to millions.

Lane Williams

I teach college. I am studying to receive a Ph.D. I am a student of logic. I say this because I don't wish to appear like some sniveling follower clinging to my religion. (My brother is a nuclear engineer ...) I have studied my religious faith for my entire life -- I am one of those Mormons and I love the Book of Mormon -- and prayed a great deal. I assert that just because religion doesn't use the methodology of science doesn't mean it doesn't provide access to truth through coherent, consistent means -- like prayer and fasting and "experimenting" on the words to see what they produce. Numerous, real experiences too sweet for words convince me that there is a God. It is a shame that religion doesn't get the credit it deserves in news pages. It can be interesting, insightful and deeply meaningful. Along with everything else declining in American journalism, this is a genuine loss, even as I don't always agree with what the writers have produced over the years.

Read more...

Aviva C.

If newspapers are responding to supply and demand does that indicate a decrease in demand for religious articles? If so, is this counterintuitive because in hard times people turn to religion? Perhaps now the public is taking more active interest in the economy instead of trusting the higher ups? Or is this a more long term trend towards secularism in our culture...

Peter Turner

This is a bummer, not because I think the religion articles in secular newspapers are particularly enlightening, but because they do provide a secular view of religious happening and if this goes on I will only get my religious news from Catholic Radio, EWTN and the local diocese newspaper.

It's not a move towards secularism, it's a move towards polarization.

Mike

I believe they call this progress.

lloyd667

Well, Steve, the same religious articles that I have never been reading.