Thursday, May 10, 2007

Religious Sections Being Deleted From Newspapers

According to an article by Sarah Pullam in Christianity Today, financial challenges in the past year "have prompted cutbacks in religion coverage in newspapers." For example, the Dallas Morning News eliminated its religion section in early January and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution "folded its Faith and Values action int he Living Pages. The Wichita Eagle likewise plans to remove its religion editor position, and "other newspapers are removing their religion beats."

My experience in my previous parish in Traverse City, Michigan was much the same. When the primary religion writer left to go back to school, they never filled the position at the Record Eagle, but simply took the convenient AP or RNS article and let that suffice. In our local daily here the paper is too small to have a separate editor or writer (in the traditional sense), but does include religious pieces. Again, though, they are 'cut-and-paste' pieces from the larger news services.

Admittedly the current state of religious writing in secular papers is going to reflect the financial condition of the newspaper industry. As Charles Overby said: "Unfortunately, with a lot of the cutbacks in newspapers right now, the religion beat is seen as expendable."

On the flip side, however, Overby is optimistic about religious coverage and claims that it has actually improved over the last five years. He admitted that media is prone to look only at the "qwirky" side of faith, and not at the mainstream issues that interest the average reader.

Dallas Morning News editor Bog Mong also sees another encouraging development in religious reporting. It is in the realm of blogs and newsletters. Indeed we have all seen a revolution in writing and reporting since the Internet came of age, and blogs are beginning to find a niche in the greater world of writing and media.

Personally I think that it might be interesting to see clergy, in particular, volunteer to write for local papers, although lay people would be just as effective. There is no cost involved, other than space, and the positive relationship between media and church could actually be improved in a small way. In my first parish I wrote for the Lake County Star on a weekly volunteer basis. But unlike many who submitted material, I avoided the typical "bulletin" filler, and instead wrote feature articles on topics of interest, not unlike what I have done with this blog.

So pastors and people of the church- any chance we might break into this area and take advantage of a waiting opportunity?

1 comment:

Christine said...

Pastor, it seems to me that religion coverage varies a great deal according to regions and newspapers.

My local paper, which is larger than those of the surrounding communities has definitely reduced its coverage of religious issues and those it does concentrate on seem to be focused a great deal on peace and justice issues. The smaller paper of a neighboring city has much wider and more interesting coverage of religious issues.

There used to be at least two columnists in my local paper but now it appears to have been reduced to one, and he writes from a decidedly liberal Protestant perspective.

But, as you say, the emergence of blogs and other internet media has opened up some new venues for discussions of religious matters and I think newspapers are feeling the competition.

Unfortunately, a lot of the information that is put out over the Internet is not necessarily always accurate and in our current culture where so many are ill-informed historically and spiritually I sometimes wonder what is being wrought.

Of course, many in the mainstream media are lacking in those areas too.