From the Editor
Religion in the News is Dead! Long
Live Religion in the News!
Sixteen years ago, we
began publishing Religion in the News. Forty issues later, we’re
ringing down the curtain. This is partly the result of financial exigency,
but there’s more to it than that.
It was a different world
of religion reporting in 1998. Newspapers, shedding circulation but still
making money hand over fist, had decided that religion was Important.
Didn’t more Americans go to church than
attend sporting events? Weren’t religious groups playing a big and
unexpected role in politics? And hadn’t a lot of folks been convinced that
we journalists were hostile to God and traditional values? We needed to let
readers know that we felt their faith.
Across the land, “Faith
and Values” sections sprang up like mushrooms, with lots of space for
stories and ambitious young reporters who were nothing like the mousy guy in
the corner who used to process congregational press releases into briefs for
the Saturday page. No self-respecting daily of any size wanted to be caught
overlooking the religion beat.
And big philanthropy took
an interest. The Pew Charitable Trusts, whose interest in religion had
centered on conservative faith communities, decided to get into the
religion-and-public-life game, with special attention to “the media piece.”
The Lilly Endowment, too, wanted a piece of the action.
Trinity College’s new
Center for the Study of Religion in Public Life, headed by a former
newspaperman, was perfectly positioned to lend a hand. We proposed a
magazine to help journalists make better sense of the religion stories they
were covering, and Religion in the News was born.
Our first cover story, by
David Hackett of the University of Florida, looked at Promise Keepers, the
evangelical men’s movement that seemed to be taking America by storm. The
problem with the coverage, Hackett wrote, was that it was overly concerned
with politics when the movement was really more in the longstanding
evangelical tradition of seeking to persuade wayward males to shoulder their
Providing insights like
that was our ambition, and to the extent we could manage it, our stock in
This golden age of
religion reporting wasn’t perfect, journalistically speaking. The Faith and
Values sections bore a family resemblance to the Sunday auto
sections—products more about appreciating than scrutinizing the object of
attention. There was also a sense in the industry that religion in America
had become less about institutions and more about the spiritual things
people did on their own—a misconception that led to a lot of stories about
things reporters weren’t very good at writing about.
Still, when the biggest
religion story in the history of journalism came along, the newspapers were
ready. After the Boston Globe began writing about the Archdiocese of
Boston’s systematic cover-up of the abuse of minors by priests in January of
2002, it was off to the races.
This was the
institutional religion story par excellence, about the biggest, oldest,
richest, and most powerful religious institution in human history. And it
reached from every parish in the country all the way to St. Peter’s itself.
It’s a story that
continues to this day, of course, to the Catholic Church’s immense moral and
material cost. But the intervening years have seen more by way of
journalistic than ecclesiastical implosion. As newspapers downsized and
downsized again, the Faith and Values sections disappeared. Before long, a
full-time religion reporter became a luxury most papers could ill afford.
There was less coverage of the things Religion in the News wrote
about, and a lot fewer journalists to read what we wrote.
Moreover, even as the
Internet wreaked havoc on newspapers, it opened the doors to a mass of
commentary by experts and would-be experts in all fields of human
endeavor—articles and essays and blogs and tweets available with a few
keystrokes. Kibbitzing religion in the news—an occupation that Religion
in the News had once had more or less to itself—could now be encountered
in many places, and in real time.
That’s not to say that
anybody is duplicating what Religion in the News does. We still have
a corner on tracing the trajectory of an important religion story and
assessing its significance—the “story of the story.” To be sure, nowadays
that means taking account of the fact that much of what passes for coverage
no longer comes from traditional
So rather than giving up
the ghost, we’re taking it on-line.
This fall, we’ll be
developing a new Religion in the News website that will offer what
we’ve always offered in something more like real time. Rather than prepare a
complete hard copy issue and then put it up on the Web as we have always
done, we expect to publish a new article every couple of weeks. Send an
and we will let you know whenever one is published.
There will continue to be
illustrations from Stephen Alcorn, the brilliant artist who, along with
designer Jo Lynn Alcorn, has given Religion in the News its
distinctive look since the very first issue. In addition, the site will
include a regular feed of my Religion News Service blog, as well as a
Twitter feed and featured articles and research from both the Greenberg
Center and Trinity’s Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and
We’ll miss the old
Religion in the News, and would like to think that you will too. There’s
nothing like assembling an issue, putting it to bed, and having the tangible
thing in hand. But we’re excited about the new venture, and believe that it
will better serve a readership that now reaches well beyond the journalistic
community, and which expects to see the world not from hard copy to hard
copy but through a screen, brightly.
To receive notification whenever a new
article is posted
on our website,
please send your e-mail address to firstname.lastname@example.org